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Popsicle Stick Time Management

I recently read the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (President of Pixar).  The book’s tagline is to overcome the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.  Chapter by chapter, Catmull unlocks creative leadership ideas by effective (and vulnerable) story telling.  He shares his own journey in detail – through the lens of job transitions as well as different projects (like various Pixar movies).  The book reads more like a page-turning biographical novel, with the added bonus that it has golden content on leadership.  David Slocum, writer for Forbes magazine, says “it’s one of the half-dozen best books that have been written about creative business and creative leadership. Ever” (source).

One key takeaway that I had from the book was on time management.  I’m a organized+creative+visual person, so I loved this idea that was sparked by a producer on the Pixar team.  The idea was simple: popsicle sticks stuck to a wall of Velcro.  Each stick represented a person-week (which equals the amount of work one animator could accomplish in a week’s time).  The sticks, in various amounts, would get placed next to a particular project (in Pixar’s case, a character from the movie The Incredibles).  The popsicle system gave the team a visual representation of their resources.  Here’s how Catmull described it working: “A bunch of sticks would be lined up next to a particular character for easy reference.  A glance at the wall would tell you: If you use that many popsicle sticks on Elastigirl, you’ll have less time to spend on Jack-Jack.  And so on.” When a manager would approach the team and say “This needs to be done today” the team would reference the Velcro wall and explain that they would then need another “stick” or ask where they’d like to take a stick from.  Catmull called it “a great example of the positive creative impact of limits.”

pixarI was so drawn to this example of time management and resources, that I made my own popsicle stick Velcro wall (see picture).  For my own work purposes, each colored Velcro line equals a key goal in my job (e.g. project management, 1:1’s with direct reports, etc).  And the popsicle sticks equal 1 hour of work.  So by glancing at my mini-wall, I can see where my week’s resources are being placed, and if I need to adjust in any way.  An added bonus is that the color-coded key goals correspond to the different category colors represented on my Outlook calendar (yes, I’m a bit of a nerd).

What time management tools do you use?  I’ll look forward to connecting with you in the comments section.

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How to decline a meeting.

standing_ozy-2Last week, I axed a weekly meeting.
The three other people in on this weekly meeting are incredible, and I’ve learned a lot from our time together.  But, besides enjoying their conversation, there was no reason to keep on meeting.  What we had set out to achieve had been accomplished.
 
Canceling this meeting got me wondering, if I hadn’t cancelled the meeting, how long would we have still met, simply for the sake of meeting?

Meetings are effective and necessary. But not all of them.

When deciding to accept or decline a meeting – run it through this checklist first.

  1. Agenda: Does the meeting have a planned agenda? If it doesn’t, consider opting out until one is established. I’ve attended way too many agenda-less meetings that could have been accomplished in 15 minutes instead of 60. Consider responding by saying something like: “Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. I’d like to attend, but before I accept could you provide me with an agenda of what will be discussed? As a rule, I only attend meetings that have objectives for what’s to be accomplished.”
  2. Content: Are you having the meeting to make a decision? Decision-based meetings are necessary. If no decisions are being made or discussed, there’s a good chance the meeting isn’t worth your time.
  3. People: Are the right people in the room? Only the people needed to make a decision should be invited. People attending to just be in the informational loop should be dismissed. Having the right people in the room makes for quality conversation. Having too many people in the room makes for a quantity of conversation.
  4. Brainstorm: Is the meeting a brainstorming session? Creative meetings are fun, and are meant to be less-structured and more free-flowing. But beware brainstorming sessions that are completely unstructured. So, run it through #1-3 first – make sure the meeting has some objectives (agenda), ask what outcome is needed from the meeting (content), and make sure all who needs to be there is present (people).

Do you have other criteria for accepting or declining meetings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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We are made for Labor Day.

So, I gotta be honest.  Up until writing this post, I actually didn’t know the history behind Labor Day.  Why question a 3-day weekend, right?  For the majority of my teens and twenties, Labor Day was simply the weekend I saw Dave Matthews at the Gorge before heading back to school.
 
But the history behind Labor Day is as interesting as it is empowering.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 (pictured: a lithograph of the parade in New York City on Labor Day).  In 1887 it was established to be celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September to honor the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country (source).  A group of the key players within this movement called themselves The Knights of Labor. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to empower not just laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer (source).

For most of us, work is a commitment that takes up most of our time.  But, though work dominates most of the hours of our week, it is also the one thing that we can routinely do week in, week out.  Think about your work week rhythm.  Now replace your work with something else.  Can you imagine doing something else for 40-60 hours, week in, week out?  Exercising?  Watching television?  Reading books? Playing golf?  I’ve heard people say, “When I retire I’m going to play a lot of golf.”  But 40 hours a week of golf?  Or television?  Try keeping that up for a few weeks.  We aren’t made to do that.

But we are made to work.  We can handle work in large quantities of time, unlike other activities.  We are made to be creative.  We are made to produce things.  Just like the Knights of Labor believed in the late 1800s, the movement wasn’t just for laborers, but anyone who produced anything.  I have a friend who is a project manager, but her passion is baking cupcakes.  She spends time dreaming of flavor combinations to try.  She carves time out of her schedule to carefully craft and decorate them.  And then she lets me eat them.  She is a “laborer” (project manger by day) and “producer” (cupcake creator by night).  You take away her labor and she is still a producer.  Take away what she produces, and she’s still a laborer.

The point is this: we are made for work.  We are made for Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

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5 Ways to Clear Your Head to Increase Concentration

 We all have times when we feel very unproductive and have a hard time focusing on our tasks. Finding inspiration can turn into a major problem if you don’t fuel and rest your brain from time to time.

But–to the rescue!–there are some easy ways to “unstick” your brain:

restaurant-person-woman-coffee-large1. Take a pause

If you have thought the situation through, and there is no way out, then it’s time to take a pause. Grab a coffee, have a little snack and do something else for a while. Refocusing elsewhere and returning to your problem later will allow you to see things from a different angle, and may help you resolve the problem.

 



 

landscape-nature-sky-sunset-large2. Fresh air

Take a walk outside, preferably into the green. Your eyes will be thankful for the pause from your computer screen, and some fresh air will help your body and mind to recharge their batteries. If you’re living in the city, don’t go the usual way, but try to explore new streets and areas.

 

 

 

person-woman-music-pink-large3. Surround yourself with nature

Research shows that there are cognitive benefits to surrounding yourself with greenery or images of nature. Try to choose a workplace where you’ll have a nice view outside, some plants nearby. Not an option? Listen to some soothing background sounds in order to boost your creativity.

 

 

 

Brooklyn Bridge4. Exercise

Sitting in front of your computer all day is not only bad for your health, but it’s also bad for your brain. It’s scientifically proven that people who exercise up to four times a week have better creative thinking skills than people that don’t. If you’re commuting to work, it’s great idea to walk or bike. Try to use lunch breaks to fit in some exercise.

 

 

 

1CB98C9DF85. Talk

Often we tend to immerse ourselves in our own problems, and we feel that we shouldn’t bother others with our issues. However, it can really help if you talk to somebody else. It can help not only to talk about your problems, but also to listen to other people’s problems and try to help. By doing this, you will get a different point of view. Perhaps while helping others, you will also distract yourself from your own problems–a win-win for both sides.

 


unnamedStefano Merlo is the CEO and founder of Noisli, a service that helps people to focus and boost productivity by blocking out annoying noises and creating a personal sound environment. Stefano has a Degree in Product and Visual Communication Design. A curious mind, always craving to learn new things. Find Stefano on Twitter at @stefanomerlo
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No expectations, no disappointments.

no ex
I’m a planner.
I’m a goal-setter.
I love the strategy that goes along with discerning a five-year strategic plan.

But in addition to my goal-setting-strategic-planning posture, I’ve found that I also need to embrace the discipline of having no expectations.

The things that frustrate, anger, and irritate me have one thing in common:  I don’t like it when what I expect to happen doesn’t happen.

I have expectations of how other people should drive…how my husband should load the dishwasher…and how my boss should respond to my job performance.  And more often than not, my expectations prove to be a fanatical fantasy.

Unfulfilled expectations create disappointment.  But no expectations equals no disappointments.

Growing up, I learned to “expect the best” and all will work out.  And even as an overly-optimistic person, that mantra has not panned out all the time.

Setting zero expectations means that we are open for more creativity in the moment, as well as the unexpected surprises that never disappoint.

I recently got married.  The other day, someone asked me what goal I was excited to accomplish during my first year of marriage.  I thought for a moment, before happily realizing that my main goal for my first year of marriage is to practice not having any expectations.  But to take it day by day.  And learn, and grow as a couple.

William Shakespeare wrote that “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”  By minimizing unneeded expectations, I hope to minimize heartache at home, as well as in the workplace.

 

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I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

Yes NoI’ve tried my hand at time management.
Which I’m okay at.
But at times, I still busy myself and over commit to things.
Part of me really likes being busy.
And another part of me has a hard time saying “no.”
And I know, I know…saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else….so I should say “no” to good things so I can say “yes” to better things.

But at times, those “better” things add up.  So I renegotiate my priorities, in hopes to lessen my busy schedule.  And start the cycle of time management all over again.

Lately, I’ve been reading this book that completely changed the way I think about time management.
The author states the following:
“I use to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
This was an ah-ha moment for me, and I completely resonate with what the author is getting at.
I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.
Time management isn’t as much about what I’m saying yes and no to as it is about what I’m putting my energy towards to succeed at.

So this week, I’m looking at my schedule differently.
I’m focusing on the things that do matter – like my speaking engagement on Tuesday night, a soft launch for a mentoring program, cooking dinner for my fiancé, and watching Veggie Tales with my nephews on Friday morning.
And I’m setting aside the things that, when it comes down to it, don’t really matter – like the petty differences between my top three choices of charcoal tile for my kitchen remodel, the dirty dishes in the sink after cooking my fiancé dinner, checking my email every few minutes (thus distracting me from my super-cute nephews), and Dexter (which I absolutely love…but I’d rather be successful at life rather than watching television).

Join me, in fearing success at insignificant things.

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Maybe the grass IS greener on the other side…

grassPerhaps there is some truth to the saying “the grass is greener on the other side.”

We can always find greener grass than the grass we’re standing on.

But instead of getting caught up in comparison-mode, re-route your perspective back to yourself.

Pining for another person’s green “grass” (someone else’s life, career, marriage, etc) will work the opposite way you want it to.  Instead of focusing on the condition of your own grass, you’re wasting time wishing you had someone else’s.

Maybe the grass IS greener on the other side.
But, so what?
Instead of being jealous or threatened by greener grass, see it as an invitation to water the grass you’re standing on.  If someone has an amazing job, be inspired to lean in and set a goal to earn a promotion.  If someone has the “perfect marriage,” figure out ways to work on your own marriage (the #staymarried blog is a great resource).

The secret to a better life isn’t seeing how you size up to someone else’s life (and thank you Facebook for making this all-too-easy).  The secret to a better life is self-awareness…and knowing what fertilizer you need in order to be fruitful and productive.

 

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Conversations That Sell

A guest-post from Anne Samoilov

Today’s post comes to Thinkspace courtesy of Anne Samoilov and is republished by permission.  Anne has been helping solopreneurs become more productive, create and launch their life’s work. She teaches about topics including online launching, product launch, small business growth, productivity, self-management, motivation, business planning + goal setting. Anne’s background also includes 10 years experience as producer for animation, visual effects, and game development. We’re excited to have Anne here on the Thinkspace blog – as well as a featured speaker in a series of brown bag workshops.

conversations-that-sell

Is it possible something you said 4, 5, or 6 months ago affected your recent launch sales?

Does it really matter what you say to people about your launch? Will it make the difference between sales and dead air?

Is there a known, working method of reaching out, touching, connecting, getting to know your customers before you open the doors, starting conversations that actually lead to sales?

And don’t you want the RIGHT people to take your offer?

There’s nothing worse than making an offer and getting the wrong audience on board… though it does tell you something about what you’re offering… but I digress.

Talking about your upcoming launch, sharing the behind the scenes, taking people along for the ride – it’s crucial to your launch bottom line – but the process is riddled with mistakes people make when they’re first starting.

It’s not as simple as posting 5 times a day on social media (and hoping for the best). If you track your tweets – you know most people don’t click on those posts.

You can’t just run an ad on Facebook – and again, think that everyone will be magically drawn to it.

And – you can’t hope those guest posts – ok that ONE guest post you did – a year ago, will help you grow your audience.

Unless, you understand what it takes to get the right people’s attention NOW.

I learned that to get the conversation started meant focusing on (BRACE YOURSELF THIS MIGHT SOUND SELFISH) the what I wanted back.

Yes – the exchange of ideas – opinions – feelings – experiences… that’s what I wanted.

Once I determined what I wanted back – I changed my approach to communicating forever.

And I’m going to share the secret with you in a very special,  in-person workshop on March 20th here at thinkspace.

Conversations That Sell: How to tell the world about your launch + reach more of the right people.

  1. The easy launch conversation starter that equaled sales within 24 hours – most people don’t realize that this simple strategy is so powerful – and it even surprised me.
  2. My top 3 “no brainer” methods to prepare your audience for a launch.
  3. The one no cost “everyday” business tool that saved me hours in time and money.
  4. How my “Launch Leak Strategy” allows you to “tease” your launch and create excitement before you even launch!

And then – I’m going to share my proven “before, during and after” launch communication plan that will take all the guess work out for you!

Anne will be presenting at an upcoming thinkspace event – March 20th, Fearless Launching: Conversations That Sell, Workshop #2.  For more information and to register for this event, click here.  If you aren’t able to physically be present for this event, view the webinar by subscribing here.

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Can a woman have it all?

“You have a condition that usually only occurs in people over 60,” my doctor said as she typed in her lap top. “Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

Hmmm, does she mean balancing the needs of my family, and my growing business?
Or does she mean the PTA meeting I skipped so I could meet a writing deadline?
By “stress” could she mean the lists that don’t get checked off, or the emails that don’t get opened, or the dog that doesn’t get walked?
Which stressful event was my doctor alluding to, and how could I answer “yes” without shouting, “Isn’t every working mother- are you crazy?!!”

“You know,” she continued, “You will probably get this again if you don’t do something about your stress level.”

Shingles. That’s what she diagnosed me with. Shingles is this terrible burning sensation that attacks the nerves underneath your skin until you eventually erupt into mischievous oozing bumps. Awesome. I’m a therapist. I preach self care. I believe in balance. I teach people how to take care of themselves. And I have a stress-related, immune deficiency condition that no 38 year old should get.

Wake up call.

Come-to-Jesus moment.

Time to take some things. Off. The. Plate.

So, when Marissa Mayer of Yahoo announced no more working from home, I paid attention. When Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg told American women to “Lean In”, I listened.  What are the women at the top saying about their positions, their work-life balance? What are they saying about their priorities? How do they balance it, and what are their secrets?

Turns out, they probably experience the same things I do (with the caveat of being paid just a tad bit more- wink).

Erin Callin, former CFO of Lehman Brothers before the crash, recounts in her New York Times piece this weekend that “Work always came first, before family, friends, and marriage- which ended just a few years later.” She goes on to say, “Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short… there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor.”

Though admired by many young women who see Mrs. Callin as a hero and an over-comer of the gender barrier, she is fraught with regret.

University of Michigan business professor Marina Whitman, a full-time professor and a corporate executive says in a recent CNN article by Todd Leopold, “I think this thing about ‘can women have it all?’ or ‘can’t they have it all?’ is kind of a silly argument. Yes, you may have it all, but not all at once.”

And what about Marissa Mayer banishing the working-from-home flexibility? She certainly has gotten a lot of back lash. Some of my working mother buddies say she ought to be ashamed of herself. But it has got me thinking that maybe “working from home” for the working mother, is just playing into the illusion that women really can have it all. That there is some ideal out there that a woman can be at home with her smiling contented children, while sitting at a desk with phone in hand, lap top open while climbing the corporate ladder. Maybe we’ve bought into the illusion that we “should” be able to do it all. Maybe we think, “if only my work schedule was ‘flexible’ then I could make that PTA meeting, I could take that work call while mixing the baby formula,” or in my case, I could schedule myself to being two places at one time and be half committed to both. Ugh.

So what did I learn from Shingles? Well, for one thing, I’m taking the Sabbath. I’m working my tail off Monday through Friday 8:30 to 3 until Sweet and Sassy get home from school. I’m shutting my lap top until they go to bed at night, and I’m wearing them out on Saturdays with chores, sports and lots of family fun. I schedule a date night with Mr. Dashing and make deposits into the marriage bank account. Come Sunday, I don’t return e-mail, I don’t write blogs, I don’t do anything that could remotely seem like work. I go to church, I go out to eat, and I read for FUN (not for work.) Then I try to catch up on some Duck Dynasty, which really puts me into relaxation mode, because I’m pretty sure they haven’t worked a day in their lives, unless you count catching bull frogs as work.

Everything has a price tag. Everything worthwhile requires sacrifice. Some of us choose work, some of us chose family, and then the crazy ones, like me choose to work out the balance of both. The sacrifices I make as a working mother are continual and on-going. The fact is, if I throw the soft ball with Sporty Spice, then I’m not going to get that blog post done. And if bring home work to do, I won’t be available to hear mini-Taylor Swift’s original song on the piano. What am I going to forfeit? What am I going to give up? Something has to go, which one will it be? I’m the last to cast a stone at working mothers’ choices. But I’m the first to say, life is about choices, and values, and about consciously making those choices according to your values. Could I be further along, higher on the ladder, with a broader following if I chose to spend more time at the office? And if I spent more time at work, would Sweet and Sassy be as well adjusted and fantastic as they are now? I wonder. We make choices, some good, some bad. But most times we don’t know they’re bad till we feel the pain of them. Like the pain of Shingles. I didn’t know I was burning at both ends until I actually felt the burning.

My prayer is that you won’t have to.

This  is a guest post written by  Michelle Hollomon.  Michelle is a Counselor and a Coach, author of God Unwrapped, and host of Relationship Coach Radio. You can find out more about her at MichelleHollomon.com.

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The glorification of busy.

always-open-closed11Has anyone ever qualified a question with the following: “I know you’re busy, but…”?

This happened to me the other day, and I had two immediate reactions.

My first reaction—> I was glad they recognized my schedule was packed with busy and important things.
(Confession: that observation made me feel important and popular).

My second reaction—> I was frustrated that my busyness made them think I wouldn’t have time for them.

Too often, I over emphasize my busy schedule.
When people ask me “How are you?” usually my response includes something along the lines of “Good, I’ve been staying really busy, etc etc etc.”
We live in a world that masters the glorification of being busy.
While busy seasons come and go, defining myself by my busyness will communicate that I’m unavailable.
So even though I desire for others to know that I am always open, my actions show that I am closed.
What would it look to communicate a more open and flexible schedule?

I’ve set a new goal—> To stop defining myself by being busy, and to be more approachable and flexible so people don’t begin conversations by first acknowledging my limited availability.

That’s been on my mind this week…I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions you all might have!