Lower the stress – cut the interruptions

I found a simple way to lower the stress in my life and be more effective at my work. It’s something you may not consider from a tech-guy like me, but after several weeks, I find myself more productive and less stressed.

The answer – I turned off the interruptions from devices. I silenced the beeps and alerts on my email. I also close email, RSS readers, etc until I’m ready to read/answer messages. Want to try it? Start by silencing your phone when you want to get something done – that includes turning off the buzz feature. Really!

Many of those alerts are for things that don’t concern you when you’re in the moment. They distract you and

it takes brain power to get back in the moment.

I know, you’re probably saying “But Chuck, I’m in support…” or “My customers have to be able to reach me any time.” No they don’t. Think of it from the other way around. What happens when you try calling a vendor or client and they aren’t available? You leave a message. Are you offended or annoyed by this? I’m guessing not. The expectation is that they will listen and respond to your messa

ge in a reasonable amount of time. (If they’re REALLY good, their voice mail message or email out-of-office notice will list when they will and won’t be available.)

When you send email, do you expect an immediate response? Of course not. It’s an inbox, a queue, that’s what it’s for – gather messages for later processing. In fact, there are some people (particularly those in upper management) that I would question if they had enough to do if they responded immediately.

Try it for a day… see how it goes. Start with your email and your phone. Turn off alerts, sounds, display items that jump up, and anything that could take your distraction away and find out how much more you can get done. Now work!

When you’ve finished a task or problem you’ll find you get it done quicker when you’re not interrupted. A few times a day, check your messages, get them done, then put away your email, phone or whatever.

If you’ve mastered that and want to move to something more difficult, try forwarding your desk phone to voice mail? Think it’s too impersonal? OK, try this… It’s 10:00AM and your boss tells you he needs a document from you by noon. You know it’s going to take at least an hour to write. What do you do? Answer every phone call, email, and text message that gets your attention? Of course not. You focus like a laser and take those out of the way. So why is a document from your boss any different than any other task you need to get done?

Turn those things off when you really want to work.

Posted in Professional | 3 Comments

Parsec Award

This past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon, Kreg Steppe and I were honored that our podcast Technorama won a Parsec Award in the Comedy/Parody category.

Earlier this year one of our faithful listeners nominated us back in May. A month or so later we found out we were a finalist and began the process of reviewing our our material from the previous year. Daughter Julie, who has been a part of the show for the past couple years, was also very helpful in picking just the right elements for our “sample clips.” What an honor to once again make it to the finals after four years!

A few weeks before DragonCon, Susie Murph asked us to present one of the awards (not our own category of course.) We happily agreed. Kreg and I worked on our presentation. We later found out that all the finalists in our category were presenting, and we happened to be the only ones AFTER our category was announced (that should have been a clue.)

Saturday night came all too soon. We were up against some pretty stiff competition (many of whom we are proud to call our friends) including Comedy4Cast, DragonCon*TV, and others. When they announced the winner, we were thrilled, then realize we really hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech because we didn’t expect to win. We spent our time working on our award presentation, not acceptance (lesson for next time – if we are lucky enough.)

This one award makes the last 7 years, 8 shows, and over 1000 episodes worth it. I think I said some of this in the acceptance, but here it is officially… Thank you everyone on the Parsec committee for your time and talent, thank you to the guests on our shows, a huge thank you to all the people who have helped us and influenced us along the way, thank you to my family for putting up with the time, cost, and modifications to the office, and finally thank you to all the listeners over the years. You are the best!

Podcasting has directly and indirectly changed my life for the better and I look forward to continuing as long as possible.

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Keep Sticking Out Your Hand!

If you do nothing else this year, keep sticking out your hand and saying hello to new people! I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it (since it took me so long to get it through my thick head)… your network of relationships is one of your most valuable resources you have. It can open doors for you that you never imagined. It transcends jobs, geography, and other events.

My latest example is from work. When I first got my (former) job as the global IT service desk manager, I immediately got involved with a professional organization known as HDI. My intent was to learn as much as I could about the help desk industry and what it meant to be an effective help desk manager. What I got was so much more in terms of career fulfillment. Recently they’ve grown from the help desk industry to include the desktop support group too. If you’re involved with front line IT support, I highly encourage you to get involved with this group and become a member, an officer, or some kind of contributor. You’ll be rewarded in ways you cannot imagine.

OK, back to the example. Since joining HDI nearly three years ago, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the HDI folks, other chapter officers, and quite a few members. I’ve attended (and spoken) at the last two national conferences, and served as an officer (currently president) for our local chapter. Now as I look forward to our next conference (9 months away) I was approached by our marketing team at my new job. They’ve been looking for ways to get their toe in the door to some of the IT organizations (HDI, ITSMf, AITP, etc) and I have a list of contacts that they want to leverage. It’s like I’m a sales guy and I brought my list of accounts from my successful old job. What a valuable asset. Call me near sighted, but I didn’t think of the friends I’ve been making over the past two years as leads. Even if not directly, some are program chairs for next year’s tracks and can improve our chances of speaking opportunities which increases visibility to the company and our products.

At first blush, this might seem a little cold hearted. “Chuck, are you just making contacts to get more business?” That’s not my primary reason for building relationships. First, I want to get to know a person. People are interesting. The more you talk to someone, the more you realize how much you have in common. Where there are differences, you can often complement each other and build a stronger bond. Since my friends are in charge of finding speakers for next year’s conference, I talk to them to find out what they are looking for an help them find people that may not otherwise have known how to approach the speaker submission process, in turn gaining them visibility as subject matter experts and growing their network. As the network grows, so does the business. See how that works?

Now get out there and talk to (and more importantly – listen to) people!

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Social Media: Keep it Simple S*****

The key to keeping me engaged with most things is to keep it fun and simple. As you probably noted from my last article, I gave up on Foursquare because it was neither simple, and it there was no reward (hence it wasn’t fun.)

Here’s a story from the successful side of the tracks… Google Chrome + Reader + TwitterFeed + TweetDeck plugin = easy to consume content and easy to share.

Continue reading

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I’m done with Foursquare

There’s no value to me. I tried it for five months, I became mayor of a dozen places, and earned a similar number of badges. So…

The idea behind using Foursquare is:

  • Easily check in to locations (e.g. work, school, restaurants) letting people know where you are
  • Know where my friends are (and perhaps meet them.)
  • Perks for frequent visits like a 5% discount.

Sorry, it’s not working out that way.

Let’s start with the ease of use. My iPhone supposedly knows where I am at all times and will locate Foursquare venues near by. If the one I want isn’t listed, I can create one. That’s not too bad, until I either a) get whacky results form my phone “You’re not near that location” or b) three other people have added the same venue with different information. (Check in to O’Hare airport and you’ll see some crazy results. People – you don’t check in to flight 161!) There have been numerous occasions where I run out for a quick errand and forget to check in. That’s my fault – which means it’s not as easy as it should be. I drop off the kids for school, but I’m also supposed to wake up the iPhone, enter the unlock key, bring up the Foursquare app, wait (sometimes up to 30 seconds) for it to find where I am and the locations around me, then four taps on three screens to check in, and two more to go back. That’s not simple IMHO.

OK, One of the extra screen taps was to decline the tweet (or Facebook) of my location. When I broadcast my location, a often received replies such as “What is this foursquare thing?” or “Is that secure, letting people know you’re not at home?”. It’s annoying to many and confusing to others. Having to explain it got old so I stopped tweeting/FB.

I also got lots of friend requests from people I either didn’t know, or didn’t care where they were. Sorry, even though you may be a great friend of mine, if you’re in another state or on another continent, it’s not likely that I’ll run in to you or even care what coffee shop you’re frequenting. I don’t drink coffee.

And those perks? Sorry, most vendors don’t even know they’re listed on Foursquare (probably because they didn’t put it there or use the tool.) I got one luggage tag from our local airport. That was nice. I’ve even mentioned to the lady at the cleaners “I’m the Foursquare mayor here. Any discount?” All I got was a smile and a full charge.

There’s no value to me. Bragging rights for being mayor of a place that doesn’t even know about the concept of social networking is not worth my time so I hereby delete the app from my iPhone.

So long Foursquare.

Posted in Hobbies | 1 Comment

Farewell Old Friend

Today I received news that one of my earliest friends had passed away. There are only a handful of people I can say were my friends from grade school. I’m proud to say that Chris Hauptman was one of them. We met Chris in the fourth grade and connected instantly. We had a lot of great times as kids. Looking back, he had an early influence on my interests that came in handy later in life. I can still recall collecting the stubs from our milk tickets, coming up with phoney company names and pretending we were businessmen, and lots of messages written in code (a sign of computer interest.)

Unfortunately, we grew apart as we grew older. This past week I was thinking of Chris as I mentioned one of his interesting childhood talents to my daughter. I reached out to Steve, another friend from Parkview Elementary, today on Facebook and asked him if he knew what happened to Chris. It turns out he moved from Michigan to Florida some time ago, started a family, but got very sick in the last couple years and passed away last fall. I had to read Steve’s message several times hoping I had read it wrong. Maybe he mentioned Chris’ dad or someone else, but it wasn’t so. I was extremely saddened by the news and wept for a few moments

Chris was of one of the first people who accepted me for who I was (not easy when you have a physical difference.) I felt a deep sense of regret for not keeping in touch with him over the years. Would it have been so hard to reach out and start looking for him a year ago or two?

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Reach out to someone from your past and reconnect. The Internet makes it so easy. You’ll be glad you did.

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HDI 2011 Annual Conference

I’m pleased to announce that I have been selected to speak again at this year’s HDI National Conference in Las Vegas, NV. The conference runs from March 29-April 1 at the Venetian.

This year I will be doing a morning “brain bites” session entitled “Fired to Hired in 23 days“. I offer actionable advice how to be prepared and get results should the inevitable layoff happen to you. After 22 years at my former organization, it happened to me and thanks to great preparation, I was able to secure a new and exciting job in just a few weeks. While I cannot guarantee the same results, you’ll be able to take home many of the lessons learned and start using them immediately. It’s a lot of information to pack in to an hour so you want to ensure you get your morning coffee.

I will also be spending some time at the Serivce-now.com booth meeting customers/prospects and answering technical questions. If you can’t find me there, look around for the HDI officers and I won’t be far away.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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New York Anxiety

I have to admit that I have never been thrilled with the thought of going to New York City. I can’t really put my finger on it. Perhaps it was the fact that driving and parking were terrible (how is that different from many other large cities I have been to?) Perhaps it is the stories of people getting robbed or mugged. That happens elsewhere too, but it seems to be more known in NY. Perhaps it is just because I grew up in a modest midwest town and got used to that lifestyle. I am not sure what it was, but it made me uneasy when I was told to travel there to help a customer with their software implementation. Continue reading

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Inspiration From a Tree

I am inspired by the crab apple tree in the front yard. Each spring it is the centerpiece of our “estate” with white flowers all over. That lasts about a week, then it goes to work producing fruit. While some falls to the ground, a large amount stays on the tree well in to winter. By some unknown clock, birds descend upon the tree in February and eat the majority of what’s left. Perhaps it’s fermented and they need a little birdie-buzz?

The inspirational part is the tough times that tree has had. When it was still fairly young, something ate most of the bark at the base of the tree. (Without bark, the nutrients cannot get back and forth between the roots and branches.) The tree held on and eventually healed.

This past summer, we had a severe hail storm that wiped out most of the leaves on the tree. A few weeks later, that tree started shooting out new leaves and even blossoms – never before seen after the spring bloom! How could I tell they were new leaves? The old ones turn dark green, have spots on them, and many even fall off in the effort to pass on the energy to the new apples. New leaves look lighter green and fresh.

So here we are in October. Frost is occasionally on the roofs and lawn in the morning. The ripe, red, dime size apples are starting to fall from the tree, but it continues to produce a blossom here and there. It continues to put its best effort to continuing on even after devastation. It continues to put a positive spin to a difficult situation. It perseveres.

How about you?

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Dragon*Con 2010 Wrap Up

For the second year in a row I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta GA over the Labor Day weekend. There were several similarities to last year and several new things that made it a wonderful time. Thanks to everyone, old friends and new, for hanging out with us. Continue reading

Posted in Hobbies | 2 Comments