Tag Archives: life

Getting It Done At Home

I had my last job in corporate America in 2007. What that means is that for the last 11+ years I’ve been working on my own out of a home office. I suspect, given the way the business world has changed over the last decade, that many of you are in the same situation. Maybe you elected to spend a few bucks on a desk at some co-working space and while that’s fine, this post isn’t really for you. It’s for those of us who absolutely could stay in our PJ’s propped up in bed with a laptop all day and no one would be any the wiser.

I will admit that I’ve done exactly that. I’ll also tell you that it really isn’t the optimal thing to do if you want to be productive. I have a few other thoughts about getting it done while working at home and I thought I’d share them with you today. What brought this on is that I’ve had many candidates looking at home-based businesses and I usually try at some point to tell them how different it is to work from home.

First, the one thing you MUST do is to pick up the telephone. While email is a great way to communicate about some things, you miss the nuance that human interaction brings. Moreover, it’s fun! Human interaction is great! When I started doing franchise consulting and found myself on the phone almost constantly, I realized how much I missed that. Very early in my career (long before email) I spent hours cold calling and setting up meetings. Phone time decreased over the years until when I was working at home it was barely part of what I did. Don’t be a monk: use the phone.

Take breaks. I believe in the 20-20-20 rule for your eyes (look away from the screen at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) but it’s also important that you mirror the brief interruptions you usually get working in a corporate office. Be sure you eat (not over your keyboard!).  Take a walk. Spend an hour hitting golf balls. Do something not work-related so you don’t drive yourself crazy, which it’s easy to do when there isn’t anyone else around to distract you.

Don’t feel guilty when you run errands or do other things that you couldn’t do if you were still in the corporate world. There are many downsides to working on your own and at home. The freedom to use your time as you see fit is one of them.

Finally, if you have space, really set up a dedicated room as an office. Besides providing a tax deduction, it’s always made me feel like the professional that I am. I’m writing this in my home office which has the same sort of stuff on the wall as I had in my corporate offices.  It feels like I’m at work. Having the dedicated space also reminds me that I’m off work when I walk into the rest of the house and I should behave that way.

How do you get it done at home? Any tips of your own that you’d like to share?

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A Second Opinion

This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.

Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.

Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.

As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.

It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.

Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?

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Five Feet From Where?

If you’ve been reading the screed on a regular basis of late, you know that my recent experience of purchasing and moving into a new home has provided wonderful fodder for my rants. Today will continue the trend.

One thing that I asked the builder to do as part of the deal was to put up a five-foot fence in the back yard. He agreed and yet another adventure in communication began. It dawned on me as this adventure progressed that there is a great business point contained within.

I live in a community that has an HOA – a homeowner’s association. I’d never lived with one before and so wasn’t really used to the fact that most of the people living in “neighborhoods” down here live with the fact that a board can tell them everything from what color they can paint their home to the type of trees they can plant to the type and height of the fences they can erect and where. To build my fence, I needed HOA approval, and that’s when the fun started. I couldn’t get that approval until I actually owned the home. Until then, the developer’s regulations applied, meaning the fence could only extend five feet from the side of the house and be no more than four feet high. I wanted to live with the HOA rule of the fence being five feet from the property line, not from the house, which in my case meant it would extend an extra eight feet from the house. I also wanted the HOA to approve a five-foot-high fence. You with me so far?

The builder was happy to put up the fence but he would have to do so within the builder regulations unless I wanted to wait almost 2 months, the time it would take to close on the house and go through the HOA approval process. I won’t bore you with the details, but I managed to get the approval much faster (it helps to have golf buddies with good connections). The fence was going up as of last Friday and should be done by Monday, move-in day.

I drove by the new house on Friday and sure enough, the five foot high posts were in the ground, exactly five feet from the house and NOT from the property line. Despite many emails and calls back and forth, somehow the point of the delay – to get a variance to get five feet from the property line and not from the house – was lost even though the message about extra height got through. The fence company was told five feet from the house and they were not happy when they got the call to reset all the posts. Of course, there were also emails asking for proof that the variance had been granted (they’d received the copies several weeks before). As of right now, I’m looking at posts five feet high sitting five feet from the property line (and 13 feet from the house) awaiting the rails and pickets to be attached, hopefully, today or tomorrow.

What’s the business point? No matter what you think you’re communicating to someone, it’s always a good idea to review it again, especially when it involves something that’s not easily undone. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you. Make sure that nothing was lost in the communication. In my case, “five feet” wasn’t the issue. Five feet from where certainly was and that’s what got lost somehow. Good teams are all built around great communication. So are good partnerships and great customer service.

Frost wrote Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Apparently, that something is unclear instruction and faulty communication, right?

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Happy MLK Day. Dream On!

I think I got it right last year so I’m reposting it this year along with the introduction I wrote at the time. Happy birthday, Dr. King!

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized than they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Top Posts Of 2018 #2

This is the second most-read post written in 2018. I wrote it following the passing of my uncle, the husband of my only aunt and my godmother. The post is about being willing to be surprised and to be wrong. What I found out about him changed a view I had held for many years. Since then, I’ve reminded myself constantly that what you think you know today might be completely wrong tomorrow and I try to behave accordingly as I run my business and consult with clients. Enjoy!

My uncle passed away last week. He was married to my mother’s sister and, obviously, wasn’t a young man. Still, a loved one’s death is never easy and due to a lengthy illness, this one was especially hard. I flew to Florida to attend his funeral and to offer love and support to my aunt and cousins. If you’ve ever sat with folks who’ve experienced a loss, maybe you’ve had a similar experience to what went on. There was much talking and reminiscing about my uncle and many old family memories were shared with a mixture of laughter and sadness.

My uncle was a man I’d known my entire life and yet during the time spent chatting I learned something I’d never known. There was a book on my aunt’s table. In it were poems that my uncle had written over the years, mostly to her. It turned out he had also written a play. I was very surprised by this since my uncle was a rather vocal prognosticator on whatever topic happened to be at hand. Sports, in particular, was something about which he was never at a loss for an opinion. He was in an odd way a less knowledgeable Howard Cosell and although he was frequently wrong he was never deterred from speaking his mind. The fact that he had written love poetry to his wife was not exactly something that I thought he’d be doing.

The point of this is to remind each of us that no matter how well we think we know a topic or a person we need to keep an open mind and a readiness to be surprised. If someone had told me that my uncle was a playwright I’d have thought they were joking. That fact that I saw his poetry reminded me how little I really knew or understood about him.

Be willing to be wrong. Accept that there are things you don’t know and seek them out. Get as many facts as you can. Oddly, my uncle would often opine without having some key facts at hand. Even so, it’s his last message to me as expressed through the existence of his poetry that was probably the best thing he ever said to me. Does it resonate with you too?

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Put It Away!

It’s Foodie Friday and today’s topic is an article I came across about something a restaurant chain is doing that I think is a fantastic idea. I’ll admit that I’m an old-school kind of a guy. When I go out to eat with family, friends, or business associates, I like to interact with them. You know: eye contact, conversation, a few laughs, that sort of thing.

That was the norm until about a dozen years ago when suddenly, everyone got smartphones. All of a sudden the table looked like the reading room at a library. Not a lot of talk and everyone with their heads down reading their phones. I hate it, especially since I generally keep my phone off the table and in a pocket when I’m drinking or dining with others. I figure if it’s an emergency, someone will call me. Responding to an email can wait a few minutes while I finish my meal and my conversation. And trust me – the intense argument on Facebook isn’t worth your time or attention.

What this restaurant chain is doing is simple and smart:

The lack of communication among its diners has prompted British restaurant chain Frankie & Benny’s to offer free meals for kids if families give up their phones when they enter the restaurant. The Italian-American restaurant…came up with the idea after examining the results of a survey it conducted about the way adults use their smartphones. After questioning 1,500 parents and children, the results revealed that around 10 percent of kids had at some point hidden their mom or dad’s handset in a bid to get their full attention. More than 70 percent of the children surveyed said they wished their parents would spend less time fiddling about on their phone, while about the same figure said it felt as if their parents preferred to be on their phone than with them.

Sad that it’s come to that but I often feel just like one of those kids. There is a broader point to be made as well. Walk into most meetings these days and one or more of the “participants” isn’t really participating because they’re preoccupied with their phone. Frankly, I’m a fan of turning phones to silent during a meeting and keeping them out of sight. If what’s going on in the room isn’t more important than what’s happening on your phone then either the meeting never should have happened or you shouldn’t be there.

I guess I have a love/hate relationship with my smartphone. I love that almost all the world’s information is right there and that I can communicate no matter where I am (I still remember running around NYC trying to find a working pay phone during a business emergency). I hate the fact that we respond like Pavlov’s dog to a beep or a buzz. I despise that we’re far less connected during our interactions even as we have the ability to be constantly connected. I didn’t like the fact that as the host I had to ask all the kids to put their phones away while the family was eating, at least for 10 or 15 minutes. You would have thought I had asked them to eat turnips.

Try putting down the phone in social situations and see if the quality of those situations doesn’t improve. Try it in meetings too. What do you have to lose?

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Thank You For Your Service

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I don’t typically post on Sundays but I did want to honor all of those who served by putting out something, even if a day late. This is my post from 2009 (yes, I’ve been at this for quite a while) and I like it as much now as I did then. Thank you for your service if you served and please remember to thank a vet, even if it’s a day late.

Today is Veteran’s Day, a holiday which was created to commemorate the end of “The War To End All Wars.” While that part didn’t work out so well, it’s a worthy celebration of our men and women who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces. My Dad is one of those vets. He fought – as Archie Bunker used to say – in The Big One – WW2. And while he’s taught me a lot over the years, he and his fellow vets teach us another really valuable business lesson to go along with all the others.

Veterans Day 2007 poster from the United State...
My father got out of high school and went into the service like most of the young men (and many young women) of his generation.  They put their country ahead of themselves realizing that the answer to “what’s in it for me” lay in the preservation of the principles on which this country was founded and which made everything else in their lives possible.

The really inelegant analogy I want to make has to do with how we approach business.  While the stakes in business aren’t nearly what they were and are for the vets, there are still people making that same decision today both in and out of business.  That decision is to put something else – your customers in the case of business, your country in the case of vets – ahead of yourself.  I’ve written a lot about everything from lousy customer service to marketing messages that shout “me me me” and not “you you you.”  That’s so 1999, isn’t it?

Converse, don’t spew.  Listen, don’t talk.  If I can’t get you to engage in a conversation and put others first because it’s smart, how about to salute the vets?

Any takers?

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