Archive for the ‘tools’ Category

summertime is great for reflection

Friday, June 13th, 2014

50 waysI found this great tool online around where you are in your job search. The title is a bit misleading, since I think the exercise of thinking about some of these questions isn’t just for people on the market, but for anyone wanting to take a moment to reflect upon where you are and where you’re going. That’s not an easy place for me to go. I’m constantly into self-improvement and thinking about what I want to grow, but not always about fixating on a goal ahead – my tendency is to stay in the day-to-day.

I suggest you explore the site, 50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good. It reads like there is a path from starting to happy (who wouldn’t want to get there?)…yet, it’s easy to pick a square and see where it leads you.

I haven’t gone through them all, but some of my favorite rectangles include:

I think Friday’s a good day for you to start playing around with it, so get going!

the lost arts of closing the loop, saying i’m sorry, handwritten notes and sleep

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Lostclearly, it’s been awhile since my last post, so with that, i thought i’d focus on lost arts in the professional world.

closing the loop

i’m not sure where this has gone, but i find that an inordinate amount of time is spent in short back and forth e-mail conversations, because someone has left something out. for instance, you run into someone in the hallways who says, we should have lunch some time. if you say yes and s/he emails you asking if you want to grab lunch, it’s not closing the loop if s/he doesn’t throw out some dates that work so you have a starting point. that’s a pretty simplistic situation and answer, but it’s worth thinking about when you need something at work, how you are approaching it that helps close the loop. that’s just being a solid project manager.

read more: What Great Bosses Know About Closing the Loop

apologize when it’s important

acknowledging a problem at work is vital. it helps build trust in relationships, can red flag a problem before it gets too late and builds a communication pipeline. if you know you’re going to miss a deadline or truly messed up on the job, calling it out shows maturity and the acceptance of responsibility. pretending like there’s something wrong or making excuses for yourself is not want people need from you in a professional environment. saying “i’m sorry” can feel like a difficult task, but it’s really quite easy. you are vulnerable for about 2.5 seconds and most colleagues will respond positively to your admission.

read more: The Most Effective Ways to Make It Right When You Screw Up

sleep! really, you need 7-8 hours

i’m not sure that i’ll ever be a morning person or get to bed before midnight – it’s just how i’m wired. at the same time, i am surrounded by highly productive morning people, and many of these strategies work for them. we’re all more productive and pleasant to be around when we’re getting enough shuteye on a day to day basis. there are some great tips to help you jump start your day or move towards being a morning person in this lifehacker piece. my favorite is the last one: J.F.D.I. (click through to find out what that means)

read more: Why You’re Not a Morning Person (and How to Become One)

the importance of handwritten notes

i really don’t believe in using a lot of paper at work and try not to keep files, since everything should be saved on shared drives or scanned so we don’t have paper accumulating in our offices. despite that fact, i firmly believe in the handwritten note. i personally hand-write all faculty thank yous for stanford events where professors speak on behalf of the university. even if it’s something quickly discarded, a handwritten note these days is a gesture of the thought and time you put into considering that person. i wouldn’t hand write something when i’m expecting a response, since that puts a burden on the letter receiver to go out of his/her way – if you want a reply, e-mail away.

read more: Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever. 

All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

We’re launching a new program here at the Alumni Association, so the work environment has been pretty hairy of late, hence, no posts in two months.

I finally took the time out to watch a less than 10 minute video about taking 10 mindful minutes. It’s amusing how it sometimes we can put off something that takes so little time. I think it’s been an open tab in my Chrome browser for about two weeks now, and I decided to carve out part of my lunch break for it today.

Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

I’ve been seeking a good meditation class recently, since I have been thinking a lot about the idea of being fully present in my daily life. His juggling analogies help visualize the kind of order that level of concentration can bring to the mind.

This holiday season, let’s be less distracted.

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Smart phones have taken over our lives. I recognize it on a daily basis and when I came across Please Stow All Electronic Devices in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I knew this was going to be the subject of my next blog post.

It’s common to see couples on a date at a restaurant staring at their phones instead of each other…on vacation and at performances, the audience is more concerned with documenting their experience than actually experiencing it, and this behavior carries into the workplace. Especially if I’m in a meeting with five or more people, chances are that someone is on their laptop or phone, as opposed to paying attention to the meeting. It wastes everyone else’s time in that room.

What all of this means for humanity is that feeling focused and present is harder than ever these days. For the holiday season, give yourself the gift of increased presence in your life. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, as opposed to focusing on the next thing ahead.

Yoga helps me with continued practice, since instructors consistently bring you back to breathing and focused on what’s happening on the mat.

Currently, I’m reading Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct. Although she concentrates on how to cultivate willpower in your life, she spends a chapter on dopamine and the promise of reward, which I found fascinating.

In this chapter, she chronicles how we spend more time on the promise of happiness instead of the direct experience of happiness. We’d rather play the lottery instead of getting a sure amount of money; we’ll eat fatty and sugary foods that make us feel bad later, we’re always on Facebook checking updates – even when we’re currently with a group of friends and we respond to buy-one-get-one sales even when we don’t really want what we’re buying. Instead of being present, we’re focused on that feeling of trying to attain something greater. This ultimately means we feel unsatisfied.

McGonigal offers several exercises to help us figure out what does actually make us happy, and in her book, states, “according to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby.”

I offer up her advice in helping us all get re-centered and focused on what matters to us most in life – ultimately, that’s what the holidays are really all about. When we are fully present with one other, everyone benefits from the attention.

18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Recently, I read a stellar book on finding daily focus in 18 minutes. I read a fair share of business books (mostly around working more productively), and you can always check out my Working Smart list in Goodreads to see my other recommendations. Following is not exactly a summary, but rather it represents my main takeaways.

Overall, Bregman provides the following work/life advice, which does help find focus with your time:

  • Leverage your strengths.
  • Embrace your weaknesses.
  • Assert your differences.
  • Pursue your passions.

Considering these different paths help you stand out in the workplace. If you aren’t doing these things, you’re probably not as happy or you’re doing something wrong.

Working with People

“When you shorten transition time, you create a boundary that helps you and others adjust to a new reality.” From going through a couple of reorganizations at the Alumni Association, I wholeheartedly agree. Often there is so much preparation for a transition that it ends up making the whole process seem longer and more painful. Jumping into cold water is always better than easing your way in.

“I’ve noticed something three times and I want to discuss it with you…Don’t wait too long to bring something up. People can only respect boundaries they know are there.” Coaching and feedback in the workplace is very important to creating strong, growing relationships. I think this is a nice approach without having to list out specific instances. It says that you’ve waited and allowed time for mistakes.

“Why won’t this work for you? That’s a good point. So how can you change it to make it work?” We all do things differently on the job. I’m completely process-oriented, and in alumni relations, there are a lot of fuzzier people people. We should feel comfortable doing things in our own way, and part of letting people work happy is to agree upon a similar outcome, evening if getting there means taking different paths.


“You need to be motivated for only a few seconds. Know when you’re vulnerable and you’ll know when you need to turn it on.” This was my favorite takeaway from the book. You don’t have to be motivated 8 hours a day, but a minute of motivation can launch you into a task or project that ends up carrying you forward. We’ve got to recognize our slumps and figure out what gets us in the mode.

  • Do it immediately.
  • Schedule it.
  • Let it go.
  • Someday/maybe.

You’ve probably seen these different routes for tasks if you’ve ever look at David Allen’s Get Things Done model. My favorite one is to let it go. We really don’t do that often and especially during busy times, it’s necessary triage.

“The right kind of interruption can help you master your time and yourself. Keep yourself focused and steady by interrupting yourself hourly.” I like the idea of thinking about distraction as a way to counter distraction. I’m not sure that it works for me exactly, but Bregman suggests stopping every hour to see if you’re actually accomplishing what you need to accomplish or if you’re totally off track.

  • Am I the right person?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Do I have enough information?
  • If any of these is a no – then don’t do it.
We get requests from all directions. Using the above criteria can sometimes help you delegate work or let the requestor know it’s not the right time or you need more information. Sometimes we take on more than we really can or we really should.

“Create an environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to do.”I do this with a ridiculous amount of photos and inspirational materials in my cube, but also having file folders in reach and a number of calendars at my fingertips helps put me in the right mindset.

Benchmarking and the Long Term

Bregman asserts that anyone can do anything as long as three conditions exist:

  • You want to achieve it.
  • You believe you can achieve it.
  • You enjoy trying to achieve it.

The key part of this statement is that you enjoy trying. It’s all about the motivation, and if that is missing, it’s really difficult to move forward on your goals.

The author takes a wide view and suggests we all set a few business and personal goals that are very broad to frame the way we spend out time. Here are his that he focuses on in the book:

  • Do great work with current clients
  • Attract future clients
  • Write and speak about my ideas
  • Be present with family and friends
  • Have fun and take care of myself

I’m drawn to their simplicity. Even having these posted somewhere to look at daily help trigger you to consider whether or not you’re spending any time on long-term goal achievement. This is the concrete part of the 18 minutes, where Bregman actually diagrams out how to spend those 18 minutes each day, allocating some time to examine how you’re faring in the long-term bucket. I love his personal goal about being present and especially in this technologically distracting time, it resonates with me. A small piece of advice that he took as well, was around vacations. If you know you have to be dialed into work while you’re supposed to be getting R&R, set aside a specific 15-30 minutes to be undisturbed and checking e-mail. This allows you to compartmentalize that work time so you can enjoy the rest of your day work and worry free.

In a more specific way, he has you ask questions to review the end of your work day. A colleague does a plus/delta review after meetings that’s a bit similar – being reflective about what happened and how that compared to your expectations.

  • What is this day about?
  • How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do – differently or the same – tomorrow?
  • Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question of? Share feedback with?

Only have 10 minutes?

If you only have 10 minutes a day to organize yourself, check out this Lifehack post on Getting Your Head Together in 10 Minutes a Day.  My favorte item (and not just because of my good friend with the same name) is to think in “victor” language and not victim language. Taking on the day knowing you have control over your attitude and many of the outcomes makes a huge difference.

Setting Intentions for a Better Day

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Yesterday, I attended a BeWell class at Stanford on Emotional Intelligence by Dr. Fred Luskin. He’s famous for work on forgiveness and the science of happiness. If you like his work and want to dialogue about it, he’s taking questions over Twitter this week through the School of Medicine. The class was not what I expected, but instead the takeaway centered on having a better day and having more emotional control over your day.

We had to ask ourselves a good question – basically, “What would you have to experience in your afternoon to feel you had a successful day?” For me, it was finishing two top priority tasks. Fred also suggested it could be a more general item such as the following:

  • focusing on the good stuff
  • getting along with your co-workers
  • really listening actively to people in meetings
  • being a good team member
  • not getting angry about things
This exercise leads into the idea that we are happen and feel successful when our intention (or goal, choose the word that resonates with you), corresponds to your day. I totally buy this. I might have 20 things on my plate, but if I get 3 important things done that I know had to happen, I can still leave work at a reasonable hour and feeling good about the work I accomplished.

This simple concept ties into some prioritization work I’ve done on the job, where you look at a project and consider what’s a must have, a should have and a nice to have. At the end of the project, as long as the must haves are done, the overall feeling is of success.

The important work that we must do on the job is actually set that intention every day and follow through. I do this in a way by having my MS Outlook open in my calendar as opposed to my e-mail. This way, I start by seeing what’s ahead for the next 8 hours. Then, I take the time to write down 3 – 5 things I want to complete on my paper calendar and see what I can do. It doesn’t always happen, but I know what success means.

I like the idea of taking some days to focus on other more behavioral concepts to equal success for me.

Fred Luskin taught us that exercising self control and cultivating positivism are the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. He also stated appreciating what you have and reducing how much you complain goes a long way to making your day.

One of my favorite exercises we did was to imagine someone who makes us happy “in loving technicolor.” Even that expression was enough to make me smile!

30 days

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

In 2007, my partner and I did this 30 days experiment, which yielded great results. While everyone else was watching fireworks and having parties, we sat down and considered 30 day long trials, striving towards behaviors we wanted to develop in line with our values.

Each month was a new adventure and planning for the year meant we could do some smart scheduling. For example, March was “try new things” month, which meant everything from not ordering the same thing on the menu at a restaurant to parasailing (which coincided with our Hawaii vacation). For both of us, one of the challenges resonated strongly, with Leith becoming a full-time vegetarian the following year and me becoming an avid reader again (the challenge was 30 minutes of book time a day).

Five years has past and we’re doing it again, with some repeats from the last time – the most difficult challenge being no driving for a month. Happily, I’m coinciding this with May for Bike to Work month.

One new change is that I’m reinforcing the months with using Chrome Sticky Notes. I’m permanently pinning the tab to my browser with four permanent notes:

  • Get it done (short term projects)
  • Projects (takes at least half a day)
  • Learning (webinars and other resources to review – outside of books, which I track on GoodReads)
  • 2012 Goals (monthly list of 30 days challenges)

I’m only using these for personal tasks, as I manage my work projects and milestones with Basecamp successfully. My hope is that seeing these personal goals of mine throughout the year will give me perspective and provide something to look forward to. Also, focusing my project management on my personal life is much needed, since tasks constantly take a backseat to work.

In reviewing the whole list, I notice there’s an overall focus on learning. This first month we’re doing some role reversal at home to gain some perspective (he’s cooking, I’m washing dishes). In later months, we’re turning attention to things like learning a new skill and creating something from that knowledge and concentrating on a foreign language.

I’m really looking forward to the whole year and the wealth of experiences and challenges it will bring. I’d encourage everyone to at least do one 30 days goal for yourself in 2012. It’s not as hard as it seems and it’s only a month. Surprise yourself with what you can accomplish!

Google Docs in the workplace

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

When I check out my Google Docs nowadays, I have 4 main collections:

  • Family (our grocery list (used most often), correspondence, my resume, wedding planning)
  • Organizational Tools (useful templates I’ve found, meeting trackers)
  • Stanford (work documents)
  • Trip Itineraries (vacation itineraries to share with family/friends)

I consider myself a MS Word and Excel power user, so initially it took me awhile to accept Google docs as a tool, since there are significant limitations. However, features like filtering and data validation, coupled with the fact that nothing else can beat it in terms of collaboration make Google docs a must for the workplace.

Best practices for Google Docs

  • Consider the best input and delivery method.
  • Access: do you need to limit to certain people, or is a private link easier on you to send out?
  • How are you providing guidance to users? You can lay this out in an e-mail, provide examples in a survey or with a spreadsheet, input 5-10 rows so they know what you’re expecting.
  • Search Google doc templates first – what you’re looking for might already exist.
  • For spreadsheets, add filters and freeze the top row – this makes a huge difference!
  • When working on projects with multiple documents, create collections and share link access that way
  • For categories/types, use data validation and a list to create a drop down menu so you don’t get varying answers like: Stanford, Stanford University, University
  • Save helpful templates you come across; or create new ones for others to utilize! I really like some of the templates from Jenny Blake, a former Googler, and I’ve saved them in my collections for a rainy day.

Use cases

The most important consideration is to ensure you’re using the right format and conveying to your users how to input information. As a basic example, my partner and I were using a Google spreadsheet for the groceries, listing common items by section and then indicating we needed to buy it with a list. Filter for 1 and you have your list. This format works fine on a desktop,  but it’s clearly a pain on a smartphone and a simple shared document where we just list out items is actually 10 times easier.

Aside from collaboration, Google Docs is just a great way to back up documents or access them from remote locations. Why use a USB stick for files when you can just put them on the internet?

Another way I’ve used Google Docs is in gathering co-workers travel information and cell phones for a conference. We’re all over the building and I thought a spreadsheet wouldn’t be as straightforward. Setting up a survey and having this feed into a spreadsheet was the easy answer – it allowed me to write out examples of how I wanted the information and then the report was easy for me to download and send out. Previously, I’ve used Wufoo, but it was a more complex process and less customizable for my needs.

For the Stanford Book Salon, our online discussion participants appreciate the audio interview we post monthly with our faculty host. We had removed the printed transcript of this interview from the website and they wanted it back. Unfortunately, the many factors in turning it around makes the whole process of getting a file to our Interactive team in a timely manner incredibly difficult. Our solution? Link out the file to a published Google document. It’s a great solution and has a clean look, reducing the impact on our teams. Plus, it takes less than 5 minutes to publish online.


If you’re not already using Google docs, at least play around with the tool. There’s an online forum, as well as a blog (impressively done in a Google docs look!) One thing on my to do list is to check out their latest product Google presentations. The entire docs suite continues to evolve and serve as invaluable tools in the workplace.

meetings, meetings, meetings

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

At the Alumni Association, we have a meeting culture. Part of it is the work that we do, which is very collaborative – another thing is that as a matrix organization, we’re always putting together several people to put together a program. I’m not someone that dislikes meetings off the bat; I feel they are important and opportunities for people to provide input. In fact, when I was just starting out on the job, I jumped at the chance to sit in on meetings to see how projects come together, observe how co-workers work together and also have the opportunity to provide input when requested. It’s a great way to learn on the job and figure out how to work with people, especially when you are low on the totem pole. It’s a missed opportunity to zone out until it’s your turn to contribute.

Despite my seeming love for meetings, there’s nothing worse than sitting through a bad meeting. In a given week, I attend between 10-25 hours in meetings. That’s a lot. My tech friends find meetings stupid, especially with the number of people and hours sitting around the table. Although I disagree – since it’s part of the work that I do  – I’m hyperaware when things aren’t right. 99 % by Behance posted a great blog on how to Treat Your Meetings to a Little QA, so check it out.

Personally, this is what I’m looking for in a meeting to be productive:

  • A facilitator. Someone has to bring the agenda and keep the meeting on target.
  • A known goal or objective. People around the table need to know why they are there and what they are supposed to bring. Sending a blank meeting invite is pretty disrespectful of people’s time. If you can’t send out an agenda, at least convey the goal.
  • Realistic timing. Don’t schedule an hour unless you need it. 15 and 30 minute meetings are a great idea and attendees will appreciate that you considered their time. On the same note, if you’re debriefing a program with 10 people, make time for the 90 minutes or 2 hours this will take.
  • Attendees that pay attention. Don’t play on your phone or even allow it to vibrate on the table. It’s so frustrating when 10 people show up in a conference room and people don’t have the courtesy to give full attention and put their phone aside. Take notes when needed and listen to others. If you keep attending meetings and zoning out, maybe you shouldn’t be there in the first place.
  • Start and end on time. If 12 people are in a meeting and the group waits on 2 people that show up 10 minutes late, you’ve essentially wasted  2 hours of company time (12 people x 10 minutes). It sounds trivial, but it adds up.
  • Action items. My most effective meetings are ones where I’ve used Basecamp and after the meeting, send out a message to the whole group with brief action items and the person it’s assigned to. I don’t always do this, but it’s brilliant when it works.

Of course, the rules aren’t the same for all gatherings.

Behance suggests that someone takes notes. One of the best changes in our department this year is that we got rid of notes at our weekly meeting. There’s only 8 people and every week, someone had to spend 30-45 minutes to send out notes that most people never read. Eliminating them has been a timesaver, yet I see so many groups continue this practice. Oddly, we don’t have anyone take and send out brief notes from our staff meetings, which over 100 people attend. If you miss them and don’t chat with a co-worker, you could have missed an organization initiative or important presentation relevant to your work. That’s not so smart in my opinion.

Brainstorms are a different ballgame. I’ve led a couple on random areas. There’s nothing more beneficial to a project than refreshing it wholly every couple of years and getting new perspectives. Sometimes this is easy – just to solicit opinions without a meeting. For example, last year I sent an e-mail out to Development and Alumni Association employees asking for ideas for campus tours and Classes Without Quizzes that I organize every year at Reunion Homecoming. I think I do a great job researching new ideas, but spending 10 minutes to craft an e-mail, I ended up with 13 pages worth of recommendations. Collective wisdom is invaluable! Creative brainstorms are better around a table. To look at pricing for reunions, I pulled in some folks working on the program, staff alums and some other random folks to get many points of view. These kinds of meetings can require more time, a solid facilitator and co-workers invested in the goal.

I’m on a task force at the Alumni Association reviewing performance management, and our cabinet member likes to do a plus/delta at the end of the meeting. I’m not sure I would employ it for all of my meetings, but it can be a great tool at the end to spend a couple minutes with the group deciding what worked well and what could have been better. Another great tool that I haven’t adopted (since I attend more meetings than I run) is available on Dan Markovitz’s Timeback Blog: the Standard Work for Meetings spreadsheet, which is a simple, great way to track how effective you are at running meetings.