Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bad news vs. bad surprises

When I was working as a Communication Manager, one of my Managers told be he'd rather get bad news than bad surprises. That sentence stayed with me from that day and I still reflect on it.

His point was very simple: telling him bad news right away, rather than waiting for him to discover about it too late. As a project manager, this is a key to success: being proactive and mitigating risks instead of waiting for the disaster to happen. It also means improving the relationship with my manager / project sponsor. They need to know I'll tell them about it, but also that I'll do everything I can to right the situation. Trust can only increase with that kind of behavior.

I've obviously failed that saying a few times at work since then, but even more often at home. As many people, I am very talented at avoiding doing what I don't like to do. Going through the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People helped me deal with procrastinating. The first habit is the habit of choice, and is all about how doing, or not doing something, is a choice you make. Being lazy is a choice. Not cleaning your desk is a choice.

Dealing with a tense situation is not easy nor pleasant. Though, doing nothing about it won't make it better, but most likely will make it worse. It will only take you making the choice, being courageous for a couple of seconds to start dealing with the report you don't want to prepare, the cleaning you have postponed too much, the unpleasant phone call. 

That's what I try to remember every time I'm reluctant to perform a task, stick to my diet, have to pick up the phone, etc. What are your techniques to avoid procrastination?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A smile can make a big difference

Today, one of my colleagues, who sit at the desk in front of mine, decided to have a bad day. She got really upset about her chair being misplaced as someone borrowed it last afternoon. I understand that having your belongings (though own by the company) used when you are not here is not pleasant.

Then it was her computer. Then it was the noise. Then it was the people around her who are not nice enough. Then it was the work load. Then it was not going to eat outside of the company enough (when we go outside often she complains about her weight). It is only mid day, but she already found about a dozen reasons to complain loudly to everyone and have a bad day. Including about facts that happened weeks ago and belong to the past.

Shit days happen to everyone and for a variety of reasons. You have the right to be upset by events and thus have a bad day. Consciously turning your day in a shitty one is completely different though.

I am rarely in a bad mood (usually when I didn’t sleep enough the night before). Even those days, I’d rather isolate myself from my colleagues (meaning I have my headphones on and won’t talk much to people) rather than have them suffer my bad mood. I also try to smile more than I’m inclined to on one of those days. Thus, my colleagues tend to smile back at me and be nicer. My mood usually improves after a few hours (and coffees), and I go back to having a better day. 

I also tell people I am a bit grumpy that day, so they can stay away from me or won’t be offended if I’m not my usual self. If I'm at home, I'll spend some time alone and rest, or do things that make me happy for a while before I'm a social being again.

Besides, your day won’t be better/easier/shorter if you spend it complaining and looking cross… So don’t forget to smile! It won’t fix all your issues but will improve your mood!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tips for efficient mornings

I am not a morning person. At all. Though, I work regular office hours, so I need to get up and get ready no matter how awake I am. I found a few tricks to make my morning more efficient and save a few precious minutes of sleep.
  1. Be proactive: Before you go to bed, make sure that you are ready for the next morning (that doesn't mean you should sleep with your office clothes on!). It can be having your bag / lunch bag ready, your outfit selected and ironed, the coffee machine set to brew your morning coffee right on time, etc. That is the step I struggle the most with, as I change my mind constantly about what I want to wear the next day. I've learned the hard way though that I can’t plan to wear a piece of clothing that has spent its night in the dryer, because chances are it won’t be fully dry in the morning.
  2. Buy multi-use / fast-to-use products: If it fits you, 2-in-1 shampoos will save you time. I also like to use hydrating (and soap free) shower gel to skip moisturizer. Tinted face moisturizer can save you a few minutes if you usually apply foundation. I keep at the bottom of my stairs baby powder and clear shoe polish for a quick touch up before I leave. The examples are plenty; you just need to find those who work for you to reduce the number of steps in your routine and save time.
  3. Get it done for you: Get dry without having to do a thing by using a bathrobe. If you have long hair, wrap a microfiber towel around it for the time it takes you to get ready: you’ll reduce the time needed to dry your hair (less than 3 minutes for my mid-back hair). Some coffee machines can be set up to brew on a set time so you don’t have to wait.
  4. One spot for each thing and each thing at its spot: How many times have you put face cleanser in your hair? If you have a spot for each product and keep it there, even half awake, your shower should be foolproof. I also select products with very different shapes and colors so I can recognize them with my eyes closed – literally.
  5. Sort your clothing the right way: I’ve tried a few ways to sort my outfits. What works best for me is to sort them by type of item, work appropriate or not, how warm / light the items are (don’t over sort though, I find that 3 stacks for t-shirts and knitwear are more than enough). This way, depending of the weather (that I check before getting out of bed) and whether I work or not, I’m able to put together an outfit fairly quickly.
  6. Have the right playlist/background sound: It can be a playlist to wake you up (see my previous post for more comments on that point), the news playing in the background, whatever works for you. I’d like to be able to listen to audio books in the morning, but I’d be way too much in my bubble to start the day.
  7. Know what steps you can skip: That may be more important than having the perfect morning routine. If you oversleep or something comes up, you need to know instantly (and without panicking) what steps are not necessary. You can choose an outfit that takes minimal ironing. Obviously, hair and makeup can be reduced to the minimum. Know what has the biggest effect on your morning routine: this is what you can’t skip (shower, teeth and clothing for instance). Identify then the steps that won’t make much of a difference (the non value added steps if you wish): those can be removed. 
  8. Find the right time to leave: Commute is a waste by definition. Sometimes, leaving 5 minutes later / earlier will save you precious minutes in your car. Try and find the time that allows you to be at work on time with the minimal commute time and still some buffer for special causes.
  9. Do it after: If you can’t manage to fit a task in the time you have for your morning routine, sometime you can do it afterwards. I always keep lip balm and hand moisturizer at work as I don’t have the time for it in the morning. I usually eat breakfast at work to save a few minutes.

Doing the same routine every morning prevents me from forgetting a step or doing them in an illogical order. It took me a few trials and errors to get to a process that is effective, easy and sustainable. I’m sure it will still evolve in time (especially when I’ll have kids).
I hope that these few ideas will help you optimize your mornings! Meanwhile, here are a few products that have changed mine:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Morning routine and introversion

One of the exercises we have done during BlackBelt training is to map our morning routine, identify wastes and improve our process.

I won’t do the exercise here; though I can tell you everyone that knows about my morning routine reacts strongly to it. To men, it is a waste of time. Women’s opinions vary depending of their own routine. To my parents it is way too rigid and organized (that’s one of the perks of being a Lean expert: you optimize your process and make it sustainable!). To my husband, it is too long but consistent enough to help him anticipate the step I am at.

Tasks at hand

I am not a morning person, so the snooze button is my favorite thing in the morning. When I am awake enough, I check my calendar for the day and the weather to determine what I’ll wear – while still hiding under the covers. I then shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, apply makeup and do my hair. I hopefully only have about 20 minutes commute and usually have a coffee and / or breakfast at work.

Getting ready to me is not only being appropriate enough to go outside. It is also getting in the mind frame to face my day and be successful at it. By checking my meetings and the weather, I’m able to put together an outfit that fits my day. If I have challenging tasks / appointments, I’ll make sure to wear comfortable but empowering clothing. If I feel strong enough, I’ll wear something out of my comfort zone, like a dress or something more formal.


But the highlight of my morning routine (no pun intended) is doing my makeup. During about 10 minutes, I am alone in front of my mirror doing something by myself and for myself only. It all started when my husband got diagnosed with cancer. I needed this selfish time and the extra layer of concealer. With years, practice and Youtube tutorials, I’ve learned that I can easily change the perception people have of me thanks to makeup. I can look less tired or more “serious” than usual. Obviously, the opposite is also true: I can make myself look sick, but it’s not pleasant for anyone. Makeup feels a lot like war paint: I’m trying to make an impression on my enemies (or colleagues in my case) just using the right colors strategically placed on my face.

When I say to people that I am not a morning person and I describe my morning routine, the first piece of advice they give me is to skip makeup. Don’t get me wrong: I am comfortable with my “naked” face and often go out without makeup. For work though, I always try to look professional, strong and confident. And it seems to work, as the days I go for a very natural look, people tend to say that I look tired…

Setting the mood

I also choose strategically the music that goes with my morning routine. I’ve recently created a “Moral Boost” playlist (inspired by some found on Spotify) to give me more energy and strength. It really makes a difference to the state of mind I am in when I arrive at work. I don’t listen to full albums anymore, just to playlists that are mood or situation oriented.

I sometimes carpool with my husband and even though I appreciate the extra time together, I don’t feel ready when I arrive at the office. I lack the mental preparation and alone time to be ready for a day of pretending to be an extrovert. On the way back home, I usually sing (very loud and off key) all the way, to get rid of everything negative and work related.

So when looking at a morning routine (or any “personal” process really), keep in mind that waste can only be qualified as such by the person who benefits from it. My next post will be a few hacks I’ve found to reduce waste in my morning routine.

Have a nice week!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Losing a friend

As an introvert, I have a hard time making new friends. I have a very small but very close circle of friends and the idea of losing one of them upsets me deeply.

I’ve been referred to as a friend by someone lately. This made me realize that I don’t really know what it means to be friend, or at least that I needed to be clear on what it means for me and others. To me, being friend means enjoying to spend time together, to discuss topics that matter to one or both parties, to be interested in the other person’s life and want to know more about it. Also, all that needs to happen without any obligation (work, interests…). It certainly doesn’t mean agreeing on everything or doing everything together.

As an introvert and someone who hates phone calls, I tend not to contact my friends enough. When you see your friends every day, at school or work for instance, maintaining these relationships is fairly easy. But when you grow up and leave school, you tend to lose contact, especially if one or both parties change a bit too much.

That what happened to me recently. During my first year of Uni, I was friend with three girls. Two of us changed Uni when going for another major. Ironically, we are the only two of the four still in touch on a regular basis. Meeting new people, having less in common and spending less time together drift us apart. I can’t identify clearly the factors that made that change happen, but I’m sure that work, not enough time spent together, geographic distance and the influence of other people played a key role in our relationships.

So when one of these friends contacted me again asking me for a favor, I saw a chance to reconnect and be friends again. Obviously, if I’m venting on my blog today, you can guess that it didn’t work out as planned. She got what she wanted, but gave nothing back in return (not even a mere “thank you”). I didn’t expected much, only a genuine interaction I guess. Being used by this person makes me feel sad for her and what we had, but also angry at myself for being too nice and helping her.

There is little I wouldn’t do for my best friend, even though I don’t call her enough. This little episode made me realize how precious she and her family are to me and made me want to put more efforts in our relationship. And as usual, she supports me through all of this, just because she wants to. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Breaking down a problem: a guide for presentations and essays

Years ago, I was stuck on an essay for school, not knowing where to start and end and going all over the place. My mom taught me her methodology and I still apply it today, somewhat modified to fit my needs, especially when it comes to PowerPoint.

Here are the 5 main steps of how to break down a problem in manageable chunks:
1. Understanding where you want to go
2. Outlining your plan
3. Intro & conclusion
4. Filling the blanks
5. “Special FX”

Let’s see them in more details.

1. Understanding where you want to go
Once you have your assignment, whatever the subject and the medium, you need to make sure you understand what is expected of you. 

You can use the 5 Whys to drill down to the root cause of your subject. Also, school essays tend to have part of the answer in the question or at least key words that will come handy later on. 

Don’t forget to assess your audience: senior management teams won’t have time to go through 50 slides of technical details about a project you are passionate about. Teachers may give you a minimum number of lines / words / pages to comply to. Identify the key message of your work to know where you want to go.

2. Outlining your plan
Now that you know where you are going, it is time to figure out the path you will use to go there. Write down the 2 or 3 subjects / topics you will discuss leaving a dozen lines between each. 

For some of my classes, the mandatory pattern was:
  • Thesis (pro arguments)
  • Antithesis (con arguments)
  • Synthesis (which of the two you support and why)

For projects, you can follow the DMAIC or IPECC methodology. For a kick off meeting, I like to start with the current situation, where I want us to go and then how (governance of the project). 

Once you have the titles of your topics, add below each of them the arguments, key numbers, examples, quotes, etc. you will use in them. This way, you have fewer chances to forget something important, especially if you proofread yourself before starting developing your essay/presentation.

Try not to develop more than two or three key points. If you cover too much, your audience won’t remember most of it after you are done.

3. Intro & conclusion
This seems like the worst idea ever, but it actually works perfectly for me (partly because I always struggle with my first few sentences and re-write them a few times before I get it right). Once you have you plan on paper, start writing on a blank page your introduction.

State your problem or topic and why it is important to spend time on it. Numbers (or a quote) will make your introduction more effective. Don’t forget you are trying to catch your audience attention. Once the issue is up, if it is an essay, write down your plan. If it is a PowerPoint presentation, make sure you have a slide with the agenda.

Once you are done, leave a few blank lines and start working on your conclusion. It should be a summary of your different points. If there are decisions / actions that need to be taken after your presentation, list them in your last slide. Writing it right after your introduction enables you to make sure you don’t leave any “door” open and answer everything you announced in your introduction. It will make your work a lot more consistent.

The purpose is to:
  • Tell them what you are going to tell them,
  • Tell them,
  • Tell them what you told them.

You may have worked on one and only essay / presentation in the last few days and on a subject you know well, but your audience (either teachers or executive management) have receive a lot more data and information. Make sure they remember your point!

4. Filling the blanks
Now that you have your backbone, head and tails done, you just have to put some meat on your fish! Start by rewriting your introduction in your proper work. 

You can now state your arguments using proposer sentences. Use the key points, numbers, examples, etc. you have outlined before to write your actual essay / presentation.

If you are writing an essay and have the possibility, use quotes. Leave a blank line between each paragraph and make sure it is as easy to read as possible (whether handwritten or not). 

If you are writing a presentation, make sure the key numbers are accurate and easy to read. Try not to have all slides full of very small characters. Use smart arts, graphs, illustrations, tables. Split a slide in two if it helps reading it.

Try to even out the length of the different parts of your work, or at least to put as much effort in each one of them so it doesn't look like you have something to hide. 

Once you are done, you just have to rewrite your conclusion, and voilà!

5. “Special FX”
Now that you have the core of your work done, you just have to make it look pretty (and pretty don’t mean pink or purple!). I actually prefer doing it along the way, but if it takes you too long, keep the page numbering, automatic summary, spell checking, etc. for the end.

You can have the best ideas in the world, if they look like dull and boring, you may not get your audience full attention. On the other half of the spectrum, your work shouldn't look like a glitter and funky colors heaven (and don’t overdo it in the slide transition department). Adapt the form of your work to your audience: different lines of work have defined expectations.

Three little other things you want to pay attention to:
  • Tone / vocabulary,
  • The use of emotions (pathos),
  • The time you have to present / the expected length of your work.

Good luck!