Financial Freedom
Good Debt and Bad Debt: Is There Really a Difference?
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Many people think all debt is bad, others think it is okay to have good debt, and still some like all kinds of debt! Is there a difference between good debt and bad debt and what is good debt vs bad debt? Most people will tell you that good debt is debt that is against ... Read more
How to Cope with Change at Work Without Stressing Out
By admin | |

While each person’s experience in 2020 has been unique, I bet many of you lived through some version of the following:

One day you were in an office, shaking hands, having in-person meetings, and serving a known set of customer needs. And the next day, your home was your office, Zoom was your conference room, handshakes were lethal, and customer needs were being completely reinvented.

Feel familiar?

Change has become our everything. Get ready to be stretched.

Prior to 2020, you could still get by as a great performer at work even if you were a little resistant to change. But now? Not so much. Change has become our everything. And if it’s not something you naturally lean into, then the time has come to fix it. Stat. 

So if you’re someone whose default has been 'I don’t want to learn this new system, process, or way of engaging with customers…', then get ready to be stretched. If you want your career to continue to soar, you’re going to need to be able to roll with change.

Resisting change is natural

If you find it hard to get comfortable with change, you're not alone.

When my kids were babies, getting them to try new foods was an experience. After they spit spoon after spoon of strained peas or carrots back into my face, I talked to my pediatrician. I learned it would take seven to eight experiences with a new food before my baby would begin to like it, or at least stop spitting it at me.

In our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea.

This is due to the mere-exposure effect. While we may like or appreciate some things out of the gate (hello, chocolate fudge sundaes), our natural inclination is often to resist anything that feels different. But more exposure equals more comfort. We're wired to prefer the familiar and comfortable.

But in our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea before we have to adopt it.

So let’s talk about actions you can take to open your mind and expand your comfort zone with change.

1. Scope the change

Sometimes “a change is coming” can sound like “the sky is falling.” But usually, the blue abyss above stays put. So let’s start by putting change into perspective.

Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Your boss just told you that you’ll be reporting to a new team. Or you’re switching to a new people-management system, or you’ll be managing a new product or account. Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Start by asking yourself what's really changing and what’s staying the same. You may have a new boss or new relationships to manage, but your day-to-day responsibilities aren’t shifting.

You may have a new system to learn, but the data it’s tracking, the reporting it offers—how different will they really be? Your skills will carry over.

So start by putting some boundaries around the change. This should help you take a deep breath. Now, let’s charge ahead!

2. Find your bright spots

When my kids—the spitters of pureed peas and carrots—began remote schooling this year, the change was all kinds of unwelcome. They missed friends. Their new homeroom teacher (yours truly) was highly unqualified. Everything felt messed up.

But I asked them to spend a few minutes finding and focusing on the bright spots. Because every change has bits of sparkle.

Focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

They came up with extra sleep (don’t we all need it?!), jammies all day, and breakfast and lunch in bed. (Yes, we've let go of the reins a bit here at my house.)

Maybe for you, it’s the opportunity to add fluency in a new system to your resume, or to build your reputation with a new leader, team, or customer base. What’s something you can get excited about?

Big or small, focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

3. Acknowledge the pains and challenges of change

Do focus on the upside. But not at the expense of acknowledging and preparing for the challenges. Don’t put your head in the sand.

If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

We resist change for a reason. There will be growing pains. Transitioning to a new system does provide you with new opportunities. But there will also be a learning curve. It will take time, focus, and effort. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

Part of gaining comfort with change is giving yourself a chance to master it. The only way to master change is to resolve and repair pain points. We can’t resolve what we can’t see, so give yourself the space to list out every single thing, big or small, that scares or challenges you.

RELATED: Why Negative Emotions Aren't All Bad

What might live on your list?

  • Finding time to learn a new system
  • Having to build new relationships virtually
  • Feeling like a novice after years of feeling like an expert

4. Identify actions within your locus of control

Part of what makes change feel scary is the sense of losing control.

According to the Harvard Business Review:

Many employees have had to abruptly accept fundamental changes to their work routines. And these changes have been stressful… because [they have] stripped people of their autonomy… [which] is detrimental for employee performance and well-being.

In other words, it’s normal to crave a sense of autonomy, of control. So here is where you focus on what you can control, and you make it happen.

Look at your sources of anxiety or discomfort. Identify tangible actions you can take to close the gap or minimize the pain of change.

When I left the world of full-time employment to start my own business, I was terrified of managing that change, even though I’d been the one to initiate it. But as a taker of my own medicine, I followed this very process. And when I arrived at this step, I identified a series of actions in my control.

Here’s a sampling of what I came up with

  • Invite every small business owner I know to coffee and pick their brain
  • Read one book per month on a relevant topic—consulting, marketing, pricing, etc.
  • Hire a coach to help me learn to build
  • Hire a lawyer to ensure I don’t step off a cliff

You get the idea. I was stepping into the unknown. But by identifying a series of actions designed to get me incrementally closer to known, I was re-establishing a sense of autonomy and control.

Maybe you have to learn a new system and you’re afraid it will be complicated. What steps can you take to close the gap? What can you control?

5. Commit positive change experiences to memory

I reflect on the days of smushed peas and carrots. Mostly, it was gross. But once in a blue moon, a baby would accidentally swallow a mouthful. And I was nothing but jazz hands. 

Turns out, my jazz-hands-enthusiasm was accidental genius because now, baby associated mush with entertaining Mommy gymnastics. For her it became fun. And over time she downed more mush.

And really, that’s kind of your goal. 

When you have your first positive experience with that new system, even if it was an accident, make a note of it. When your first client lights up at the description of that new product feature, capture that.

These winning moments add up over time. And suddenly one day you realize: Hey, these smashed peas and carrots are kinda delish! Who knew?

How to Explain a Gap in Your Résumé
By admin | |

My first job out of college was with a recruiting firm run by three women who had nearly a hundred combined years of experience in the workforce. They taught me everything I needed to know about how to read resumes, including the warning signs to look for. A gap in employment was, according to them, the kiss of death.

Today, a hot minute and three U.S. presidents later, I truly believe that wisdom is as outdated as my prom dress. It was fine in the moment, but the moment has passed.  

Each of us is complex and unique, and our personal stories should reflect that.

The rules of employment history have changed, and the story you craft about your timeline is yours. Whether your employment gap happened because of a layoff, becoming a caregiver, taking a sabbatical, exploring entrepreneurship, or even just a mental health break, let's talk about how you can own that gap in a way that will want a prospective employer wanting more of you!

1. Lead with transparency

As poet Walt Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” Each of us is complex and unique, and our personal stories should reflect that. There are no right or wrong plot points as long as each point is truthful.

When capturing your history (employment and otherwise) on your resume, be honest and transparent. There's no need to flag a gap in employment in bold print, but neither should you try to hide it.

Our journeys are complex and diverse. The trend toward inclusion will only grow in 2021. And beyond diversity in terms of race and gender, I believe companies are ready to lean into a diversity of experiences in the workforce. Companies must look beyond the traditional one-directional career path, and search for talent whose life experience reflects that of their customers.

Beyond diversity in terms of race and gender, I believe companies are ready to lean into a diversity of experiences in the workforce.

So don’t be ashamed of revealing your lived experiences, from caregiving to travel to taking time to pursue a passion. Transparency upfront will help you begin the conversation with a prospective employer on the right foot.

2. Reflect on your gains

Maybe you opted out of the workforce for a year to care for a child or parent or to travel the world. Or perhaps you were laid off in an economic downturn. Whatever your reason and whatever the cause, you were still a person living in the world during this time. Your experience may not have been “work experience,” but this is where life experience gets its time in the sun.

When I spent 2007 at home with my newborn daughter, there were days—many days—that left me feeling like my brain had turned to mush. Baby Beluga had become my theme song and I was spending days calculating ounces of milk digested and … processed. (Yes, I mean poops).

This is where life experience gets its time in the sun.

But as I started gearing up for a job search in 2008, I pushed myself to reflect on the gift of that year. Certainly, it was a privilege just to be with my infant daughter. But it had also given me some new skills and perspective. 

Time management and prioritization become finely tuned when your baby’s naps are suddenly your only windows of productivity. I had become part of a new demographic—parents—which broadened my perspective not only on the world but on any company’s potential customer base.

Oh, and my ability to experience failure but keep on keeping on? That expanded immensely. I screwed up daily with sleep training and sign language and all the mothering things. But I also persisted because I had a new responsibility to manage.

These were some of my reflections. I challenge you to define your own.

Think expansively about how this time has added in any way to the multitudes you contain. It is now a part of your story to shape and own.

Maybe you were laid off during the pandemic. You’re not alone. And remember, you’re leading with transparency. You don’t have to pretend the layoff was some grand gift. You’re allowed to experience disappointment. But shift quickly into considering what you gained during the weeks or months of not being employed.

What have you spent time doing? Being with family? Caring for a loved one? Supporting a working partner? Have you taken any classes? Picked up a new certification? Learned to cook? Think expansively about how this time has added in any way to the multitudes you contain. It is now a part of your story to shape and own.

3. Craft the narrative

So now, armed with insight and reflection, it’s time to craft the story you will proudly tell any prospective employer. This is your chance to package yourself as the most irresistible product on the job market.

I’ve always loved the commencement address Steve Jobs delivered at Stanford back in 2005, during which he said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.

Steve Jobs

So, as you look back at the totality of your experience—work and life—what is the story you want to tell that makes you the most compelling candidate? How will you choose to connect the dots and help your potential employer see the complete picture?

In 2008, I showed up in interviews not as a new mom hoping desperately for anyone to give me a chance, but as a person with a broad perspective to offer. I still had my pre-baby skills and experiences, but now I could apply a keen ability to prioritize, to think critically about what should command my focus, to learn from failure, and to be successful without having control over a situation.

My conversations with hiring leaders painted this picture of me. I made sure to bring in examples of both work and parenting experience. It made me real and whole. And it ultimately won me a great job.

So, what’s the story you’ll tell? Maybe being laid off taught you that things can change on a dime, which has challenged and enhanced your agility. Maybe you used your time to take classes, brush up on skills, and add a certification. 

Prepare examples of how these insights and added skills will deliver value for your next employer. How lucky they will be to have you!

4. Fake it till you make it

I stand by the logic of everything I’ve said thus far. But there is so much more than logic at play here. There's ego and emotion and anxiety and lots of other messy human things. I’ve lived through, and overcome, all of that. Some days I’m still overcoming it.

Confidence is something that will grow over time. But don’t wait for it; cultivate it.

Are you wondering how I managed to show up with so much confidence after spending a year away from the corporate world? Then let me tell you my secret: It wasn’t confidence at all! It was all my fear and anxiety hidden behind a smile and a firm handshake. (Remember those?)

Confidence is something that will grow over time. But don’t wait for it; cultivate it. For now, if you’re struggling to access confidence, then just play the part. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the real thing will follow.

And there you have it. Yes, whole, complex, messy you. So practice your most confident smile, prepare your firm handshake, brush up your résumé, and get ready to pound the pavement.

Prepare Yourself for the Future of Work
By admin | |

The future of work has been on our collective minds for some time.

Technically, you never arrive in the future. It’s always, by definition, ahead of you. Yet months into a global pandemic that has triggered major changes to how we work, many experts are saying the future of work is hurtling towards us.

I sat down with Vice President of People and Communities at Cisco Systems, Elaine Mason. Elaine is a well-read deep thinker on the subject of the future of work, and I invited her to share her own research-based reflections on the changes we’ve seen so far, and what may still be to come.

And no matter what your job, career stage, or aspiration, Elaine shared plenty of tangible advice you can put to work today to prepare for your future professional success.

We focused our conversation on four trends that have been particularly relevant in 2020. These were:

  1. The remote workforce
  2. Diversity and Inclusion as part of corporate strategy
  3. Movement in the gig economy
  4. Shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

The future of work and the remote workforce

Remote work could be here to stay

As I write this piece in my dining room—while my kids homeschool in their bedrooms—I’m aware that working virtually has become the norm for many across the globe.

Prior to the pandemic, company philosophies on remote work were all over the map. Some organizations have worked virtually for years. Many others resisted the trend.

The world of work has probably fundamentally changed.

But as Elaine describes the current state of virtual work, “With the rare exceptions of lab work, manufacturing, healthcare, [and other frontline professions] the majority of us are now [commuting]... seven feet from our beds to our offices.”

“The world of work has probably fundamentally changed,” she says.

Companies that had previously been cynical of virtual work have been forced to acknowledge that things are getting done. In many cases, executives report higher levels of productivity than ever.

But Elaine warns that studies on productivity are not yet conclusive. Some show productivity is up. Others, however, contend that work time is up, but actual productivity is down. The jury remains out.

So what’s next in the world of virtual work and productivity?

The purpose of the traditional office will evolve

Elaine predicts that virtual work is here to stay ... sort of. The way we use the traditional office will likely shift.

"Workspaces will be used more like community service centers," she said. "What you're [likely] to see is those large campuses for a lot of organizations... will probably shrink, and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based."

Workspaces will be used more like community service centers ... and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based.

In other words, there will be an office to go to, but it won’t necessarily be everyone’s default. You’ll go if and when a project or occasion calls for an in-person working session.

The good news? “If you're a new Yorker,” she offers, “that's been dying to live in Wyoming, this [may be] your chance.”

The concept of productivity will evolve

As Elaine points out, the measurement of virtual productivity is messy. Many companies measure by the amount of time employees spend on screens. By that measure, productivity is going up. But so is burnout.

Wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work.

In the future, she explains, we will begin to see a shift toward wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) that will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work beyond staring at screens.

We’ll see a more complex definition of productivity grounded in actual outcomes versus just minutes online.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Rethink your geography. If you want to make a move, this may be your moment.
  • Consider your priorities. Let go of the mindset that busyness equals productiveness. What impact do you want to have, and what work do you need to prioritize in service of that?

The future of work and Diversity and Inclusion

While the pandemic has challenged companies to figure out remote work on the fly, social justice happenings have pushed Diversity and Inclusion to the forefront of corporate priorities.

Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Elain says, "Companies are focusing on the triple bottom line: People, Profit, Planet... putting social justice into how they operate.”

So what does this look like in practice?

According to Elaine, companies are moving away from having standalone diversity strategies and departments. Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) are a great example of this trend. ERG’s are voluntary, employee-led groups within organizations that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Each group typically includes participants who share a characteristic such as gender identification or ethnicity. 

Employee Resource Groups are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

At Cisco, Elaine says, the executive leadership team has started meeting quarterly with ERG’s to understand their experiences and incorporate their ideas into business decisions. These ERG’s, in other words, are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

ERG recommendations are helping to shape product development and positioning and marketing strategy, all of which contribute to top and bottom lines.

Organizations like Twitter are beginning to compensate ERG leaders—historically these have been volunteer roles—in recognition of their strategic value.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Lean into diversity. Don’t just pay it lip service, but be proactive in engaging with a variety of voices and experiences.
  • Be humble. Know you’ll make mistakes along the way. “Listen. And assume you don’t know [things],” Elaine says.

The future of work and the gig economy

“Gig is having fits and starts,” Elaine said. She described the tension that many American workers face between desiring the independence of gig work but also relying on the healthcare and benefits provided by full-time employment.

Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

And she believes that tension will keep the gig economy in the US in fits-and-starts mode. Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Be incredibly clear about what you’re qualified to do. What do you want to do? Where those things overlap? “This requires a good degree of self-awareness and an understanding of what [you’re] known for today."
  • Decide where you need to invest. Are there experiences, credentials, references you need to accumulate? Do those things early.
  • Focus on standing out. If you do business strategy consulting, for example, is there a unique angle you can offer to help yourself stand out from other such consultants? Differentiation will matter more as the gig economy grows.

The future of work and shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

Recent years have revealed a good deal of pendulum swinging when it comes to how much structure and hierarchy is best.

“There was a real trend in the last decade,” Elaine explained “of breaking down structures [and] silos.” She described how online shoe-retailer Zappos experimented with the Holocracy—a means of giving decision authority to groups and teams rather than individuals. (Spoiler: they’ve since moved away from this un-structure.)

Companies, in Elaine’s opinion, are working to determine the ideal balance of hierarchy and freedom. And the previous trends we discussed are having a big impact on that decision.

Everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

So while some companies are leaning toward structure and hierarchy while others lean away, the common thread she sees is that everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind a company that it needs to be ready for absolutely anything. As organizations assess how they’re organized, they’re asking questions like “How fast can we recover? What contingencies do we have in place? What plan Bs and plan Cs do we have?” 

Elaine doesn’t know exactly what structure the organization of the future will take on. But she does offer some actionable wisdom.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Gain new skills. Whatever your role, function, or industry, upskill yourself on being ready for change at any moment
  • Think broadly about what “career progression” means for you. As companies evolve, titles and promotions may no longer be the thing to shoot for.

For Elaine, she measures her own progression through three lenses that you too might consider:

  • Economic. How much money do you want or need to make?
  • Impact. "How close are you to positions of power and authority that allow you to make the largest impact on an organization?"
  • Personal growth. Are you learning new things as you go?

And there you have it. No one, not even the great Elaine Mason, can predict the future. But there are some actions you can take that will be sure to serve you, no matter what the years ahead might look like.

How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits
By admin | |

If you’re nearing the end of your unemployment benefits, don’t worry. Here are your options for what to do when your unemployment runs out.

The post How to Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits appeared first on Discover Bank - Banking Topics Blog.

How to Make Professional Resolutions for 2021 that You'll Actually Keep
By admin | |

New Year's resolutions. According to Inc. Magazine, 60% of us make them. But many of us know that when it comes to actually keeping New Year's resolutions, the odds aren't exactly in our favor. Research shows that, despite our best intentions, only 8% of us accomplish those annual goals we set for ourselves.

If you're anything like me, 2020 has left you hungrier than ever for fresh starts and clean slates.

What keeps us coming back every year? Well, as PsychCentral tells us, it’s partly tradition (we are creatures of habit!) and partly the allure of a fresh start, a clean slate. And let’s be honest, if you're anything like me, 2020 has left you hungrier than ever for fresh starts and clean slates.

That fresh start can apply to your professional life just as easily as it applies to dropping a few pounds, quitting your Starbucks habit, or taking up hot yoga. So, let's talk about some strategies to help you set career resolutions and, most importantly, actually keep them.

Goals versus resolutions

Every year I hear people say “My New Year’s resolution is to lose 20 pounds.” But technically speaking, that’s not a resolution, it’s a goal. It’s an outcome that you either do or don’t achieve.

A New Year's resolution is “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year” according to the Cambridge English Dictionary.

Two things I love most about resolutions are that I have a chance to win every day, and I have complete control over my success.

A goal might be to achieve a revenue target, land an interview with someone you admire, or strike up a coveted partnership.

A resolution defines the experience you want to have. It’s about the how not the what. When I think of resolutions, I think of habits that will bring out the best version of myself—something like a promise to plan my day the night before so I'm ready to jump in fresh first thing in the morning.

The two things I love most about resolutions are that I have a chance to win every day, and I have complete control over my success.

4 strategies to help you set (and keep!) professional resolutions

1. Reflect on what you’d like to change

Resolutions begin with an honest look at the year closing behind you. For me, 2020 has had some highs, but on balance, it wasn’t my cutest. There’s a lot I’d love to change next year. And my resolutions focus on a few key areas that live within my locus of control.

There is no shame or blame here; there is only space for reflection.

So where am I choosing to focus? For me, there are three distinct experiences I had this year that I plan not to repeat in the one upcoming.

Overwhelm. That not-so-adorable feeling that the world is sitting on my shoulders—that my clients’ success and my kids’ education and my aging parents’ welfare are all relying on me. Can’t do it again next year.

Reacting from a place of fear. Holding my breath, taking on more work than I know I should because what if the economy doesn’t bounce back? Will not repeat this one in ’21.

Loneliness. Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m an extrovert! (Here's where all you fellow extroverts respond with, "Hi, Rachel!") If travel and face-to-face meetings won’t be an option for a beat, then I’ve got to be intentional about finding ways to bring more connection into my life.

These three experiences put a damper on my 2020. Note there is no shame or blame here; there is only space for reflection.

Be thoughtful about what aspects of the year felt heavy for you and commit to changing your experience next year.

Maybe your experience of 2020 was grounded in anxiety, or you’ve felt job-insecurity, or maybe just boredom. There are no wrong answers, so be thoughtful about what aspects of the year felt heavy for you and commit to changing your experience next year.

2. Project what "better" would look and feel like

Ask yourself: If these are the experiences I don’t want to have again, what would it feel like to be on the other side?

Here’s what I came up with.

Shedding overwhelm would mean having a clear plan of attack each day. Rather than scrambling and juggling, I’d have a set of daily priorities ensuring clients, kids, mental health, and all significant constituents have what they need from me. The most critical things get done each day, and if nothing else gets done, I’ve still won.

Not feeling reactive and fearful? That will mean a shift in mindset from “What if the market doesn’t need what I offer?” to “How am I evolving my products and solutions to meet the changing needs of the market?”

And finally (sigh ...) the loneliness. I talked about this in a quick video on my Modern Mentor page on LinkedIn. I miss the energy I take, the creativity I see triggered by moments of collaboration and brainstorming. It’s that very sense of ideas building on ideas that I want to recreate in 2021.

Now it’s your turn. What would your “better” look like in 2021?

If you’re job-insecure, maybe "better" means adding skills or certifications to your resume. If it’s anxiety you're wrestling with, maybe your “better” includes more self-care and relaxation.

The only wrong answers here are the ones that don’t resonate with you. You’re less likely to stick with a resolution that isn’t personally meaningful.

3.  Define sustainable practices that will move you there

The words “sustainable” and “practices” are key here.

“Lose 20 pounds” doesn’t qualify as a resolution because it’s an outcome you can’t fully control. What you can control are the habits designed to get you there, like eating better or exercising. And if exercising every day feels unsustainable, then shoot for twice a week to start. Make it an easy win for yourself!

I’ll take the three experiences I want to have and translate those into habits and practices I can control.

So how does this translate into the professional realm? I’ll take the three experiences I want to have and translate those into habits and practices I can control. Here’s my working list.

In 2021 I will:

Choose my One Thing

I'll begin each day by identifying the one thing I need to achieve in service of:

  • My kids (Example: Check my 6th grader’s math homework)
  • An existing client (Example: Develop slides for next week’s leadership workshop)
  • My health (Example: Yep, it's a workout!)
  • My business growth (Example: Pitch an article to a big publication)

Once I get all that done, whatever else I do that day is gravy.

Make weekly client connections

I will schedule one call per week with a past or current client for the sole purpose of listening. I won't be there to sell or help, but just to hear what’s on their minds, and what needs they've anticipated for the near future. This will allow me to be more planful and proactive in designing my offerings.

Set up virtual office hours

I will host bi-weekly office hours. I’ll share a Zoom link with a dozen of my friends and colleagues and invite people to pop in … or not. No agenda, no one in charge, just an open space for sharing ideas, challenges, and even some occasional gossip.

Pay attention to the fact that all of these resolutions are within my control. I’m not waiting for circumstances to change, and I’m not holding myself accountable to an outcome, I'm just committing to doing these things.

4. Track and celebrate

And finally, the fun part. Each resolution gets a page of its own in my Bullet Journal, which means lots of colorful checks and boxes! I keep track of how many days or weeks per month I stick with my resolutions. I set small goals for myself, and I give myself little rewards for hitting milestones. My reward might be an afternoon off, an extra hour of Netflix (do not tell the kids!), or an outdoor, socially distanced coffee with a friend. Celebration is so important. It motivates me to repeat the habit and have a better experience.

So there you have my secrets to setting and keeping my resolutions. I would be so grateful if you’d share yours with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. I’d be delighted to be your accountability buddy!

Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips
By admin | |

When you’re setting up a home office for remote work, keep these key principles from ergonomic experts in mind. Your body—and your productivity—will thank you.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank - Banking Topics Blog.

How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works
By admin | |

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

Teachers: How to Survive the Summer Paycheck Gap
By admin | |

Attention, educators. Here's how to enjoy your much-needed summer break—even if it comes without a paycheck.

The post Teachers: How to Survive the Summer Paycheck Gap appeared first on Discover Bank - Banking Topics Blog.

A QDT Q&A With Ken Kwapis
By admin | |

Quick and Dirty Tips: Your rap sheet of shows and movies you've directed includes notable episodes and films such as #BlackAF, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, and He Said, She Said.  Can you share a few highlights and memorable moments? Would you say any of these movies or films was a gamechanger for your career?

Ken Kwapis: My very first feature film, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, is the story of Big Bird’s journey of self-discovery. Imagining he’d be happier living with his own kind, Bird decamps for a small town in the Midwest, where he moves in with a foster bird family. He soon realizes how much he misses Sesame Street, where a diverse group of all kinds—humans, monsters, grouches—live in harmony. It’s a message that’s as vital now as it was in 1985, when I directed the film. Why was this film a gamechanger for me? I connected to Big Bird’s emotional journey on a very personal level; in retrospect, I now see that it took an eight-foot bird to teach me that my job as a director was to become a student of human nature.

QDT:  How does your directing style change between movies and TVs and the type of show/movie you're working on (rom-com, comedy, etc)? Do you have to adapt to the genre?

KK: Whether directing comedy or drama, I try to find the humanity in any given scene. Put a different way, when I direct comedic material I look for ways to ground the scene in reality. And when I'm working on a dramatic piece, I look for humor to leaven the drama. There’s always humor hiding in the drama, waiting for a good director to discover.

Working in Hollywood, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you need to measure success on your own terms, not Hollywood’s.

QDT: What content (books, movies, essays, etc.) should college-aged and young adults be consuming if they want to work in film or media?

KK: There are so many ways to answer this question. Let me focus on filmmakers who are noteworthy for their understanding of the human condition. I urge you to get acquainted with directors who have a talent for putting truthful human behavior on the screen. There are many to choose from, but you could do a lot worse than luxuriating in the works of William Wyler, John Cassavetes, Yasujiro Ozu, Ernst Lubtisch, Mike Leigh, Max Ophuls, and Akira Kurosawa.

QDT: What has been the most important piece of advice you've ever received or the most important lesson you've learned?  

KK: Working in Hollywood, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you need to measure success on your own terms, not Hollywood’s. You can’t control the outcome of your efforts. You can’t control how many people buy a ticket at the box office. You can’t control what the critics say. What you can control is the process of making a film or television show, and my personal yardstick for success is whether or not I improve the process from project to project.

QDT: Do you have any advice for aspiring directors, writers, actors, or anyone who wants to work in the film industry?

KK: The most important thing to remember is that passion wins the day every time. I can’t tell you how to get your foot in the door, but once you do, the key is to impress upon prospective employers that you are passionate about a given project—be it a prestigious feature film or a commercial for dental floss. Passion wins the day.

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