March 28, 2013

Office Lust: Mod Squad

Does your office need a groovy renovation?  You may need to go ahead and ask for that big raise to incorporate these 60s-inspired pieces into your work space, but they look cool, man.

SquareME Palm FoldOUT Desk:
Gabe Desk:
Maltese Table:

March 27, 2013

Afraid of Failure? Maybe You Should Be.

Turns out, there's a reason - an actual physical reason - to avoid failure. "There is a part of the brain called the anterior insula, and that's where we process losses," says Dr. Richard Peterson, psychiatrist and managing partner of MarketPsych. He specializes in behavioral finance and neuroeconomics research, two fancy ways of saying that he studies the inner-workings of the mind in order to make better financial and business choices. In a New York times article about individuals who change career course only to fall flat and ditch their projects, Dr. Peterson notes that there is real pain associated with poor financial decisions and outcomes, aka "losing money".

I've written before about my own hesitance to hang a shingle and go out on my own as a consultant or freelancer. It is just not in my nature to step out alone without a business, organization or network behind me. I always thought this was a major weakness in my professional career. Shouldn't I be confident enough in my own skills to brave the workforce alone? 

Well, bravery may not have anything to do with it. Neuroeconomics research demonstrates that we humans are pre-wired to overestimate our ability to tackle risks, especially when they involve a major investment in time, money or other resources. Again, Dr. Peterson: "We overestimate our ability to control outcomes that have some element of chance, tend[ing] to overestimate the extent to which good things are going to happen, especially to us." I read that to mean that we like to minimize the risk and maximize the benefits that stem from our decisions. 

Yep, sounds about right.

I empathize with the entrepreneurs in the article (really, you should read it!) who gave their all only to realize too late that they had no hope of success. The lesson I take from their stories is that I should cut myself some slack. Perhaps I am not the cowardly lion after all but, instead, someone who takes self-assessment seriously, who constantly weighs and works on the value of my skills for professional growth. That can't be a bad thing.

March 25, 2013


What is your daily schedule? My typical work day (when I'm not in an airport, car or conference center far, far away), goes a little like this:
7:00a   Wake up
7:30a   Make coffee and take dog out
8:00a   Excavate inbox from weekend e-mails
8:30a   Begin to-dos for the day
11:30a  Take a 10-15min break. Make tea. Stretch. Watch animal videos.
12:30p  Lunch + take dog out 
1:15p    Long-term projects, conference calls, read reports, etc.
5:30p  Say I'm done working
6:00p  Actually done working.  Head outside or to the gym.
7:30p   Dinner
8:30p  Answer more e-mails and complain about everyone working late
10:00p Read, blog, watch TV
11:00p  Bedtime

Even at a glance, you can see that work days like this easily add up to over 40 hours a week. I've written before about how hard it is to put down the phone and close the laptop, but this schedule is generally what it takes to get everything done. (I am loath to ever fall behind.) At this point, I think we all realize that there is a point of diminishing returns. Many countries, including the top six most productive countries in the world, outlaw working over 48 hours a week. Australia prohibits work weeks over 35 hours!

So why do Americans keep working so much? Is it our Puritan-derived work ethic? Manifest destiny? Nah. I think it is peer pressure, plain and simple. "Everyone else is still working, so I guess I will too." While I continually try to buck this trend, more often than not, I fall right back into the same workaholic schedule.

However, my goal of finding sanity with a paycheck is resolute and I am always on the lookout for more efficient and effective ways to adjust the work day. I also want to set a good example for others when it comes to prioritizing work-life balance and finding success. So, I am not willing to give up yet.

March 21, 2013

Puttin' on the Ritz

Spring cleaning is boring. What if you could jazz up your office while still corralling all your stuff?
Here are some colorful options:

The Container Store Synchronicity Files:

The Container Store Mighty Magnetic Strip:
Anthropologie: Vintage Rotary Phone:
Ikea PS 2012 Drawers:
And some neutral options:

Ikea Motorp Storage:
Ikea Kvissle Cable Management Box:
The Container Store Bristol Desktop File:
Anthropologie Bamboo Keyboard & Mouse: 

March 20, 2013

Spring Cleaning

I'm not ready to tackle any closets yet, but I am interested in a little spring cleaning around my workspace. It's pretty scary how much of the following has built up around my desk:
- Stacks of business cards not yet entered into my address book
- Sticky notes that are actually sticky (from spilled coffee, jam-and-toast crumbs, etc.)
- Out-of-date calendar pages
- Bills that have not been filed
- Bills that have not been paid (getting to that today)
- Dog-eared magazine articles 
- A spent candle that smells so good that I cannot part with it
- Remains of my 2012 taxes preparation forms
- Old birthday cards

The list goes on and on and on. For the record, I am not a packrat, nor a hoarder. However, I have a definitive character flaw that directly affects the neatness around my desk: laziness.  I can think of a thousand things I'd rather do than file bills and paperwork. Bor-ring.

But, it's the equinox, it's spring and there is no time like the present!

March 7, 2013

Looking for Feedback?

I stopped in my tracks yesterday when I heard this "Giving feedback can be an awkward experience. Those who give it out -- employers, parents teachers -- can fear the reaction they'll get. Those who get it can feel embarrassed or unmotivated." Ok, not really... I was in the car, so stopping in my tracks would have been dangerous. The quote came from Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics-fame and regular contributor to my favorite nerdy public radio show Marketplace.  And I couldn't agree more.

I hate feedback. I do not appreciate criticism - constructive or otherwise - EVER. I realize that this is not a quality to brag about (I'd bet the Forbes 500 list doesn't include critique-wimps like me), but I think I have a good reason. The way I see it, the person criticizing has rarely spent as much time as I have thinking, planning, weighing, implementing, tracking and assessing whatever-it-is that they do not like about my plan, decision, activity or work product. I believe that I invest more thought into my actions than most and it really grinds my gears when someone jumps-in with a piece of criticism and assumes I haven't already weighed the pros and cons of that option.

As soon as someone says "Well, I would have handled it this way", I lurch into defense mode: painstakingly arguing the multitude of reasons I disagree, something I am sure they don't care about whatsoever.  Totally not productive.

What IS the best way to deal with criticism? Grin and bear it? Release a tirade of disagreement? Probably neither. I've found the best way to respond is to tell the critic that I appreciate their interest and pivot to a question asking him or her to get involved in a more substantive way, to take ownership of the critique. This shifts the focus to the project itself (and off me) and maybe even brings in some extra help, attention or capacity to work on the solution. It also weeds out those critics who only have something to say and nothing to contribute.

Relating to my unproductive defensiveness, I could always try harder not to take things to heart. As Mr. Dufner said, "... there are two ways to look at [feedback]: you can either look at trying to make people happy or trying to make people better".

Read learn more about feedback - both positive and negative - here.

March 6, 2013

The Buck Stops Here

Are you a good boss? Wait, you're not a boss? Oh, and here I thought all my readers were successful Fortune 500 CEOs!

Question two: would you be a good boss? As a peon, I do not have a definitive answer to this, however my inner-worker screams: YES. In my mind's eye, I would take every bad decision, every slight, every unproductive employer-employee conversation to heart and do exactly the opposite

I know, I know. It is much harder to be a good boss than not: otherwise, everyone would be one, right? Like most things, it is impossible to know exactly why managers act the way they do until you walk the maze of cubicals in their shoes. That said, I do think that imagining oneself in a managerial position is a productive exercise. How else will you ever get a feel for being your own boss, assuming that is a professional goal? It is certainly a requisite in my own search for Sanity with a Paycheck

Here is some great advice that I received from my old friend Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. (Ok, actually I read these leadership tips in a magazine, which you can find online here.) 
- A good boss often focuses more on communication than strategy
- Diversity, diversity, diversity. Surround yourself with people who think differently, act differently and solve problems differently.
- Exude confidence. 
- Be relevant. Avoid tasks, meetings, busy work and people who do not contribute to your productivity and success.
- Use power strategically. Throwing weight around just because it's possible is not a wise investment. Use it instead to further your goals and push your priorities.  
- Spend time thinking about consequences and perspective. Words matter. Actions matter. Spend time recognizing your impact.

Good advice. We'll see if it leads to bringing home $10M a year by the time I'm 50. You can read more about Mr. Niderlander here.

March 4, 2013

Stop Counting!

I came across an article today entitled "What worries keep you awake at night?" Reading through the author's Top 5 nighttime worries promptly increased my heart rate and made me a little clammy as my own worries pushed their way into consciousness. Now, I bet you think my list-loving-self is going to detail some of those here as an example. 

Well, you're wrong. 

Instead, I'm going to advise myself and you and anyone else I come across today to STOP COUNTING. That's right. Take a timeout from self-assessment and enjoy a day without pros and cons, without lists and without others' opinions. Instead, manifest a good night's sleep without counting sheep (or to-dos).  

March 1, 2013

Office Lust: Grey and White

Check out this chic office in Midtown Atlanta designed by Melissa Nesbitt:

I love the balance of comfortable and functional furniture with clean, straight lines reflecting the skyline views from the window. The ceiling fan and window shades make this room highly customizable based on weather and demands of the day. Finally, the corner lamp insures that natural light rules supreme, instead of harsh overhead lighting. There is a lot in this design that appeals to my OCD!  

You can see more of Melissa's creativity on her blog, Fascinatingly Stylish.