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Archive for September, 2008

I make my living by identifying patterns. Whether it’s making sense of consumer needs, looking at what’s going on in the world of commerce to identify trends or opportunities, or helping a colleague get better at what they do, it all follows a similar logic: These are some things we’ve seen a few times. Here’s how they’re related. Here’s what it means. And here’s what you can do about it.

So it’s no surprise that I find patterns in other aspects in my life, too. I’ve been traveling like crazy for a few weeks. I kind of hate it. My natural instinct is to to see the pattern: I’m on a plane very frequently. My job requires lots of travel. I don’t like traveling this much, so I must not like my job. I should probably quit. That was last week.

Today’s ‘pattern’ was different. At about 6 PM, right before dinner, both boys totally lost it, in different ways. So this was the pattern: My kids are making me crazy. I’m not handling it that well. I’m not a good mom. Maybe I should travel more often.

When you’re accustomed to looking for patterns, you find them everywhere. Even when what you’re seeing isn’t really a pattern, it’s just a coincidence of events. On the travel issue, yes, sometimes I travel too much for my job. But often I don’t. So which is the pattern and which is breaking the pattern? With my kids, sometimes they lose it and I don’t handle it very well. But most of the time we’re together, we have a great time. And most of the time we encounter problems, I get through them pretty well. So which is the pattern?

I’ve fallen into a pattern of seeing patterns. Sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it. When I’m working with clients, or with colleagues, I have folks to keep me honest. Knowing that I have an audience to prove my patterns to keeps me honest abotu when it really exists and when it doesn’t. With no clients at home (not a bad thing at all) I I need to work on reminding myself to be more rigorous in pattern identification. I don’t want to jump to the final conclusion, here’s what I should do about it, if it’s really an instance and not a pattern.

Excellent picture from this site.

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In Philly, the first signs of fall are in the air. I love the crisp air and that indescribable smell that reminds me of little league football games. And it reminds me that I need to get outside while I can.

Folks who commute to offices have to get outside – at least as long as it takes to get into their cars or walk from the parking lot to the office. Working from home, before I was in charge of preschool drop off, I could spend an entire day, even a couple of days, in the house wihtout once stepping outside. That can’t be healthy.

Various studies have shown that too much artificial light can make you tired. And sunlight can energize you and make you more productive.

These days, I try to get my daily dose of sunlight by building a few walks and other distractions into my day. Taking the kids to school, walking the dog, walking to the post office, going to the bank or even grabbing lunch ensures that I get out of my work cave and enjoy the day.

It feels wonderful this time of year, which is motivation enough.

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Every time I visit the Philadelphia Zoo, I can’t help but stare at the squirrel monkeys. They remind me of what goes on in my house. I’m the big fat one, sitting on the branch. The ones jumping around like maniacs, eating their own feet and each other’s heads, well, you can guess who they remind me of.

Enjoy.

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Last week we were living in Whine Country. All week the monkeys were super whiny, and they’d freak out over basic issues.

 

One day they came home from school bawling. I sat with them on the couch and tried to talk to them about what happened. “Daddy ripped my fig bar,” was all I could get out of them. Later I learned that Mr. Daddy was trying to get them to share the one bar they had left over from lunch. And they didn’t want to share it. So they cried the whole way home from school. Both of them.

 

By Thursday I’d pretty much had it. After powering through bedtime, I sat down at the computer and Googled ‘whiny tantrum three year olds.’ No surprise, a number of sites had suggestions.

 

After reading a few, I started to get annoyed. Here I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the monkeys, and all the online resources were about how I could behave differently. This annoyed me. After all, I’m not whiny. Why did I have to change (ok, so maybe I’m a little whiny.) But really, this was about them, not me.

 

After reading about 100 posts recommending me to just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ I found one that made sense. Yes, it involved saying ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ but it surrounded that tidbit with a bit more context.

 

Kids don’t whine to be annoying, it said, they whine to get what they want. If you give them what they want, they’ll continue to whine. It reminded me to not get angry or frustrated. To try a tactic for a couple of weeks before giving up on it. And to make sure I’m specific about both the behaviors I want to get rid of and those that I want to encourage. Finally, it reminded me that I need to be constantly praising them when they talk in an appropriate tone of voice.

 

I printed out the page and talked the strategy out with Mr. Daddy. We agreed to try it the next day. On Friday we spent the day together, going out for pancakes, to the zoo, to the park, and to an art show at the preschool. We had a great day. And we were able to keep a handle on the whining, even when the monkeys were tired.

 

By Saturday night, we’d noticed a big change. Despite a night of throwing up and tummy aches the boys had both been whining less and were starting to be fun to hang out with again.

 

My reaction to all the parenting advice I’d been reading was not unlike the reaction some managers have when they’re trying to get their people to improve. When your people aren’t performing up to your standards, you start to wonder what’s wrong with them. And you forget that at least in part, their behavior is a reaction to the conditions that you set up with them.

 

You can’t, as many people recommend online, just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine’ and expect behavior to change. You have to set the conditions for the behavior to change, and constantly reinforce new behavior.

 

And even though it’s your people who aren’t performing, not you, the only behaviors that you really have the power to change are your own. As a leader, your role in the situation is similar to that of a parent. If you want a different outcome, you have change the things that you do to set the conditions for that new outcome to occur.

It’s not rocket science. But it can transport you to an entirely new universe.

 

 

 

 

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I can’t believe it’s Tuesday again already.  It’s been hard for me to blog about anything given that instead of working from home, I’ve been trying to work from various airports.

That said, I’ve got a good quick tip for today. Don’t pick up your office phone after ‘business hours.’ Those hours can be whatever you want them to be, but set them and then respect them.

If you worked in an office that was separate from your home, you wouldn’t hear the phone ringing from your kitchen. If you have to, turn your ringer off when you’re done for the day.

Folks who need to reach you urgently most likely have your cell phone number or email address. It’s your decision about whether to check that. But don’t let yourself get pulled out of your home life by a call that can most likely wait.

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Often, when I’m working from home, I don’t take a long lunch break in the middle of the day. Instead, I take several short breaks throughout the day.

But sometimes, I need to shift into a different kind of activity to take my mind off a hairy problem and enable insights to emerge. (More on this idea here.) And sometimes, I know that the only way my family will eat dinner is if I manage to make it during the workday.  So I make dinner during lunch.

I’ve discovered several meals which work well when I make them ahead of time. Lasagna, oven baked risotto, and soba noodles with peanut sauce are my favorites. I’ll post the recipes when I get home (I’m writing this at SFO – not quite working from home today.) And please post other good make-ahead recipes that you make during lunch in the comments.

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I’ve become interested in meditation and am reading  Wherever You Go There You Areby Jon Kabat-Zinn. I’m disregarding his recommendations already by writing about it, but no one is perfect.

I’ve been reading the book for a few weeks now but haven’t actually tried meditating. Until tonight.

This week I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have two choices at bedtime. Sit with the monkeys for the 5 -10 minutes it takes them to fall asleep, or spend 45 minutes shepherding them back into their beds. I’m leaning towards the former, for sheer efficiency. Again, no one is perfect.

The problem is that while I’m up there with them, I get bored, anxious or fall asleep. Today, I decided to meditate, and the time passed quickly and pleasantly. I didn’t really get into any zen state – it’s hard work to keep myself focused on the present moment, but it felt good to try. And while I was trying to remind myself that the now is the now and what is is what is, the monkeys fell asleep.

I think I’ll try it again tomorrow.

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