Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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Be Present – FISH! Philosophy

Fish-Philosophy-Be-ThereThe third concept I will discuss from FISH! Philosophy is “be present.” It goes beyond the idea of physically being present when talking to a friend, customer, coworker, etc. It is about giving your full, undivided, attention – actively listening. This seems so simple, but I have found it takes a great deal of effort to do it – every time. When thinking about this blog post I came up with a list of situations I have found where being present is most important.

  • Teleconference calls: This can perhaps be the toughest situation to be present because you are not physically in the room with other people. It is all too easy to surf the web or check your email as other people talk. I have done it and found that I don’t actually take anything away from the that conversation had while I wasn’t present. This has taught me to just close my eyes and take in the entire conversation, only stopping to write down notes.
  • Business meetings: Sitting in a room full of people I have found two ways to not be present; daydreaming and using my computer. I write all of my notes via computer, so it is easy to switch over to check my email. That one moment takes me out of the room and then it takes more time to get back into the conversation. Daydreaming is tough because, honestly, many meetings are irrelevant. However, it is important to be present because you never know when someone will ask you a question or reference a conversation from the meeting.
  • Customer conversations: Perhaps the most important time to be present is when you are talking to a customer. It doesn’t matter if it is on the phone or in person, being present in these situations can be directly connected to revenue. It is easy to tell when someone is present during conversation and when they are not. I start with making sure to say the other person’s name and then try to reference something said, both so they know I was engaged and for me to better understand and remember the conversation.

I have clear memories of times where I was not present and it caught up with me. Those moments are embarrassing because it truly is so easy to just be present and pay attention. I, like everyone else, am very busy and have my attention constantly being pulled in different directions. This is why being present is even more important because hearing something the first time and being able to take action, as well as creating and continuing positive relationships, is a clear path to success.

The next time you are talking to someone and find yourself not being present, refocus and find your own system for keeping your mind on what is at hand.

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Related Posts:

Play – FISH! Philosophy

Choose Your Attitude – FISH! Philosophy

Born to Blog

BornToBlogAs a new blogger, I am constantly looking for ways to make improvements and reach a larger audience. I have reviewed a number of resources and my goal is to take away at least one new element from each. I recently read Born to Blog, by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith. Written for those who are just getting started, this book provides excellent information to help newcomers find success. My greatest takeaways are laid out below.

  • Blogs are a noninvasive, trust-building, relationship booster: This stood out to me because, when done right, I have seen how powerful a blog can be.
  • There are five elements to writing a successful post: 1. Create a captivating headline. 2. Give a unique personal viewpoint. 3. Take a personal risk. 4. Create an entertaining spin. 5. Use words that sing.
  • Blogs offer the most potential value for businesses. The benefits include brand awareness, direct and indirect sales, sales support, R&D, PR, crisis management and expanding search engine traffic.
  • There are specific traits of a successful blogger; tenacity, focus on passion, flexibility, consistency and courage.
    • Tenacity in blogging comes down to working for years to start to build something; there is almost never instant success.
    • Without passion, failure is likely just a short time away. The true passion has to shine through in each post. It can’t be “all business.” People want to find out what you have to say.
    • Consistency in blogging means new posts at least once a month; there are many reasons for this and daily can become even easier over time. Every post doesn’t have to be profound, but does have to give some value.
    • Courage is likely the single most important element; sometimes just to hit the publish button.
  • There are three areas where blogging goes wrong; the wrong purpose, the wrong content and the wrong people.
    • Blogging must be done to tell you or your company’s story and share the core values.
    • The content must be real and connected to what you or your company are all about.
    • The people must be authentic and likely working for the company itself; not outsiders.
  • There are eight ways listed to develop readership for your blog. 1. Give away your best. 2. Add your blog to your current marketing efforts. 3. Contribute to other publications. 4. Get active on your reader’s social channels. 5. Use savvy, simple SEO; research keywords, optimize blog titles and post content. 6. Use guest bloggers. 7. Join and sponsor conversations, such as Twitter chats and discussion forums. 8. Reward your readers.
  • Bloggers for a company should come from every level, ranging from entry to C-suite, and training and support should be given to ensure quality and consistency.

These few items are just a portion of the pages of notes I wrote down, but were the ones I felt most applied to what I am doing with my own blog.

If you are looking to start blogging or would like to get a fresh perspective to improve your current blog, I would encourage you to check out the book.

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Purpose: The Foundation for an Organization

pillars-purposeOver the last decade, I have been surrounded by the idea of using a vision, mission, values and purpose to define an organization. I read and heard about what each element represented and the reason it existed. However, it wasn’t until a class last semester that the idea of using them all together really sunk in for me. It was definitely an “ah, ha” moment that helped to clarify how to better use them as a whole.

  • Vision: The vision of an organization should clearly define where that organization is going. This is subject to change over time as realities change with the organization and its surrounding.
  • Mission: The mission is the who, when and how for getting to where the vision has set out. These are similarly subject to change over time and as the direction of the organization shifts.
  • Values: The values of an organization are the “rules of engagement” or norms of behavior. While these can change with time, they should be more steadfast than the mission and vision.
  • Purpose: Purpose is the “why” for the organization; why they do what they do. Unlike the other elements, purpose should never change. The purpose should be the single pillar to guide decisions when conflicts arise. If a newly developed mission doesn’t fit within the purpose, then the mission should change.

In the past, I have looked at each of these elements as individual pieces, not a single flow of items to help guide an organization’s direction and employee behavior. The several posts I have made about Vision and Mission still hold true, but should be looked at within a greater context. The purpose of the organization is the baseline in which everything else should be generated.

For an organization to be truly successful, especially in the startup phase, there must be a shared purpose. A great example of purpose that was used in my class is from the University of TexasTo transform lives for the benefit of society. This purpose clearly describes the basis for everything that goes on at UT and should guide the behavior of those charged with fulfilling it.

When thinking about where you work or your own company, is there a concrete purpose? If you have trouble finding or thinking of one, try to develop one. If you want to take it a step further, if it is where you work, bring it up to your boss for discussion. If you are the boss, then discuss with those you work with to see if a shared purpose can be developed.

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OPEN – Ordinary People, Extraordinary Network

network-treeLeaving my office the other day, I was feeling really excited about a client I had helped out. They were looking for information and I was able to put together data from various people who solved their issue. I said to myself, “I really have an extraordinary network of people to draw support from.” As soon as I said it, I thought back to Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt’s, A World Gone Social. It was one of those moments where I felt like things had come full circle.

One of the many great items from the book is the OPEN concept; Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Network. The book asks the question whether you would rather have the top expert in the field, or one thousand ordinary people chosen at random. It is an interesting question. There are a few things that come to mind now that I have had time to process my thoughts.

What is an ordinary person? Is that me? I think I am an ordinary person in the sense that I don’t believe I am an outlier in many, if any, categories. This means that I, alone, will not likely solve a major mystery of the world. However, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that it is not just about what I can bring to the table myself, but what I can bring to the table with me.

It is through this, and similar experiences, that I have learned  that I truly have an extraordinary network; built through several different times in my life. First, I have two incredible parents who know someone in what seems like every industry out there. I am also a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity and was able to meet hundreds of people who I am personally connected with throughout my time on the General Fraternity staff. My current role in the NSBDC allows me to connect with any of my fellow business advisors in the over 1,000 SBDC offices around the country. My office is also housed at the University of Nevada, so I also have access to immensely intelligent minds spanning many subjects. And, finally, I have a wide network of friends throughout the country.

When it comes down to it, I have an extraordinary network that continues to grow. This offers me a tremendous opportunity to solve problems and get information from the people who know far more than I do about any given subject. Through this network, I feel like an old school telephone operator making connections from one side of the board to the other. This has been a great asset as I look for new and creative ways to solve problems that help others achieve success.

This has reiterated a powerful lesson to me – network and build relationships. I would rather have 1,000 ordinary people with each having a network of their own to help find solutions. While experts know their field, having 1,000, each with their own ideas, offers a level of strength that is difficult to match.

What is the best example of what you have been able to put together as a result of your network? Please add your response in a comment below.

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Related Articles:

A World Gone Social

A World Gone Social: Six Months Later

BYOD: Bring Your Own Device

laptop-phone-BYODFor a class project in the spring, I was part of a team that looked at bringing your own devices to work, instead of a company providing them. We reviewed the pros and cons of both phones and laptops. I use my personal laptop in the office and have remote access to our network, which means I can work from anywhere. The only time I am on my work desktop is when I need to print. I am also using my own phone. By doing this, I am able to be more productive through increased flexibility. Our findings were interesting and provided me new insights.

Cell phones were the first item we reviewed. The benefit of having a work phone with you at all times is that customers and coworkers can contact you, via phone, email and/or text, at all times. This can greatly increase efficiency, as well as customer service. When a company provides a separate work phone, we found that this requires many individuals to have two phones with them at any given time. That often leads to work phones not being taken from work or left at home when it is not during regular business hours, which defeats the purpose.

By allowing individuals to use their personal phone, the benefits can be seen through only needing to have a single phone. Call forwarding can be used so the employee’s phone number is not being given out or used by mistake if he or she leaves the company. There are also services that pay a stipend directly to the cell phone provider to ensure employees are not taxed on the money through a regular paycheck. Specific security measures are also available, at low-cost, which protects company information. Overall, we found the greatly reduced costs through allowing employees to use their own cell phone for work outweighed any risks.

Laptops were also reviewed as part of the project, but the outcome was quite different. In first looking at potential cost savings, there was certainly money to be saved. However, we found the savings, in this case, did not outweigh the potential risks. The security issues, theft/loss, viruses, repair, intellectual property, and commingling of data were too substantial to overlook. The main concern for any firm would be the potential loss of sensitive company data. The small percentage of dollars saved could not overcome the clear issues that were presented.

By undertaking this project, I certainly learned a lot about these different ideas and what benefits and risks arise with each. I certainly enjoy using my personal cellphone and laptop for work, but as a graduate assistant, both were my own choice. When outside of the university setting, I will certainly use this information when presented with the question of bringing your own device to work.

If you have seen specific risks or benefits that weren’t mentioned here, please let me know through a comment below.

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Family, Faith and Work: Prioritizing the Work/Life Balance

balanceThis is going to be a particularly busy week for me. I have three summer courses running simultaneously, several work projects are coming together at once, my fiancé is graduating from her residency program, one of my best friends is getting married and I am traveling 4 out of 8 days. However, this is what I live for. Nothing makes me happier than being busy and having so many wonderful things going on at the same time. The only way I am able to find a perfect balance is through a well-developed set of priorities.

Over the course of my life, I have been taught, and learned on my own, what elements are most important. Some people share these same items, and in the same order, but there are also many who do not. In ranked order, from most important, I value family, faith and work. That has come to mean some very specific things as I have continued through my career. I have also learned it is much easier to say this than implement it.

Family, as well as friends, is what drive me to succeed more than anything else. While I want to help as many people as possible, the motivation to do so is based upon the energy generated through my interactions with those who I love. For the most part, it is not about giving anything up to put family first, but about making shifts to what will allow for both to happen. The only instances when one is above another is when opportunities comes along where only one event can be put in one slot of time. That is the test of the prioritization. And, it should be noted that it is not about what happens when as the outcome, but that first moment when you realize there is an issue.

Faith comes next, but also includes my personal values. This, too, is what drives me to do what I do and gives me strength to push on and find success. I am extremely proud of the moments when I made the tough choice to stand up for something I believe in, not compromising my values, and put my faith first, however, there have also been lessons learned when that was not the case. My goal is always to use those moments where I fell short as a learning experiences as it is a feeling I do not wish to have again.

Finally, there is work, which is one of the most time intensive and important elements of my life. The opportunities I have had in my career have only served to help me define my prioritizes, learn and develop as an individual, and create value that impacts my personal life. My current position with the NSBDC is an excellent example of being able to develop great passion for what I am doing. Doing this only pushes me closer to my first two prioritizes.

There are some many wonderful things going on in life and I can barely stop to think about it all at the same time. This next week is going to be very exciting and I can’t wait to learn from what transpires, continue to push to become the best version of myself and help as many people as possible along the way.

Think about your own priorities and how you make decisions. Then, think about the ones that went well and those that didn’t. Finally, think about what you learned and how to push yourself to be the best version of yourself.

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