3 Easy ways to keep the creative juices flowing

What’s the best way to be more productive, keep the ideas coming and get the creative juices flowing?

A growing body of evidence shows that when you take regular breaks from mental tasks you’ll actually become more productive and creative. Skipping breaks? That can lead to stress, exhaustion and burnout.

If you’re “in the zone” by all means keep going. What’s draining is when you feel forced to go on.

Just like your muscles need rest between repetitions, your brain needs a rest after mental concentration. And since you wouldn’t feel guilty about taking a rest while exercising, you shouldn’t feel guilty about stepping away from the computer and detaching for a bit to recharge your batteries.

What are some good ways do take this much needed downtime during the day?

Move. Go to the gym or take a walk outside, making time to smell the roses or notice the architecture.The inventor of Velcro, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, got the idea after going out on a hunting trip with his dog in the Swiss Alps and getting covered in burrs. Einstein was said to have come up with his Theory of Relativity while riding his bicycle.

Read.  Take a book or a magazine in another room and lose yourself in a different topic for a while. It’s amazing that your brain can come up with solutions and ideas even while you are processing something else.

• Eat. Take a coffee or lunch break – and don’t eat at your desk! This is a good time to practice your connectworking skills, so use the time to connect or reconnect with someone else and share a meal together.

However you hit your own personal refresh button, what really matters is committing to giving yourself a time out so you can return ready for action.



Quiet, please


Is nothing private anymore?

This week I learned about a new neighbor’s move to Maine, a fellow dog walker’s medical diagnosis (in gruesome detail) and from our local supermarket’s aisle 8, a suspected office affair.

Did I sit down for a good chinwag with any of the bearers of this news? No, but I did happen to be in proximity to them while they loudly regaled all comers on their cellphones.

Annoying people making phone calls in public don’t seem to mind who can listen in on their most personal conversations. When asked, they’ll probably tell you that they usually head outside to chat, but I’m afraid the great outdoors just isn’t big enough anymore for private discussion. There’s simply nowhere to go to escape.

If I want to commune with nature and just do some thinking on my morning constitutional, chances are that someone, somewhere in the park is going to be fighting with the electrician who put the outlet in the wrong place, forcing me into their narrative. A little downtime with a relaxing cup of tea in the local coffee shop? It never fails that someone is yakking away about their latest project, ironically talking preternaturally loud to be heard above the normal conversational din. I actually look forward to the quiet enforced on long plane rides.(Note to the FCC: Please reconsider the idea of allowing phone calls on planes!)

Why do movie theatres, restaurants, doctors’ offices, courts, schools and even some churches all have to have signs banning cell phone usage or at least requesting that these little devices be turned to vibrate if not off altogether? (Don’t even get me going about weddings and funerals interrupted by some particularly strident ring tone as the thoughtless owner fumbles through a handbag or jacket to turn it off.)

Common courtesy demands consideration for those around you, but an insistent cellphone and an ensuing conversation in which you are not a party means you have to stop your life while they yammer on about theirs. It is simply too hard to tune out.

And if people aren’t annoying those around them with their phone calls, they are ignoring their companions by texting or checking to make sure they aren’t missing anything. Remember what it was like to actually have sparkling dinner conversation, when we just ate the food instead of Instagramming it first? When someone pulls out the phone, they are clearly communicating that they have better things to attend to than you.

What it all boils down to is one of the worst manifestations of narcissism – self-absorption and a complete disregard for others.

Of course, the great irony is that in a hyper connected world, we are longing for personal connection. Because of, or perhaps in spite of, our high tech, low touch world some interesting developments are taking place.

At Guthries Tavern in Chicago’s Lakeside neighborhood, cocktails, conversation and connection rule as people actually stow the cellphones in order to play board games with each other – Scrabble, Balderdash, Battleship, Candy Land, you name it. When we visited, not a single phone was out – and the line to get in stretched to some length.

San Francisco’s Unplug SF party at the Broadway Theater finds people lining up around the block to turn in their cell phones at the door and get down to the serious of business of fun, weaving friendship bracelets, painting faces, gluing things onto rocks and also playing board games.

Organized by Digital Detox, Camp Grounded, a gadget-free camp for adults, posts its requirements on the door: No digital technology, no networking, no work talk, no watches, no ageism. Its “Device-Free Tips”? “Instead of tweeting, share with someone near you” and “If you have the urge to Instagram, DRAW IT!”

And Digital Journal reports on a game called “The Phone Stack,” played “to get people talking to one another instead of being focused on their phone’s content” when a group goes out together. After ordering, everyone places the phone on the table. The first person to check their phone picks up the tab for everyone else. Now that’s an incentive to keep your phone tucked away!

Even Jack White of the Black Stripes is on the bandwagon, asking concert goers to keep their cell phones in their pockets both to live in the moment and as a common courtesy for others in the audience. White promises to film his shows for his audiences so they can go back and re-experience his show, as long as they don’t bring out their cell phones.

Disconnecting and being where you are is the ultimate luxury.


Connectworking survival skills for the shy – part 2

Hello My Name Is Terrified

In our last post, we focused on basic conversational skills. Here are a few thoughts on wading gently into the connectworking pond:

• Start with people you already know – your family and friends. From there, call your college alumni office. You’re bound to find some great connections and conversational ground can always be broken with chatter about your alma mater.

“You can do a significant amount of valuable networking without ever having to make a cold call,” says Lynne Sarikas, the director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center. “Starting with a known [contact] instead of an unknown demystifies the [networking] process and helps get a shy person over the hurdle.”

• Tap into clubs and events that relate to the things in which you have an interest. Join a book club, attend a wine tasting, take a cooking class. Or you may find great connections at your kid’s lacrosse game. We’re all more comfortable when the talk turns to the things about which we are passionate. Conversation flows easily and you are perceived as more engaging.

• Attending an event with a (preferably outgoing) friend is a great idea but sometimes a shy individual will be glued to one person for the entire event, defeating the purpose of connectworking.

Ask your conversation partner to introduce you around, or, since there is strength in numbers, you could both approach a group of new faces and jump into the conversation. And be on the lookout for wallflowers – they’ll be very receptive to someone initiating conversation.

• Get out of your seat and move around. To make the most of an event and really connectwork you need to work the room, which you can’t do sitting down.

• Don’t feel like you have to apologize when you reach out and ask someone for help. Connectworking isn’t an imposition. In fact, most people love to give the benefit of their experience and are flattered to be asked. Remember this is a two-way street – and you never know when you’ll be able to return the favor.

• Not to worry if you don’t make the right sort of connections right away. Let go of your fear of rejection and understand that everyone isn’t going to be a fit.

Just as with all muscles that need exercising, if you keep practicing your connectworking skills, it will be, if not fun, then at least much less stressful.

Connectworking survival skills for the shy – Part 1

Hello My Name Is Terrified

The Shyness Clinic at Stanford University declares that more than 50 percent of Americans say they feel shy and uncomfortable in a variety of business and social settings.  Based on my discussions, that actually sounds low!

Schmoozing can be a real effort for shy people, but remember that connectworking is about building relationships where everyone benefits. Don’t let lack of confidence, self-consciousness or fear of rejection hold you back.

• First of all, be prepared. We feel stress when we can’t control a situation. But by getting ready ahead of time, you turn that around and start to control the situation, which dissipates a lot of that stress.

• Find the type of connectworking event that meshes with your style. A huge event may not work for you, but a smaller reception for a keynote speaker might be just the ticket.

• Come up with conversation starters and questions you can ask those you meet and anticipate questions you might be asked in return. Have your personal pitch rehearsed and ready to go - in a genuine, not canned, manner!

• Oscar Wilde knew the importance of authenticity when he advised, “Be yourself; everybody else is taken.” You have a style that is uniquely you, and trying to be someone or something you’re not will make both you and your connection uncomfortable.

His advice allows you to be natural in your expression of views and opinions, making you a more effective communicator because you are comfortable in your own skin – and we always feel more comfortable around those who are genuine.

• Just remember that you are the expert on you – no one else knows as much about you as you do. So don’t hide your light under a bushel. This has nothing to do with being boastful or arrogant, but do learn how to accept a compliment. Believe in yourself and know that you have a lot to offer.

• Negative thoughts and energy prevent you from putting your best foot forward. Connectwork with a positive attitude and a smile! You won’t be alone in being nervous (name tags might as well have something like “hello, my name is…terrified”), so step up and take the initiative.

If you think positively, you will act positively!

• If you ask someone about themselves and focus on their needs, you are always giving something back. (Your connection partner may be feeling just as shy as you are and appreciate your interest.) Show interest and ask some open ended questions. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

In part 2, we’ll talk about how to gently wade into connectworking.



7 ways to ELEVATE your networking efforts

A simple way to sum up connectworking is to think about stepping your networking efforts up a notch, developing lofty goals, taking things to a higher level, going onward and upward, raising the bar. In a word – ELEVATE:

Engage – Make a plan based on your goals and company, product and personal brands and seek out appropriate connections

Listen – Build relationships based on what you learn

Exchange – Share and be generous with your ideas, thoughts and contacts

Value – Become indispensable, identify a way to help someone, take action, be of service and add value going above and beyond expectations – without any expectation of reciprocation

AttitudeMake a choice to be happy, friendly, upbeat, buoyant, optimistic, positive, confident, enthusiastic and sincere at all times

Trusted Advisor – Become the trusted resource your colleagues and clients need to be successful and earn the coveted Trusted Advisor moniker

Extend - Follow up and keep top of mind

What are you committed to? Go and make it happen!

7 Ways to fake it ’till you make it

Speaking at a business forum, I was struck by how many women lacked confidence in themselves, their ideas and their worth.

Unfortunately, competence doesn’t always breed confidence. Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, in addressing Barnard College graduates, said she doesn’t always feel confident in herself: “All along the way, I’ve had all of those moments, not just some of the time; I would say most of the time, where I haven’t felt that I owned my success.”

But as she also states, while we may know intellectually that we can be whatever we want to be and that there are no limits to what we can achieve, “Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.”

Falling prey to a lack of confidence can interfere with not only how you present yourself but also how you go about connectworking.

Most people are flattered when asked for the benefit of their advice and experience. After all, who doesn’t like to be thought of as a “guru?” But they’ll never know you what you want unless you ask!

Asking can produce such anxiety that many of us simply don’t. Of course, that’s somewhat ironic given that we have so many ways to reach out and connect with others. But we simply lack the confidence to do so.

Asking brings up risks and fears: Fear of rejection (“what if they say no?!”), of having to follow through (“what if they say yes?!”), of being thought ignorant (“shouldn’t I know this already?”), of getting hurt, seeming weak, needy or incompetent, of not being perfect, of surrendering control…are any of these striking home?

Fear of failure is one of the most common obstacles in developing self-confidence. We beat ourselves up for what we could have done better or differently. Know that it’s okay to fail, because failure produces growth.

We learn from taking risks, volunteering for stretch assignments and speaking up even when we aren’t 100 percent confident in what we are saying. We learn from our mistakes, which is why smart organizations do project debriefs to understand what went right, what didn’t go quite to plan and what could be done differently next time.

So how to build your self-confidence?

1. Make a choice to be confident. Take stock of your strengths and talents. What accomplishments (not necessarily professional) are you particularly proud of? Think about the sense of accomplishment you felt and remember that when you are faced with an uncomfortable situation.

2. Strike a power pose. My mother has always been a stickler for posture, and she’s right – when you feel confident, you tend to have your shoulders back, chest forward, eyes up, even having your hands on your hips. In fact, the way you hold yourself is a powerful indicator and has a tremendous impact on the way you are perceived.

“Your body language shapes who you are,” posits Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy. In one of the most popular TED talks of all time, Cuddy suggests a quick, low tech, no cost way to “fake it ‘til you make it:” assume a “power posture” for just two minutes. That’s all.

Her research demonstrated this pose stimulates higher levels of testosterone – the hormone linked to power and dominance – and lower levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones. This led to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk – and a greater influence on those you are talking with.

3. Be prepared. While you’re power posing, think positive, up-beat thoughts. There’s no point in worrying about something that may or may not happen, but you can mitigate those concerns by developing strategies to deal with a worst-case scenario.

4. Go in assuming that you can accomplish your goals. Even if you fail – and there are times when we all fail – you will come out with a better understanding of what you will do differently next time. As long as you learn from the episode, there is nothing wrong with failure.

5. Know your strengths. When your brain starts screaming that you don’t know enough, you aren’t smart enough or you aren’t good enough, again fill your head with positive thoughts, of your strengths and the things you do well.

6. Act like a winner. When you speak from a place of confidence, sending both verbal and non-verbal self-assurance signals, even if you are not the most knowledgeable or capable person in the room, people will listen, because we all want to be associated with winners.

7. Make a choice to control your reactions. Can we control everything that happens to us, or everyone around us? Although we’d like to think we can, that’s of course unrealistic (even for a control freak like me). What we do have, however, is the incredible power to control our reactions, to a snub, to a rejection, a hurtful comment.

Faking it ‘till you make it doesn’t mean coming off as a phony. It just means soldiering through while believing in yourself.

We are much more powerful than we think, we simply don’t ask for what we want. We have so many ways to communicate, to make connections, especially with the direct connectivity enabled by social media. We just need to become confident and feel empowered to do so.

Just act.

What are you committed to? Go and make it happen!

Relax and others will follow your cue

vintage-cocktail-party-2Have you ever gone to a party and the host’s nervousness detracted from your enjoyment?

I’ve been to dinners where the host was so on edge about everything being perfect that the evening was spoiled. And as I write, a friend putting on a high visibility event at her home is fretting about every little detail, stressing herself to pieces.

Your guests will look to you, as host, for cues as to how things are supposed to go. The food doesn’t have to be gourmet, a dust bunny in the corner isn’t going to be noticed and a stray leaf on the lawn isn’t going to detract from the beauty of the garden. People simply want to connect and enjoy the sociable company of others. If you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, they will too.

Enthusiasm is contagious, whether you’re hosting a cocktail do in your home, an event or a meeting.  People will not always remember exactly what was said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.


Five steps to better nametag management

Ever had one of those “uh-oh” moments when someone comes up to you with a big smile and a bigger greeting, calling you by name – and you cannot for the life of you remember theirs?

Given my pathetic name recall track record, I think the world would be better off if we all had to wear name tags every time we left home. These could be badges worn in the office (always great when the team gets big and you’re sitting across from someone in a meeting feverishly trying to conjure up their name from your memory bank), at a trade show, when in direct contact with your clients (love when hotels have their staff members’ tags divulge a little something about themselves, such as their home town or hobby – as long as they have been trained to come up with a succinct answer in case it starts any conversation), and especially at a mix & mingle event.

Here are five ideas for making nametags work for you:

• When you attend a trade show, bring pre-made nametags for everyone manning the booth. Most trade show tags are generic, meaning you are not going out as a branded representative of your company, and usually don’t do a good job of conveying exactly who you are to a prospect.

This doesn’t mean you can’t wear the badge given to you upon registration – in fact, you probably won’t be able to get in and out of the show without it – but it does mean your clients or prospects will have an additional way to identify and differentiate you and your company.

• If you have a clip/fastener/sticky type nametag, wear it on the right side so that it is easily visible and in the sight line when shaking hands.

• This may not be an issue for men, but the delicate fabrics women wear (such as silk) are ruined by some nametags – especially anything with a pin. For that reason (and others) lanyard-type badges are great, as are magnetic tags.

• If you are in a situation where you are meeting the general public (versus an industry trade show, for instance) you may not want to have both first and last names visible for personal safety and privacy reasons. The client experience will be the same whether or not a last name is known.

• When you use your nametag as a conversation starter (if you have the chance to create it yourself), design it in a simple way that sets you up with an opportunity to share the value you give. And if you really want to get the discussion going, make sure your Twitter handle is prominent if you have one!

What a seasoned worker can learn from a rookie

Image: Steve Dininno, WSJ

Image: Steve Dininno, WSJ

The assumption is that if you are more experienced you have a lot to teach, and if you are just starting out you have a lot to learn. But mentoring doesn’t necessarily mean having a seasoned worker showing a rookie the ropes. In fact, so called reverse-mentoring demonstrates that no matter how long we’ve been around, we can learn from each other.

If you are older, you may want to tap into a younger person who has expertise in newer and fast evolving areas and learn about life beyond the corner office. (If we want help figuring out our phones or what should be on our playlist, we just ask our kids!)

Several companies offer reverse-mentoring programs, including Capgemini Consulting, GE, HP, Mars Inc., Ogilvy & Mather, Cisco Systems Inc., and Hartford Financial Services Group, some through internal networking groups.

Wall Street Journal reporter Sue Shellenbarger wrote about Ron Garrow, MasterCard’s chief human-resources officer, pairing with a much younger Rebecca Kaufman, a community manager who helped him to create a social media presence. This arrangement has benefited both.

Mr. Garrow is now actively communicating to both internal and external audiences via tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Ms. Kaufman has gained exposure to senior executives she wouldn’t have otherwise met, increased her confidence level and had the opportunity to work closely with someone who has become a role model.

Even if your company doesn’t have a formal program, you can become a mentee (or a mentor). Most people are happy to share their knowledge and experience with someone else. They just need to be asked.

What are you committed to? Go and make it happen!

Gaining Coveted Trusted Advisor Status

In his 1910 classic (still in print), The Science of Getting Rich, author Wallace  Wattles submits that you must be “bigger than your present place.”

This is true for anyone who wants to become successful, and especially so for anyone who wants to gain the coveted Trusted Advisor status: Do more than what is expected, go the extra mile and always over-deliver. It’s an attitude adjustment – just the sort that will get you noticed and open doors.

Connectworking means an investment in time without the guarantee or promise of reward. Staying in touch and cultivating your connections means meeting, calling, emailing, connecting them to each other and otherwise reaching out.

If you are in a profession with huge pressure to record chargeable hours and hit billing targets this can be especially challenging, but it’s also critical on the path to gaining the coveted Trusted Advisor status.

A common complaint among customers in all businesses is that once a sale is made, they don’t see their contact person or have communication again until the sales cycle starts anew. They feel unloved and used.

But a Trusted Advisor is in it for the long haul, not a short term gain. They’ll go the extra mile even when an immediate sale isn’t involved.

Trusted Advisor status involves intent (trying to help with no expectation of anything in return), credibility (you do what you say when you said), empathy (you understand them).

Think about what you can do to gain the customer’s trust and confidence so that they wouldn’t go to anyone but you for their needs.

Ask yourself: what can I do today to be if value to my boss/ co-workers/ customers/ community/ family/ friends/ spouse, and for which I will not expect anything in return? You will become more valuable in the process.

What are you committed to? Go and make it happen!

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