Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolutions for a Healthier New Year

The New Year is a wonderful opportunity to look at how we live our lives ... and how we can live them even better. Below are some thoughts for organizing your goals in the New Year. Remember - you are 80% more likely to achieve your resolutions if you write them down!

what will you do to take better care of your body this year? When we juggle so many different responsibilities, it can be hard to do the basic things that our body needs to feel good and be healthy. Almost everyone can stand to put "exercise more frequently" and "eat more fruits and veggies" on their lists, but what about some more simple ideas, like flossing every day (or at least once a week!) or keeping your nails in semi-decent condition or wearing sunblock.

Mind: what will you do to better understand your mind this year? Understanding ourselves and our true motivations is the single most important activity we can undertake to transform our lives. There are lots of ways to improve our self-awareness and emotional intelligence. I tend to gravitate towards books on the subject. I have also started a (short) meditation practice. Other people benefit from psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and other guided methods of better understanding themselves.

Business: what will you do to grow your business this year? Don't laugh - businesses are still growing, no matter what the newscasters are saying. An economic downturn does not mean that you are destined to have a negative year. Look at what worked well for your business in 2008, and figure out how best to repeat and expand upon those activities in 2009. You don't have to create an extensive business plan, but at least jot down what you would like to accomplish and the things you need to do in the coming months to get there.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

3 Things I Learned From My Fat Cat

We have two wonderful cats. Fly, older by a year, is the "normal" cat, who tends to sleep most of the time. Cootie, on the other hand, is a handful. He seems to have a personality bigger than his slightly-large cat body, and he has taught me much about life as a result.

1. There is such a thing as a "slow metabolism"
Cootie is decidedly "plump" (AKA "fat"). This is interesting given that we feed our two cats the exact same diet, and Fly is thin ... actually, she is scrawny. I have asked several vets about this phenomenon, and they all answered me matter-of-factly, that "he just has a slower metabolism." Ah-ha! As a child, I was always on the plump side, and as an adult I have to really work to stay within a healthy weight range. I can't tell you how reassuring it has learn that animals (and people) truly do have different metabolisms, and some of us are just naturally a little plumper than others.

2. Strong preferences are a tough burden to bear
Cootie is aggressive in his love of me - he sleeps on my pillow at night and next to my keyboard by day. He follows me around the house and is a very loving (if annoying) cat. However, he doesn't like other people, and the feeling is mutual. He tolerates my husband and daughter, but only barely. In short; he has very poor people skills. As a child, I was taught to treat all people equally and with respect, but Cootie can't learn this lesson. Instead, he sticks to his guns and doesn't pretend to like other people. There have been a few times in my business that I haven't listened to my instincts and have engaged a client that abuses my good nature and desire to help. Although I don't want to be exactly like Cootie, I do hope to develop more discernment about certain people.

3. Try, try, try again (and possibly still fail)
Cootie was rescued from a grim kittenhood. When we received him, he had been abandoned, and had a giant tummy full of worms and little else. As a result of some abuse, he has trouble seeing properly; his pupils don't dialate normally. Thus, he is often unable to do simple "cat" tasks like jumping up on a ledge or between two points the first time he tries. In fact, sometimes it takes him 10-15 tries before he makes the jump he's shooting for. Sometimes he doesn't make it at all. It was his grim determination to succeed even in the face of adversity that attracted us to him in the first place. Thus, I see that sometimes even things that should be "natural" and "inbred" can be challenging for us as individuals, and that it's OK to keep trying, and even to fail completely. In the end, he's still a good cat, even if he can't perch on a precarious ledge like Fly does.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Anti-Doer (AKA Procrastinator)

I am a "doer." I like to do things, and I like to feel like I have done lots of things. Like most strong personality traits, this can be a great asset to my business, but it can also be a huge liability, depending on the situation.

In the next week, I'm focusing on my marketing plan for 2009. This is not an elaborate document, but rather a clean and clear definition of what I think I should do in 2009 to accomplish my goals. The doer in me is very motivated, and coming up with all kinds of great ideas to get started on.

The anti-doer (AKA procrastinator and scaredy-cat), however, keeps piping up, unbidden, with comments like: "oh, you should have done that last year!," and "it's too late to do that now - it's already been done by everyone else!" and even "you can't do that!" (Yikes!)

The truth is, in marketing, it's almost never too late to start something new, and, chances are, if done well, it will work. Thus, the real challenge in marketing is not always coming up with the right idea at the right time, but rather coming up with the idea, committing to it, and doing it.

What ideas are you sitting on right now that could be done? Why aren't you doing them? A lot of the time we look to comfortable explanations like "I'm too busy," or "I don't know how to do that," but look a little deeper, and you might find that you have an anti-doer: a voice in your head that is holding you back from your greatest potential.

Getting things done is more than just figuring out what you need to do and doing it. It also involves acknowledging your anti-doer and getting past her complaints and hesitation. Let me know if you have any techniques for accomplishing this!

Friday, December 26, 2008

3 Things You Should NOT Do When Angry

Sometimes I like to pretend that I can be all Zen, and I must admit that I enjoy 10-minute meditations and the occasional yoga class. In truth, however, I'm a classic "Type A" personality, and I struggle with anger sometimes. Here are three hard and fast rules that I have given myself to protect the world (and my future) from these moments.

1. Do Not Send E-mail: This seems obvious, but it's not. We're so used to being able to type off a quick response to someone that we forget sometimes that e-mail should never, ever be used to express anger or frustration. It is simply not a good tool for such severe emotions. Now, sometimes it can be a helpful form of venting in the heat of the moment to DRAFT an e-mail in Microsoft Word (so that there's no chance of it being sent), but never, ever send it!

2. Do Not Approach Facebook: In today's world, it seems as if everyone is jotting down thoughts and activities. "Just got back from Starbucks," "Waiting for the train," and "Loving my new haircut!" are all appropriate things to mention on Facebook, Twitter, and the many other social networking sites that we enjoy. Not so appropriate are notes like "I hate you Jimmy!" or "Jane is a b*tch." When you feel that way, it's probably better to write it on the bathroom wall than on a social networking site - the consequences will be much worse online.

3. Do Not Blog: Sometimes a blog is a wonderful place to be "real" and let the world know what's going on in your world. When you are angry though, it might be good to write what you feel in a more physical medium (say, a journal or a Word document) and then sleep on it for 24 hours before posting it online for the world to see. It's amazing how a little bit of time can make a huge difference in how we see things, and while all feelings are valid in the moment, you might not want to remember them for prosperity.

In short, when anger gets the best of you, perhaps it is best to avoid the computer alltogether. Go outside, take a walk, write the old-fashioned way. After all, most anger is (thankfully) fleeting, and can be replaced by more manageable emotions with some thought and time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Transparency in Marketing

I recently updated my business website, and took a big leap that sometimes keeps me up at night: I published my firm's hourly rates. This is a big departure from typical firm operations.

I chose to do it because I believe that today's consumers want transparency; they want to know what they are going to pay and what they are going to get for what they spend. Despite having this desire as a consumer myself, I kept my business rates clouded and a little bit confusing up until a few months ago.

It's interesting: at a restaurant, they will put their prices right up front, but they will keep their recipes secret. In a retail store, each item is marked, but they may not tell you from where the item came. In a marketing firm, they usually keep both their pricing and their methods somewhat secret.

There is a great video about this concept that you might want to check out: The Benefits of Radical Transparency. Let me know what you think!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life Will Be Normal Again

I am blessed with a large, mixed family within easy driving distance of our home. Thus, the holidays are an extensive process full of must-do family events. With a young child, the pressure to participate in everything feels even stronger than ever, as I want to ensure that she gets the full joy of the season. With Hanukkah falling the same week of Christmas, this year is more chaotic than ever.

An inevitable result of our constant rushing around in celebration of the season is that I am not able to follow my usual fitness routine. Luckily, my wellness coach, Nora, suggested that I write into my calendar "Life Will Be Normal Again" on Monday, Dec. 29. Having this firm date in my mind allows me to go easy on myself when I just can't squeeze in the exercise that I know I need.

This week we have a different family member coming over each night to light the candles, and next weekend will be our big family Christmas, as my brothers will be with their wives' families on the 25th. My goal is to simply do the best that I can in regards to exercise and eating, constantly reminding myself that life will be normal again next week.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

3 Things That I Can't Figure Out

I am really trying to figure out how to use Web 2.0 concepts for myself and my clients, but here are three things that I can't figure out:

1. Facebook: I like Facebook - it's fun! I just can't figure out why so many businesses use it for shameless self-promotion. There seem to be two ways to use it: for genuine friendship reconnection and for yucky, over-the-top marketing promotion. There must be a way to find a blance, but so far the only people using it for marketing purposes are just kind of yucky.

2. Podcasts: I read "Podcasting for Dummies," and I get the concept, but what I can't find is anyone who listens to podcasts - other than podcasters themselves. Is there a true marketing opportunity here? I really don't know.

3. Site Conversion: It seems like we need to re-vamp our sites into more targeted sales machines, but, as with Facebook, it feels to me like the people who are doing this are cheezy and a little yucky. There has to be a way to be an authentic, transparent marketer online without being perceived as "yucky," right?

I'm working on solutions for all of these, but would love to hear comments and ideas if you have any!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reclaiming Balance

For me, a balanced life begins with a healthy body, followed by a healthy mind, which ultimately results in a healthy business. The trouble is, sometimes that balance gets turned upside down and turns into an unhealthy avalanche.

Usually it begins with a lot of work pending (business). Next comes the stress (mind), which ultimately results in a sick body. Yes, I'm getting sick, and it happened within a matter of days!

To rebuild a healthy balance, I'm not sure whether I need to start with my body or my business - which would be best? Do I take long naps and ignore work while my body heals, or do I get everything on my plate finished so that the stress goes away and my body can heal? Or maybe I get really mental and try to fix the stress at its source?

I have no firm answers today, but I am always looking for solutions, so here is what I'm going to try:
  • Body: take a long shower and an afternoon nap
  • Mind: go easy on myself and try not to criticize so much
  • Business: get the most important work completed as soon as possible so that it is off my plate
Please let me know if you have any other ideas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Benefits of Napping

As someone balancing work and life, there are moments when it seems as if the only solution to my lengthy to-do list is a catnap. I know it sounds strange, but since I work from home, it's possible, and so tempting when it seems as if nothing - most notably my brain - is working quite right. Thus, I thought that a quick justification (ahem! I mean "review") of the benefits of a midday nap might be appropriate. Research shows the following:
  • Humans have a "biological readiness" to fall asleep in the mid-afternoon
  • An afternoon nap as short as 10 minutes can improve alertness, mood and mental performance
  • Afternoon naps are especially beneficial in sleep-deprived individuals
  • In many cultures, an afternoon nap is an expected part of the everyday schedule
Thus, I conclude that my afternoon nap (when I get it) is not laziness, but a necessary and beneficial part of living a high-performance lifestyle.

NOTE: in researching this article, I should mention that I learned that naps should be limited to 45 minutes and avoided after 4:00 p.m. to avoid grogginess and negatively impact evening sleep.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

3 Things to do on Vacation

Whether it's a vacation or a stay-cation, it's important to take time off from work to benefit your body, mind and business. I'm writing this from St. Thomas, where I've been with my husband for the past two days. It's beautiful! Here is what I have learned to do when I vacation to ensure that I maintain positive balance for my body, mind and business.

1. Take care of my body:
  • I schedule in at least some form of exercise each day - this may be a walking tour or a 30-minute jog on the beach.
  • I have a salad for lunch, and focus on grilled lean proteins and fresh veggies and fruits at all meals. This means that when I have dessert and wine with dinner, I don't feel at all guilty.
  • I bring my giant water bottle from home and keep it with me at all times.
2. Take care of my mind:
  • I laugh at every joke or funny thing I hear, even if it's really lame. This boosts my happiness enormously, and reminds me that I'm supposed to be having fun.
  • I smile at everyone I meet, especially the people who are serving me. The easiest way for me to lead a grateful life is to thank others and be grateful for them.
  • I read a book. I have always loved to read. Sometimes I dive into a juicy non-fiction, and sometimes I focus on self-improvement - it just depends on my state of mind.
3. Take care of my business:
  • I make sure that I tell everyone that I am going to be out of town, and actively schedule the week before my trip so that I am not overloaded the day before I leave. This is an imperfect system for me, and one that I'm still working on!
  • I check voicemail and e-mail only once or twice per week day, and only respond to urgent messages.
  • I bring a pen and paper for expansive ideas and the new ideas that inevitably pop up for me when I'm in a different environment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Never-Ending Quest

What I have noticed in taking better care of my body and mind is that, like a business, it is a never-ending process. You never reach "the end," and you can't just sit back and do nothing for too long.

I thought of this as I took a shower in what is possibly the most expensive hotel room that I've ever inhabited: The Ritz-Carlton at St. Thomas. Now, let me clearly say that I deeply appreciate the very fact that I'm here with my husband. I appreciate it even more because we're not paying for it - it's fully paid for by one of my clients. Here is the view from our room:Not too shabby, huh?

Unfortunately, despite many wonderful amenities, the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas has a serious flaw. For whatever reason, there are rust stains on the marble tiles in the shower.

At a $50-per night motel, this might be expected, but at a five-star resort, it does serious damage to the brand as a whole.

This is how I think of our constant care and maintenance of our bodies, minds and brains - it can be the little things that throw them off. The missed exercise session; the time you squashed your feelings when somebody hurt them; the time you missed that deliverable for a client. All of those incidents can sometimes add up to outweigh the positives.

I am not saying that we need to be perfectionists or neat-freaks. A few dust bunnies here and there, some scuff marks on the floorboards - these are all a normal part of life. But a rust stain is more serious (Although there are much worse stains to be found, I'm sure!).

In my pursuit of work-life balance, I'm endeavoring to keep my body, mind and business clear of rust stains. It's not easy, and it's very frequently exhausting, but I think the result will be worth it.

Now I just have to motivate myself to go for that run I planned on!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stay Small or Grow Big?

I just met a very nice couple that owns a successful hardware store in Boston. We were talking about the benefits of staying small vs. the challenges of doing so. In this case, the couple runs their store themselves, occasionally relying on just one part-time employee.

The Benefits:
  1. They don't have to worry about employee relations and motivation, since they (the owners) are basically the employees
  2. They don't have to worry about employees stealing from them or not treating customers appropriately
  3. They are intimately involved in every aspect of the business, and can make immediate changes without having to worry about how to pass them on to the employees
The Drawbacks:
  1. If they go on vacation, they have to close the store. This means that their ability to take days off, take vacations, or even handle family emergencies, is seriously compromised
  2. They can only grow as far as their own skills and talents can take them
  3. Their revenue is limited to one store
This is a balance that I see frequently when working with owner-operators, and I think it's a tough choice to make ... maintain control or sacrifice control for growth.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

3 Things I Learned at Yesterdays' Entrepreneur Magazine Conference

Yesterday I attended Entrepreneur Magazine's 2008 Growth 2.0 Conference. It was free, and there were some really excellent speakers in attendance. Here are three things that I learned:
  • Apparently billboard companies often have 2-3 month gaps between rentals. One speaker suggested that you could get a billboard for really cheap during that time. I'm not really sure that billboards "work" for most businesses, but this was interesting information to consider.

  • Public speakers need to be careful not to alienate their audience by bragging too much. One highly-qualified speaker really put me off with shameless self-promotion. There is a fine line between providing the backup support that you need to make your case and bragging, especially when you are discussing a topic about which your audience is already nervous about.

  • There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there! I was so impressed to meet so many people who are just considering entrepreneurship and/or starting new businesses. I think it's really great that Entrepreneur invested in the conference.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sometimes You Need a Map

Tonight I got mad. I was so mad that it's quite possible that I was raising my voice in anger as I "discussed" a difficult situation at work. The recipients of my rant were none other than my dear husband and, I'm sorry to say, my sweet little daughter.

I was really trying to manage my tone of voice and frustration, but the truth is that both of them knew that I was working myself into a worse and worse state of mind. Luckily, this is pretty rare, but I find that once I start on that negative spiral, it is sooooo hard to pick myself up, turn around, and head in the other direction and see the positives.

When I woefully exclaimed "I'm stuck!," my ingenious daughter remembered that when Dora needs to get un-stuck, she simply calls on her map to find the way. She helpfully pulled out her Dora book and showed me the map of how to get to the Mermaid Kingdom. She then proceeded to physically pull me up off the couch to encourage me to follow the map's instructions so that I could become un-stuck.

I almost cried, but then I realized that a map was exactly what I did need! I was able to shake off some of the anger, and read my little one another book before I put her to bed. Then I sat down at my desk and mapped out how I was going to handle the situation I am facing. I cannot make the situation go away, but I can make the anger and frustration subside by recognizing the path that I need to take, and how I can overcome the obstacles.

Thus, I realized that sometimes it is the very fact that I have a life that I am able to bring balance to my work.

Monday, December 8, 2008

3 Ways to Build a Business that doesn't Suck You Dry

Something that I have noticed in my business coaching work is that many entrepreneurs have built themselves a company that sucks them dry. The joy and passion that got them started slowly dwindles and eventually they end up depressed and angry with themselves for getting the business-building-bug in the first place.

It doesn't have to be that way!

Here are 3 Ways to Build a Business that doesn't Suck You Dry:
  1. Know what you want: what lifestyle are you looking for? Are you single and willing to work 24-7? Are you married with children and only have a limited amount of time and energy available? Build your business according to the lifestyle you want first. Nothing else matters as much as this!

  2. Know what you need: how much money do you need to make? Take a hard look at the market or industry that you are considering, and make sure that it will be able to afford you the income that you desire based on the answer to Question No. 1

  3. Get help: hire people to help you strategically based on what you don't like to do. Try to avoid the perfectionist trap of not being able to let go of all the tasks because you don't think that anyone can do them as well as you can. In order to achieve your answer to Question No. 1, you simply must figure out how to get and accept help.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

3 Things I Learned from "Getting Things Done"

Getting Things Done is a great book that covers all sort of organizational concepts. It's pretty overwhelming if you think that you have to do everything suggested, so I thought it might be helpful to break down the concepts that I gleaned from the book that have improved my office (and life) organization:

  1. Alphabetize your files - I know this sounds silly, but for some reason I never did this. I think that I just figured I don't have enough files. Well, now that I've done it, I can find files so much faster, and it makes the act of filing almost pain-free.

  2. Organize your to-do list - The book has a little bit of a crazy system in which you have both short- and long-term to-do lists. This was a bit much for me, but I did sit down and figure out exactly what type of to-do list would work for my lifestyle, and it is making a difference in my productivity.

  3. Commit to a single calendar and keep it up-to-date - Again, this is such a simple thing, but it really made an impact when I took a look at the calendaring system I was using and discovered that it wasn't quite fitting my needs. I immediately went to Staples and found the calendar of my dreams, and it has kept me on-track ever since.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Work-Life Soundtrack

Each morning, I schedule 30 minutes of self care (quick meditation, a cup of tea and daydreaming), and 30 minutes of work while my little one watches a video. Thus, my work-life soundtrack consists of songs from Dora the Explorer. At least it is positive - I find myself singing "We did it! We did it! We did it!" all day as a result of my office being next to her bedroom.

Ah ...the joys of working from home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I am not Superwoman

Sometimes I have to be really careful when planning my work days. With just three full days available on which to schedule meetings, I have a tendency to over-book them.

Back-to-back meetings were totally do-able (and didn't require a second thought!) before my daughter was born. In the past three years, however, although it is possible for me to make it through a fully-booked day, it can be really dangerous for my physical and mental health.

I end up feeling depleted, have almost nothing left to give to my family in the evening, and there is definitely no room for self-care. Without the energy to bolster myself, this depletion extends into the following work day, making the cycle come full-circle and thus impact both my personal and my professional lives.

Today I didn't realize that I had (once again) booked myself in back-to-back intensive meetings until I was halfway through them. Luckily, I was able to squeeze in 15 minutes between my mid-day and afternoon meetings to breathe deeply and realize what I had done. Then, as soon as my afternoon meeting was complete, I went home, took a bath, and sat on the couch daydreaming for 30 minutes before diving into the piles of paperwork that accumulate after a day of meetings.

Based on these actions, I was able to get a lot of work done in the hour between my daydreams and the excited "MOMMY!" that came from downstairs when my daughter came home. I was able to leave my desk and greet her and my husband with joy and excitement and even, yes, a little bit of energy.

Is this balance? I'm not sure, but it definitely feels better than trying to be Superwoman!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Day For Chocolate

Yesterday was one of those days when all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and stare off into space while eating chocolate. Some days the pressure of balancing building a business with raising child is just overwhelming.

Although I was prepared to wallow in my blah-ness and log fewer than 3,000 steps for the day, I remembered that my fitness coach suggested that I push myself outside just for a five-minute walk when I feel like this. I put it off and put it off, but eventually at 9:30 p.m. I figured I might as well give it a shot.

Sure enough, after five minutes of walking, I was committed to going 10 more, and soon I had accomplished a 40-minute walk. The truth is, my body didn't feel great about it - for some reason it was stiff and complaining, but my mind really needed that walk! By the half-way point, the clouds in my head had cleared, and chocolate cravings, daydreams, and negative thoughts were completely gone.

This is the amazing mind-body connection that I am continually awed by. In the end, by taking care of myself first, I am able to be more successful both in business and in life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Balancing Perfection with Getting Things Done

When you start a business, you need to establish some basic marketing materials: a logo; a website; a brochure; stationery; etc. I have noticed (in my work with clients) that some people have more trouble getting through these steps than others, and I think it has something to do with striving for perfection, which can also be thought of as a fear of doing things wrong.

Some psychologists say that in pursuing perfection we are actually avoiding failure. We are so afraid of putting ourselves out there that we hold back, delaying the processes that will make us a possible target for feedback.

What I have found is that putting our faith in someone else and allowing that person to help by building a website for us, or putting out a press release on our business, or otherwise promoting us to the world, can be terrifying for someone striving for perfection.

But, of course, we can't just ignore our perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes they are valid signals that the quality we seek is not being achieved. Thus, the true challenge is learning to discern perfectionism, or the avoidance of fear, from quality action, or the pursuit of something that accurately reflects us.

Obviously, this is not easy, and it is something that I and my clients struggle with regularly. What I have found is that just becoming aware of this balancing act and having empathy for our fear can sometimes help us get to quality action.