Focus on one thing at a time

What are  you doing right now? Are you focusing on reading these words? Do you have an eye on your email, texts, or social media? If you are working from home, are you dealing with your children? Or maybe you are do some combination or all of these activities.  Or are you on the phone?  We all think we can multi-task and do it well, but the truth is we can’t.

How many times a day, when you are on the phone, can you hear the keyboard and mouse clicks on the other end of the line?  Are they taking notes or looking up something relevant to the conversation, or are they surfing Twitter or Facebook?  Or maybe they are reading an unrelated, substantive email? You know they weren’t listening when they ask you to repeat what you just said after you ask them a question because they don’t know what you asked.

Doing any of these activities while talking to someone on the phone is comparable to looking at your emails and texts while in a meeting or at lunch with someone. In both cases you are checked out and telling  the people speaking or who you are dining with that they are not as important as whatever is on your phone.

It simply is very hard to focus on two things (or more) at once.  Coming across as your best possible self or doing your best work matters. It’s your reputation and people remember.

For a week (or for those truly device or multi-tasking addicted, a day) try to focus on what is in front of you, whether a person or a project.  If you are heading into a meeting, don’t  bring  your phone or leave it in your pocket or purse. Better yet, turn it off. When you are on the phone, leave that mouse alone and keep things that interest you off of the screen(s) in front of you. If you have room and a wireless headset, get up and walk around focusing on the conversation.

This is about focus and respect. No one may know you are trying to multi-task other than you, but it is amazing what you learn when you actually listen.

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Networking in the time of Covid

For most of the past two and a half months in person networking hasn’t existed. It remains of the utmost importance for all of us, whether we are lucky enough to be able to work or are unemployed. Many people I speak with have not networked or conducted business development activities since offices closed and stay at home orders went into effect. Doing nothing is harmful in the long run and despite businesses now being allowed to open in most states, normal networking and business development activities will take longer to become the norm again.

Most of my networking involves meeting people for coffee, lunch or drinks. This hasn’t happened since the first week in March. In Arizona, coffee shops and restaurants are allowed to be open, but will the people I want to meet with be ready to go back yet? I’m not sure I am ready to go back yet. So we each need to determine for ourselves what we are comfortable with and how to deal with people whose comfort levels are different than ours.

The answers depend on you. You may be ready to dine out. If you are, you will have to navigate setting up meetings carefully and responding positively when others aren’t willing to meet in person. You likely don’t want to do yet another Zoom meeting, but that may be the only way to get an audience with some people. If that is where they are, you need to accept that. We each get to choose how we feel about the current state of social distancing and the risks we are or aren’t willing to take. We all need to be respectful and take that meeting you want in whatever form you and the other person can agree on.

Of course, with people you know, there are other options to connect. Yes, I mean picking up the phone, emailing, texting, etc. The manner of communication depends on your relationship with the other person. Making time each day to maintain connections is important. It is a form of investing in yourself.

You need to do the same things you always should be doing. These include making lists of people you know and want to connect with, as well as people you want to meet. Then take the time to contact those you know or finding someone who can connect you to those you want to know. Whether to have those willing to connect you do so now or in the future is up to you, but putting the wheels in motion will make it happen sooner than later either way as the world opens up again.

We all need to take action now for our futures. What are your plans?

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Random thoughts on business and life

During this social distancing and quarantine limbo we currently find ourselves in, I have found myself taking time to think about my career, the road to where I am, and the road forward. Through doing so, I had some random thoughts that connect into an outline on trying to build a sustaining career. I wish someone had told me some of these back in the day, but trial and error, along with wrong turns, are how you learn so you can make better decisions down the road, thereby giving yourself the best opportunity to achieve success.

1. Being the star may be short-lived

Being a rainmaker or achieving success usually takes hard work and time. At points it feels like it is easy to break through, but it is harder to sustain. Your hard work generally needs to be continuous to sustain a great career.

2. Quality counts.

If you want to maintain your reputation and have longevity at a high level expect to work hard. Try to be professional even when others are not because people will remember the one time you lack professionalism if you let it happen. It may be easy to game the system for a short time, but it’s hard to game the system during your entire career. Your best bet is to focus on your work and do your best for your clients or customers.

3. Talent is not something you are born with.

There is no way around the fact that you have to do your work and homework to do your best for your clients or customers. Find a business or a niche within your business you like. Once you do, then get down to learning and do your best. If you do it’s likely your clients, customers and professional acquaintances will help spread the word for you. The goal is being looked at as an expert and having longevity.

4. Throwing it all at the wall doesn’t work well.

Even if it makes you feel good to get the message out every way you can, unless your target market is listening it’s wasted time and effort. For most of us it’s not a numbers game, but about personal connections. One personal email to an important connector is more important than a press release sent out randomly. That personal touch is everything. People remember personal emails, phone calls and meetings, which can pay dividends in the future.

At the same time, if you’re using the written word, use spellcheck and proofread!

5. Invest in yourself.

Success is slow. Take the time to learn well and to put what you learn into practice. Your focus on putting effort into learning your craft and building your reputation will result in business if you maintain the course. Once you have business, treat clients, customers and everyone you deal with how you would want to be treated.

There’s plenty of business to do. There is plenty of money to be made. Business and money come easier if you work on you and your business, and don’t make only the numbers your top priority.

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Work/life balance

Are you the workaholic each of us knows? You know the one. They check their email from the time they wake up, to when they are at lunch with you (please remember this is rude when we are able to dine together again), to when they go to sleep. For some, it’s an easy pattern to fall into. Now that many of us are working from home, it’s easier because there is even less separation between work and home.

Work/life balance is difficult in normal times, but we aren’t in normal times. The blur between work and home has never been so apparent for most people. In my home, my wife is working in one room, I am working from another, and our children are doing some online schooling and a lot of time wasting in the same spaces. Things change when your commute is walking across your home. It makes it infinitely more difficult to separate work and family. At the same time, I feel lucky I have the ability to work from home and be employed when so many people have lost their livelihoods.

I would like to tell you I am good at separating and there are bright lines for work and family time. I consider myself a work in progress. Sometimes I am better at it that others. It’s hard enough when you are at home and can always check work email or receive  calls. Now, I can sit down at what currently serves as my office twenty-four seven. This is great for my clients, but no so much for my family.

It is no secret that hard work is required for success. And there are times you must work harder than others and longer hours. Getting ahead does not come easy. But, as important as giving your all for your career or business, there has to be down time too, and I don’t mean sleep.

At all times, let alone when you are stuck in your home, you need to remember what you like to do for fun. We all need stress release. If you have to even think about the answer to what you like to do for fun or to relieve stress, you need to rethink your priorities and come up with a plan. Working hard until you die ends the same if you had instead taken more time for fun and stress relief. It’s important to draw a line in the sand and come up with strategies that will work for you to step away from work, enjoy time with your family and lower your stress. It’s easy to Google what most people regret as they near the end of life, and it usually related to having worked too much when they finally have realized that life is short.

If you question what I am saying about stress relief, talk to your doctor. For me, fun and stress relief includes physical activity. You should try to include physical activity in your routine. Your body and brain will thank you for it, especially as you age.

As for fun, it really is a requirement too. It could be sewing or playing an instrument, travelling, participating in a book club, etc. or a combination of many things. But you need to find things you enjoy that are wholly unrelated to work. Without doing so, you will have no balance and the odds of burnout or something worse increase exponentially. Don’t let this be you. Try to find balance and understand it always is a work in progress.

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Stay connected

Staying connected to people you know is difficult when you are in different places and told it’s unsafe to gather in groups. Most people currently are isolated at home other than when grocery shopping. You probably are working remotely, if you are able, and are lucky enough to still have a job. You may walk around your neighborhood and get to waive to your neighbors or exchange a quick greeting from a distance. This isolation is unhealthy mentally because most of us crave connection and miss it now that it’s harder to come by.

Your disconnection with friends, family and co-workers will grow unless you make an effort to try to maintain those connections. It won’t just happen. You will need to be disciplined, and many of us will need an actual plan.

It’s like networking, but with those in your personal circle. Instead of texting or liking a Facebook post, go into the contacts section of your phone and call people. You have or can make the time. Staying in touch with family may come more naturally. Calling friends you are used to keeping in touch with electronically or co-workers you see around your office takes more effort.

With family and friends I mostly text with, I am trying to call at least once a week. I regularly speak with co-workers I am working on projects with, but that is a small circle. I am trying to reach out to other co-workers I don’t regularly work with to check in. Most are surprised, but seem to appreciate the effort.

Doing this has the added benefit of keeping me connected with others despite being isolated in my home. As someone who lives for connection it’s helping to keep me sane, which seems like good goal these days. When you finish reading this, pick up your phone and reach out to someone now.

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Network now for your future

We currently are living in strange and different times. Businesses, cities, and countries are shut down. People are isolated. There is no traffic and the air seems cleaner. And people are exercising outdoors more than usual.

Despite businesses being closed, or their employees working remotely, the time to network is now. Networking is about connecting. Connecting takes many forms in addition to attending events or meeting for coffee. With in-person networking off of the table for now, other ways to connect should be your focus.

Many people have more time on their hands, which can be used to connect by phone, email, or text, as well as LinkedIn and other social media sites or apps. The manner of connection depends on who you are connecting with and the level of that relationship. The actions you take to network anytime shouldn’t be random, and this includes during the pandemic.

You need to look through your contacts and decide who you want to network with and in what manner. In the past few weeks I have networked by phone, email, text, FaceTime, Zoom, and social media. Some of the contact was initiated by me, and some by others – I’m not the only one trying to network despite the pandemic. People realize that we will get to a point where things generally go back to normal in that the orders to stay at home will be lifted and most businesses (hopefully) will re-open.

If you don’t network while all of this is going on, it will be like lost time you can’t recapture. All of us can speak to negative effects the pandemic is having on our business and professional lives. If you do nothing, when the world gets going again, you will be starting from behind.

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Will there be a new normal for you or your business?

If you are lucky enough to still have a job or business, has the manner in which you work changed during the pandemic? You likely are working remotely, as are many of your co-workers, friends and family, including many who haven’t done so before. If you think about this, it’s pretty amazing how fast companies adapted to be able for their entire workforce to work remotely.

As we go weeks in with most people working remotely, rough edges are getting ironed out and the manner of work is becoming more routine. Yes, most people are getting used to working remotely with their co-workers, customers and clients. It’s a different routine, but it’s a routine. This is how humans work.

When people are allowed to go back to their jobs and businesses en masse things will change. Some people will easily fall back into old routines, habits, etc. Some will entirely change how they work, maybe deciding to work remotely most of the time or allowing their workforce to do so. Most of us will end up somewhere in between. Now that people know they can be productive consistently when not in the office, many will make different decisions on how and where we work.

People are calling right now the “new normal.” I think right now is the exception and the “new normal” will come into being when stay at home orders are lifted and people are allowed to work at their businesses. Whether the changes will be good depend on you, your company and what specifically changes. But, undoubtedly, changes will happen and we all will have to adjust.

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Life during wartime

You probably saw the title and thought “what is he writing about?” It could be about the great Talking Heads song of the same name, but it’s not. It’s about living in circumstances that changed on a dime forcing most to work from home, and many to lose their livelihood.

It obviously isn’t the equivalent of really being a soldier at war, but for most of us it’s similar in that the terrain is constantly shifting and you have to continuously adjust. It also is a war in that we all (or, at least most of us) are together trying to win the war on the spread of the virus so we don’t further overwhelm our medical system.

Those of us continuing to work are generally going through similar changes and issues. These include how to work efficiently, how to shut out interruptions and focus, and how to maintain connections with clients and co-workers. It’s a lot to think about, let alone to accomplish.

I am trying to adjust my expectations on all of these items. It could be when my daughter decided to bake cookies that needed a llloooonnnngggg amount of mixing right after I got on a call with a client. I had to grab my phone and laptop to leave the kitchen. Luckily the client understood and found it funny, but not all people would have.

I am choosing different co-workers to call during the week to check in with. I am checking in on them, not the work they are doing. There is a difference. Most of us crave connection. Being isolated makes that harder. You have to consciously choose to stay connected.

I hope all of you are doing well, staying healthy and winning the small daily battles we all face in our work, our lives and in trying to maintain sanity while being stuck in place physically. I look forward to when we turn the corner and can begin to get back to what we each consider “normal.”

Of course, after this, and depending how long this goes on, what your normal is may change. But that is a post for another day.

Stay well.

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Exercise impacts the rest of your life in a positive way

Exercise is so important. It’s not to sport a six pack of abs or Popeye like biceps, but to give your body something it needs. Exercise benefits your body and your brain.

To quote the Rolling Stones, “you gotta move.” When you are healthy, movement helps your body to be healthier (this is easy to Google). Movement helps your body physically, but also mentally. In times of stress, like now, it can help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, and improve your mood and cognitive functioning. Read that sentence again; movement can help you to be more centered and at peace.

Anyone who has had back pain can tell you how debilitating it can be. Movement helps keep your body loose and helps with your pain. Movement can be stretching or your regular mode of exercise. Of course you may want or need to use ice afterwards to help, but movement, along with heat and ice, work together to ease pain.

I have had back pain and know. Many people lay in bed and do nothing until the paid recedes, which is a good move if that what your doctor recommends. Otherwise, especially with soft tissue pain or injury, the counterintuitive action you should take is to move. For me, using movement (stretching and exercise), heat eat and ice works well.

The combination of these three methods of treatment help me recover faster when my back hurts. I have found the less I move, i.e. not working out and or sitting in my chair at work too long without getting up, the more back pain I have and the longer it lasts. I try to move and walk so that I am doing what I can to keep my back pain at bay.

Exercise also benefits your brain. It provides time think on life issues large and small. It can help clear out detritus you haven’t had a chance to think over. It also can provide the clear mind you need for inspiration. My wife and I hike regularly, and many important life decisions have been made on those hikes or as a result of conversations started on a hike.

The trick is to find something you like to do. You don’t have to go to the gym, but that may be your thing. You know you won’t keep doing something you don’t like to do. If you find something you like to do, you can make it a habit and therefore part of your life. Do this and you will feel better, and what’s better than that?

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Be Kind – it matters now more than ever

We are in unprecedented times. The limits on society are changing daily as the world tries to slow the spread of Covid-19, the Coronavirus. People are hoarding certain foods and toilet paper. Videos of people fighting over the last package of toilet paper in a store have been posted on social media. Many people are out for themselves and ignoring the negative effect they are having on their community and neighbors.

But there are glimmers of kindness as neighbors offer to go shopping for neighbors who are elderly or immunocompromised. Others are sharing ideas for craft projects or online learning for parents with school-aged children trapped in their homes.

Which person are you? Are you out only for yourself, or are you trying to help those who can’t help themselves? If you are the former, you should look in the mirror and ask yourself why you think about only yourself when all around you are experiencing the same concerns and fears you are.

We all can do better, whether ordering take out from a local restaurant (and tipping heavy if you can) to shopping for that elderly neighbor. When the worst of the Coronavirus passes, you will want the good restaurant down the street to still be open and your elderly neighbor healthy and waving as they pass your home on a morning walk. We all need to remember we are part of a community that will resume a more normal life (hopefully) in the near future.

We all continue to move fast through our days. Are you nice to the people who cross your path? You should be because how you treat people is what stays with them when they think about you.

Currently, many people are working from home, or may have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. Many business have been ordered to close or severely reduce their services, i.e. income. Others are supposed to stay in their homes. We all could use a little boost or show of caring.

The benefits of being kind outweigh the efforts you put in. Knowing this and acting on it will help you and your reputation.

In the same vein, continue to do random acts of kindness. Compliment someone. Be patient with those who make mistakes, whether a co-worker or the checkout person with the long line of impatient people waiting to buy food or goods.

Doing so is good for you in many ways. The feedback and reactions you get will brighten your day. What you do or say will brighten others’ days. Try it and see how good it makes you feel.

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