My Favorite Ways to Shift from Vacation to Work Mode

Mindful Communication A vacation AlternativeIf you took any significant time off for vacation, and if you are having or anticipating a sluggish transition back to work, consider these tips:

  1. Once you’re back, stow away all vacation paraphernalia as soon as possible: suitcases, event t-shirts or souvenirs. Lingering over pictures and vacay stuff is distractible and fortifies your post-vacay malaise.
  2. If your post vacation to-do list gives you a sinking feeling, take several minutes to refresh your intention, the passion and purpose for your work.
  3. Restore your (normalized, I hope!) pre-vacation sleep and exercise routines. Challenge yourself on Monday to add on another five pushups or sit ups to your daily workout.
  4. Round up your team members and refine your goals for the next quarter. Encourage folks to share any ideas for the company that popped up in their minds while on vacation. Plan a couple affordable office events for the fall – apple picking, a picnic lunch, a Sunday brunch staff meeting at your house, etc.
  5. Detox yourself. Drink plenty of water and eat lots of greens. Alcohol, junk food and lavish desserts drag down your energy; the effects of additives, bad fats and sugar can linger in your body for many days.
  6. Think of one situation you encountered during your vacation that inspired you to greater heights in your life. Here are some examples of such moments:

• The golfing partner with the great attitude whose ball landed in every water hole or sand trap along the way, until he scored a hole-in-one at 18

• The waiter who gave you the greatest idea for enhancing customer service

• The fellow at the bar who shared a book that gave answers to a problem you’ve been dealing with for months

• The one-armed surfer and the veteran with the artificial leg who handily conquered 20 foot waves beating the normal-limbed competition “hands down.”

• The 95 year old man who stood in the hot sun at the finish line to cheer on his 85 year old college sweetheart.

Not enough solutions for you? How about a back-to-work-pick-me-up coaching session?

Contact me at [email protected]

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A Vacation Alternative for Entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurship becomes more widespread, I suspect that the nature of “vacations” will change. For example, for the last few years my business and my husband’s business have not allowed for regular 1-2 week vacation slots. Like many other entrepreneurs, long breaks are not feasible for us right now. To make a vacation worthwhile, you’re supposed to come back well rested and full of energy. Airport hassles, crowds, tight schedules, and money you’d rather invest in smarter ways make those expectations unlikely. Perhaps you have elderly parents or family members that may need some urgent attention, and you’ll have to be available for them. You/we are not alone. Here’s something that has been working well for us I’d like you to try.

Carve out one hour a day for a vacation break. Prepare the walking shoes, the sunhat and somewhere to go in your mind — whatever you’ll need to escape for just one hour each day. In that hour you’ll escape from the office and think about a great vacation you took or one that you hope to take one day.  Subscribe to a hard copy adventure magazine you can lose yourself in (not on your phone!)  Plan a fabulous dinner you’d like to prepare. Get on a bike and allow yourself to focus on the environment around you.  Find some simple activities, ideally with a health component, that will sweep your mind and body away for 60 minutes. Just as with meditation, when thoughts of work or projects come into mind, let them fly by like passing birds. If planned well, this kind of vacation can enhance creativity and open up pockets of energy you can instantly apply to your work. These kinds of no-hassle vacations can be tremendously satisfying.  Plus, don’t be surprised if a terrific solution you’ve been seeking pops into your head during your “time off.” You’ll be close enough to your desk to put it in motion.

Make downtime an investment in your business.  CoreFour coaching can help make this valuable time beneficial to your business. [email protected]       

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Is Your Style of Procrastination Working For You?

I bet you thought I was going to curse procrastination in this blog. Au contraire!  Not all procrastination is bad. As a matter of fact, putting off a major undertaking may give you time to consider the risks. On the other hand, you may have a style of procrastination that works very well for you. According to Mary Lamia in her book What Motivates Getting Things Done, procrastination is a problem when styles collide or when the deadlines are missed or met with unreasonable stress.

Before I talk about different styles of procrastination, let’s clarify the difference between good and bad stress. Good stress is excitement or intense curiosity, like the jitters you may experience before doing a talk. Bad stress is anxiety provoking, panicky, self-sabotaging and physiologically unhealthy for us and those around us.

Lamia distinguishes between Deadline-Driven and Task-Driven procrastination styles, DDPs and TDPs respectively. DDPs note the deadline and begin mentally planning the task in spurts without taking any overt action. They may let the idea incubate for several days and weeks. Come the last day, it all comes together. Many successful DDPs report a surge of “good stress” and a heightened state of focus within hours of the deadline. They often deliver their best work under pressure. If you’re DDP, and the fallout doesn’t take a toll on your health or the well-being of those around you, it’s a safe and effective strategy, so go with it.

TDPs will start tasks almost immediately, but not complete the tasks until later. They may be perfectionistic and postpone task completion until it meets a high level of quality. These folks have a hard time being satisfied with “good enough.” Yet the successful TDPs will manage many tasks at once and eventually meet their deadlines with a minimal amount of bad stress.

Since procrastination, the bad stress variety, is such a common complaint, I find it easier to help my clients become more efficient within a style that suits them versus trying to switch horses. It’s also good advice to share your style for meeting deadlines with co-workers and partners, as both styles can be unnerving to the non-procrastinator.

Would you like to make your style of procrastination more efficient or rid yourself of procrastination for good? Happy to help! Contact me at [email protected]        

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Let Your End Users Talk

When starting your own business, it’s important to do solid market research – you must be sure you’ll have customers and lots of them. When talking with potential customers, or end users, you want to seek information about their pain points. You are researching, not selling. You must accept the possibility that your product or service idea may drastically change or disappear after these conversations, and be okay with that. Poor listening to the market is a major reason for the high failure rate of new businesses.

Last week I observed a “discovery session” for four entrepreneurs (Es) who were creating tools for adult learning.  45 older adults were invited to share their frustrations with learning. The participants were divided into four groups with one E to each group. Two of the four Es spent the hour talking more about the virtues of their product idea than listening to the needs of the group. One E threw out a series of yes/no questions, which came across as a way of corralling participants into agreeing with the E’s proposition. When a few members piped up and suggested different features, alternatives or hailed the competition, you could see these Es bristle. These Es were clearly in love with their own solutions and could not help but shift to selling mode instead of gathering unbiased and constructive information. The other two Es, however, had the right approach.  As a matter of fact, you could not tell whether these two Es even had a product idea. They sat back and let the participants vent about their struggles with learning how to use a cell phone or installing a computer. These Es asked open-ended questions  resulting in so much content that the scribes could barely keep up. In addition, these Es, not blinded by their own solutions, were intensely interested in how the participants valued existing tools.

Need help learning how to deeply listen and ask questions that put you on the path to entrepreneurial success? Contact me at [email protected]                

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Sleep Deprivation and Startup Failure

Sleep deprivation and wacky sleep schedules are synonymous with entrepreneurship. It is probably the most common condition my clients report. So much so, that they consider it normal — a badge of honor. Poor sleep is just what comes with being a founder, right?  I submit that a founder who is not getting good quality sleep, not necessarily more sleep, has a lower chance of success. In my quest to get to eradicate the high failure rate of new businesses (70-90% depending on your sources), I look to the core of the problem which includes the well-being of the founder. Snap judgments, impulsive decision-making, concentration complaints and irritability are frequently signs of a founder in trouble. These are also symptoms of sleep deprivation. To make good decisions, and the rest, our prefrontal cortex (the CEO of our brain) needs to be able to inhibit the activity of emotional parts of our brain. With a good night’s sleep we experience a better balance between emotion and rational, logical thought.

A study several years ago by Matthew Walker Ph.D, author of Why We Sleep, compared brain scans of two groups of subjects – sleep deprived and well rested. He looked at the activity in a part of the brain known as the amygdala – a hot spot for triggering strong emotions. The brain scans of the sleep deprived subjects  showed a 60% amplification of emotional reactivity. The well rested group showed “a controlled, modest degree” of reactivity in the amygdala. He concluded that “without the rational control given to us each night by sleep, we’re not on a neurological –and e emotional –even keel.” Notice how more nights of good quality sleep increase your chances of staying in business!

See my article for ways to getting better sleep!

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Cold Call Curiosity

Q: I avoid meeting face-to face with potential customers. I developed a very good pet care product, but I need users and feedback. The thought of traipsing from one vet’s office to another and having no-takers is daunting. I want to get more comfortable with the cold-calling process. Please help!  Ron P. Mokena, Illinois 

Cold calling can be uncomfortable, and there may be some real and unfounded reasons that discourage you from visiting potential customers. One of my favorite ways to re-frame a sales call with a high risk of rejection is to approach a cold calls as an “information gathering” visit. Assuming that you truly believe in the value and purpose of your product, here are a few ideas:

Put together a basic script: a greeting, an introduction and the problem your product can solve. Add a dose of friendliness and gratitude for their time. Practice with friends until you’re smooth.

Ask what product they are using now (you should have a good knowledge of your competition) and point out what makes your product special, more effective or easier to use. Supply proof.

Drop in on stores that would likely carry a product like yours  and ask the manager for feedback on the looks of your product. Ask what they’d do differently. They may know an expert who can enhance the look of your product. Don’t be surprised if he/she asks for a sample and a business card!

Make notes of what your potential customers had to say and learn from it. Ask, “I want to make my product better, what would make you want to give it a try?” With this approach, most folks will give you some advice. Being a seeker of information first and a salesman second may make the “jagged little pill” of cold calling easier to swallow.

For more on the subject of cold calling, check out Cold-Calling for Cowards by Jerry Hocutt.

Need help connecting with potential customers face-to-face? Contact me at [email protected]   

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The Creativity of Constraint

Many of my clients are trying to start their ventures while maintaining full or part time jobs. A major complaint is finding the time to make progress towards their project. Their routine was so nice and neat before the ball wrecker of a startup came crashing in and challenged their time management skills. For a budding entrepreneur – it is now your “moment of truth.”  Do you cringe at the thought of keeping “a schedule” or being accountable for your time? I have a client who insists upon using the word “planner” because the thought of “a schedule” would constrain her spontaneity. These folks see a schedule as a tyrant, a force that denies their creativity and free-flowing nature. This must change.

Consider this: Some time constraint will make the best use of your creativity. When you block out regular chunks of time to work deeply on your project, that type of commitment will spur on a greater concentration of innovative thoughts and insights. With even small blocks of time set aside every day devoted to your project, your brainstorming will be more targeted. You will make small, but cumulative gains that amount to something tangible at the end of the week. An opened-ended “no plan” defies progress, invites distractions and draws you into the morass of Web-surfing and social media. How free-flowing will you feel when a year has passed without progress on your venture? Is it worth risking a little spontaneity to see your product or service taking shape? Create a structure that allows your true creative potential to emerge.

Do you need to be creative with time management? Would you like to be more thoughtful and productive with your time? Contact me at [email protected]   

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Turtle Tenacity

Driving home from the gym today, all psyched and ready to start work on a project that had many doubters (except for me, of course!), I spied a small turtle in the middle of the road. Because it’s turtle mating season, a kind soul posted a “Turtle Xing” sign to alert drivers that turtles are not speed bumps. Knowing the likely fate of this turtle, I pulled over and went to help the little guy get across the street towards his destination — the pond. Snapping turtles, unlike painted turtles, even small ones, are pretty vicious. This snapper, only 6 inches long, growled and hissed the moment I touched the back of his shell. One car after another pulled up to help. One guy got out of his truck, found a stick and started to gently prod him across the street toward the pond. Instead of hiding in his shell and being passive, the snapper snarled and viciously fought the stick with all his might, insistent on getting to the pond his way. Gradually, more drivers pulled over to watch this David and Goliath spectacle. One woman reflected, “He’s like me. If someone tries to stop me from doing somethin’ I wanna do, I give ’em a fight.” Another fellow marveled, “Wow, what a tough little guy. I bet he’ll get lucky in the swamp!” A third guy exclaimed, “Look at the fight he’s putting up, he just won’t quit. Geez, if you could bottle that, I’d buy a case full!”  The turtle’s strength and courage to fight something so much bigger was impressive. What if we pursued our projects with the same dogged determination as this turtle? Could we ignore the naysayers no matter how they are trying to protect us? Would we risk getting run over and losing everything to see our dream realized?

Finally, the guy with the stick got the turtle closer to the water. We cheered as the snapper scurried towards the mucky pond. Once he got to the edge where he would dive in and likely never be seen again, he stopped and looked back  at us as if to say, Good fight humans. I rather enjoyed it, but I hope you learned something too. Splash! And he was gone.

A bit of reflective conversation revealed that this seemingly insignificant event had inspired each one of us to be a little more persistent in pursuing our goals, and to resist the resistance. Sometimes, Mother Nature intercedes to teach us valuable lessons.

Need a push? Read about my CoreCoaching services, and let’s get you moving! Contact me at [email protected]

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Getting to “NEXT”

Q: I’m an intrapreneur in my company. I come up with and execute revenue-producing ideas with little risk to me personally. But when a great idea goes bust, I have a hard time shirking it and moving on. I think this tendency will come to bite me when I’m my own boss someday. Transitioning is hard, what to do?  Dan R. Toronto, Canada

“Transitioning” has a broad definition. For those who have the gift of hyperfocus, breaking away from one activity to move on to something else is challenging. You know you need to stop, but you need a team of wild horses to drag you to the next activity. Others need lots of time to stop thinking about one task so as to start thinking about the next task. For example, you may find yourself in a meeting with your accountant, and as he points out the numbers, your “guy in the basement” (see blog from 5-8-18) is still stuck on the design of your packaging.

Dan’s transitioning concern is about moving on emotionally from a failed project to a new idea. Even though he experienced no personal financial loss, the time spent grieving, blaming and shaming wastes time and energy. Lots of hands go up when you ask founders if they know what Dan is going through. One solution is to step back and examine the situation like a scientist peering into a microscope − what went wrong and how you can avoid these mistakes the next time around.  Common missteps to avoid in your next project include:

  • communication failures between persons and departments
  • no “walk through” period to identify weaknesses or ambiguities in the process
  • identifying persons key to the success of the project who were not suited or not in favor of the project from the start– the stealthy saboteurs
  • a lack of oversight during the rollout; poor monitoring the money, service quality and customer feedback.

Swallow that “jagged little pill” and take responsibility for the failure. Even though others may have contributed to the project’s demise, release your grudges. These persons know who they are, what they did and realize they have let you down. You have learned something new about the people you work with. Be professional and remain cordial. Note that especially in small companies, you may need these folks again in the next project. Perhaps, next time, they’ll step up to the plate.

Emotional self-regulation is a core executive function that every self-starter needs to master. Learn about effective, non-medication ways to manage your emotions and make transitions easier. Contact me at [email protected]

 

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Connection Conversations

Founders short on time and money tend to short communication with staff. Hasty hires, ignoring minor office tiffs, hazy objectives and the like can cost more time and money in the end. These problems aren’t too great for your health either. Minutes of wholehearted, attentive listening can save a company millions. Research shows that founders who foster a mindful listening environment meet their deadlines and quotas more often, are more successful and have happier and sustainable teams. It’s never too late to infuse more mindful listening into your startup.

Hands down, the best ways to improve communication is to have quarterly face-to-face, electronic-free, 20 minute meetings  with each employee. The goal, simply by listening, makes your employees feel valued and respected for their ideas and opinions. I have found that giving an employee just five minutes of uninterrupted, earnest listening can be transformative.

Discovering an employee’s learning and communication style can be very helpful in forming teams and meeting expectations. Are they high energy and assertive, meek and agreeable, task driven or deadline driven? Are they static or growth oriented? What are their values, and why do or don’t they show up to work every day? Expensive surveys are a time hog, touted as a time saving way to get a pulse on the opinions of the group, barely skim the surface of what employees need and want to make your company great.If you offer these periodic connection conversations, come performance review time, your employees will show greater willingness to accept feedback and make needed changes.

Founders alert: Short on time and money? Can’t afford expensive consultants and training? Get a 60 minute personalized coaching session with me. Learn how a few simple changes to your listening style can upgrade your team’s efficiency and productivity. Contact me at [email protected]  

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