I Am Grateful

I haven’t posted recently because I’m tired. I’ve been coping with being the caregiver to a very sick loved one so writing has been the last thing on my mind after I get home from spending the day at the hospital, getting dinner together for the family in the evening and settling the children into bed.

But today, I went for a run through a beautiful local park because between dropping the children off at school and visiting hours in the ICU beginning, I have about two hours. Two hours during which I can choose to stew and be alone with my own morbid imagination and the Internet (trust me when I tell you not to Google symptoms of even the most minor illness. Seriously. Don’t do it).

I put on my runners, slipped my earbuds into my ears and ran. I ran from my thoughts, I ran from my obligations, I ran from the fear and uncertainty of the last week. And I discovered something as I ran. That despite everything we have faced in the last few months (job losses, family illnesses, hospital stays, etc.), I am still grateful for so many things.

I am grateful for family. Both the family I was born into and the family into which I married. They have supported me, my loved one and our children throughout this week. They have arrived with offers of help, a willingness to distract the children, an ear to just let me vent and an amazing capability help me navigate and cope with all of the unknowns.

I am grateful for friends – the family I chose for myself. The fact that these individuals have been willing to suspend their own lives and cook a dinner, watch the children, help me be a patient advocate or just give a big bear hug when I need one has touched me deeply. I knew I chose this family right.

I am grateful to my children for providing a welcome sense of calm, humour and energy in my life. They are the reason I have continued putting one foot in front of the other instead of curling into a ball on my couch. They are the reason I have kept laughing despite my worry.

I am grateful to the amazing medical team in the ICU, the emergency room and to those that help others. Those that are willing, even when they have no idea what the root cause may be, to don a gown, gloves, masks and put their own safety aside to try to heal someone. Their support has been tremendously appreciated. Their daily job has allowed my loved one to continue living.

I am grateful to the artists in my running playlist for spurring me to lace up my runners and hit the trail. Music is healing and has made me move even when I haven’t wanted to keep going.

I am grateful to the peacock in the park this morning who opened his tail feathers just as I rounded the corner. You reminded me that even in the midst of drab hospital rooms, harsh florescent lights and the smell of antiseptics, there is beauty.

Finally, I am grateful for life and the ability to keep breathing day after day. Yes, this is a rough patch and yes, there are days I don’t want to keep going. But I do. And I will. And, after the reminder this week of how tenuous life can be, I will live it to the fullest.


My Rebuttal to the Seven Rules For Managing Creative People

Last week, this article, Seven Rules for Managing Creative People by Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic from the Harvard Business Review blog caused quite a reaction online. To put it mildly, most commenters found the condescending tone off-putting, and many wondered if it was an April Fool’s Day post posted a day too late. Indeed, if any employer were ever to follow these seven rules to the letter, I doubt they’d have anything to show at the end except an exceptionally high staff turnover rate.

I read the article and was dismayed at the way creative types were portrayed. The words “egotistical,” “anti-social,” “eccentric,” “erratic” and so on were associated with those that create. But to me, that’s like stating that every single senior executive is a sociopath – it’s just not true. Creatives, just like everyone else, can’t be painted with a single swipe of a condescending brush. We’re not all a homogeneous group of unreliable, rebellious, management-shunning free spirits who disdain the feelings of others. But, there were some points that were hidden within Chamorro-Premuzic’s post that had some validity. I decided to find those points and re-write Chamorro-Premuzic’s seven rules; albeit with a more positive tone.

  1. Spoil Them And Let Them Fail: It’s fine to encourage the creatives in your organization to take risks, but it’s not okay to treat any employee – creative or not – like a child. Unconditional support is great, and people do learn from failure, but the fact that Chamorro-Premuzic suggests letting people do the absurd and then celebrate it is short-sighted. Yes, innovation is born from risk, but risk does need to be tempered with common-sense in the business world.
  2. Surround them by semi-boring people: Why would anyone want to be surrounded by semi-boring people? Pairing creative types with other creative types will encourage more thought-sharing behaviour – and will encourage innovation. I do agree with the author when he states that diverse teams are critical to moving things along, but I do not agree that a creative will refuse to work with like-minded individuals and that nothing would get done if they put a room full of creatives in charge of a project.
  3.  Only involve them in meaningful work. I agree that innovators want to be involved in work they feel is meaningful, but doesn’t everyone? Of course, there are people who go to work, collect the paycheque and go home, but they’re hopefully the exception in most organizations. And calling creative types bi-polar in this point was just insulting, Mr. Chamorro-Premuzic. And, to your other point, I can explain exactly why my work has meaning – and so can most others. Telling creatives that they don’t have the words to state why their work is meaningful is quite a bold, incorrect statement.
  4. Don’t pressure them: Freedom and flexibility is a good thing in the workplace. Time and again, studies have shown that most employees will work better and more productively in such an environment. It’s not just those who are creative that appreciate such things in a workplace.
  5. Pay them poorly: Excuse me?! This is where the author lost me completely. I’m sorry, but “job satisfaction” does not pay the bills. I value my time and my work at a rate that I think is fair for what I do (see my previous post, What Are You Worth?). And I certainly wouldn’t accept poor pay because I feel like I’ll do a better job because I’ll get genuine praise instead. I have commercial needs – a mortgage and bills. Last time I checked, a genuine ‘thank you’ from a supervisor isn’t a currency I can use to keep a roof over my head.
  6. Surprise them: Not every creative I know will take a different route to work daily or never order the same thing twice. People come in all stripes – creative people included. Not every creative thrives when things are complex. But I agree with the author on this point: chance are, if you present a problem to a creative type, they’ll likely give you a considerable number of potential solutions in return.
  7. Make them feel important: Okay, this is one area where the author and I agree. If you treat every employee just like the other employees, the superstars won’t shine and they will go elsewhere, and the ones that are chugging along will keep with the status-quo and won’t do anything but the basics. Treating employees as they deserve to be treated makes sense. A poor performer shouldn’t get the same rewards as a great performer and vice versa. But not every creative employee is worth that recognition. If they’re not a star, don’t treat them like they are because you think your “temperamental creative” might get upset if you don’t break out the kid gloves to handle their fragile egos.

Chamorro-Premuzic’s final caveat, that creative innovators are rarely good managers or leaders because they’re too focused on themselves, rebellious and anti-social, is crazy. I may be generalizing here, but the creative types I’ve had the pleasure of reporting to challenged me to be better. They would question my decisions, provide additional perspectives that I may not have thought about and generally, push me to do my best each and every day.

I think every creative would agree – we’re not all the same. Just like you can’t generalize that every accountant is boring and unwilling to innovate, you can’t assume that every creative is one step away from being a self-important psychopath who will work for peanuts. You may be a thought leader, Chamorro-Premuzic, but this is one area where I really hope that your advice is not taken as fact in every situation.

Blogging Your Business

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how marketing has become an exercise in story telling. People don’t just want to know what you’re selling anymore, they often also want to know the story behind the product, service or company. “Content marketing” has become the new marketing buzzword, and you’ll often hear people talking about the importance of company blogs – apparently, if you don’t have one, you’re in the digital dark ages.

I personally sit squarely on the fence when it comes to company blogs. Do I think companies need blogs? Absolutely. But there are three basic considerations:

  1. Don’t sell! A company blog is not another place to push your product. Push information. If you sell, say, mailboxes, talk about how the mailbox industry has changed or new trends in mailboxes, not just the features and benefits of the mailboxes that you personally sell
  2. Keep it updated consistently. If you’re not updating your blog consistently, it’s not worth keeping one. People want to see regular posts, otherwise, they’ll move onto other, more consistently updated sources
  3. Be real, but not too real. Your human voice needs to come through, not your corporate voice. But, keep it clean, though – no swearing, no running down the competition, no off-colour jokes

A blog is a great place (along with a really strong ‘About Us’ page) to tell your story. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and tell your story. I’d love to hear it, too so leave me a comment and tell me more about you and your story.

What Are You Worth?

I was sitting in a session at Podcamp a couple of Saturdays ago (February 23). During the Q&A, someone asked where to find writers for their company blog. The presenter, the president of a public relations firm suggested bidding sites, and mentioned a well-known one by name. While hearing her suggest a bidding site was interesting, her rationale saddened me. “If you go to this site, you can find a writer for pretty cheap who will likely do a couple of blog posts for about $50.”

Bidding sites – websites where writers bid on posted freelance work are known among many freelance writers to be low paying – and they’re rarely, if ever, a great place to make a living. From what I’ve seen on these boards, $50 for two blog posts would be a good contract. Many gigs request writers that work for far less. I’ve personally seen a post offering a maximum of $2.40 for a 400 word post. Yikes!

From an employer’s perspective, hiring someone less expensive is good for the bottom line. But, on the flip side, will low cost mean low quality? If the writer you hire for “pretty cheap” is turning out dozens of low-paying pieces per day just to stay financially afloat, are you getting quality work, or the work of someone who is rushing to the next gig? Yes, there are quality writers who place too low a value on what they offer, but finding one is tough.

From a writer’s perspective, I’m afraid that bidding sites are driving down the rates writers are able to charge for their work. If enough writers on bidding sites are willing to accept low-paying gigs, will this impact the rate that employers expect to pay as these sites gain popularity?

I set hourly and per word rates that reflect my writing experience, the expertise I have in financial and professional services writing and editing and what the average market rate is where I live. Do I sometimes adjust my rate for a client that I really want to work with? Of course, but only if I know that I will get additional work from that employer in the future or if I really believe in what they’re doing and want to be part of it. If it’s a publication that I am pitching, they usually set what they offer, and I simply read the contracts carefully to ensure that I am comfortable with the terms.

My advice to an employer is to carefully hire your writers – and to pay them fairly. As for fellow writers, be careful what you accept. For both writers and employers, be willing to negotiate. Between the high and the low, there’s often a good middle price that everyone will find fair.

So, This One Time, At Podcamp

Over the weekend, I went to camp for my first time in my life. For two days, I played and learned with a group of like-minded professionals, amateurs and people interested in new media.

Podcamp Toronto is an “unconference” – a two-day gathering of new media professionals that began in 2007. Podcamp began in Boston in 2006 and has since been held in a number of different cities. The conference is free (thanks to some fabulous sponsors and the presenters who donate their time), and attendees vote with their feet. If you don’t like a session, you walk (hopefully not without some measure of respect for the presenter). And if you have a session you want to present, you go to the Podcamp site a few weeks before the conference and describe your idea. If you have an idea during the conference (and there’s space in the schedule) – well, talk to the organizers, put it together and Tweet it out to find your audience.

A last-minute decision I made on Thursday afternoon to attend found me standing in the lobby of the Rogers Communications Centre at Ryerson University on Saturday afternoon. Since I missed the entire morning of sessions, I felt like it was my first day in a new school – cliques were formed and were gathered, talking and laughing – and I was all by myself. But, I took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet. And I’m glad I did.

Six Things I learned at Podcamp:

  1. That as much as I love radian6 and Sysmos as social media measurement tools, they may not be the best for small businesses because they’re pricey. But, you can gain information about reach of your posts, you can use the basics: Facebook Insights, Hootsuite Analytics or Sprout Social (which, while Facebook Insights and Hootsuite Analytics are basic free tools included with the applications, Sprout Social does have a cost. But there are educational and not-for-profit discounts for those that qualify)
  2. That while some of the session titles may not actually describe what the focus will be, if you stay, you may take something away from it anyway. I attended the How to Develop A Killer Content Marketing Strategy session on Saturday afternoon. While content marketing wasn’t exactly where we spent the most time (I learned about buyer personas during my undergrad but the refresher was interesting), I did meet three interesting people from a variety of areas just by starting a dialogue about what we had just learned – and I came up with an idea for a killer blog post (more on that later this week)
  3. That about 70% of Google’s algorithm is geared to answer the question “who cares?” – and the better you answer it, the higher you’ll show up in the search results
  4. That a 16-year-old kid can be more mature than some adults I know, and that said 16-year-old can summarize why people like brands on social media better than anyone who has ever liked a brand on social media can. When this kid graduates from high school and gains more experience in the customer service side of social media, I’d hire him
  5. That sometimes, the presenter of a session may not show up. And while it’s disappointing, it’s a good time to network with others, decompress, review your notes from previous sessions and check your email
  6. That I need to become a ninja in my field

Will I go back next year? Absolutely! Would I recommend it to my friends in new media? Absolutely! Will I propose a topic for next year and present? Maybe! The world does need someone who will talk specifically about developing a killer content marketing strategy, does it not?

Making Time for Fitness – Four Reasons Why It’s Worth It

fit_womanI went to the gym today for the first time in a week due to a tonne of obligations (I usually aim to do something physical three to five times a week). It felt good to move. It’s time that requires me to be ‘in the moment’ because, during a Kettlebell class, I could get seriously hurt if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. My last two posts talked about productivity. This post is different – we’re going to talk about how taking a “time out” FROM work each day can help you be more productive AT work – and may even earn you a little extra cash.

What? Wait a second. How can taking time to work out make you more productive? And how can taking time AWAY from work help you earn more money?

Here’s how:

  1. Increasing your blood circulation during exercise increases blood flow to the brain – making you feel more alert. Not only that, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that regular exercise also helps keep your critical thinking skills and learning ability sharp as you age. Even 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity will help you feel more awake, and thus able to better focus
  2. You sleep better. Getting enough sleep is something most adults struggle with, especially when juggling everything they have on their plates. Working out will help you get a good night’s sleep – and a good night’s sleep will help you be better able to focus during the day. Aim to try to work out earlier in the day if possible – if not, try to ensure that you leave at least three hours between your workout and bedtime. Otherwise, that better sleep will be elusive because your mind, heart and muscles will be primed for more movement
  3. Your mood will improve – exercise releases all these great chemicals into your body – Seratonin (a natural mood enhancer), Endorphins (the body’s “natural painkillers”), Dopamine (balances ones sleeping and waking cycles) and Epinephrine (our “fight or flight” nerochemical). Exercise balances out these neurochemicals and those that regularly move are less prone to stress, are better able to deal with daily pressures, have less chronic pain and are generally, happier people. Some studies have also noticed that people with mild symptoms of depression can see an improvement in these symptoms with regular exercise (but if you think you are suffering from depression, please see a doctor before starting an exercise regime)
  4. You may get earn more. A recent study by Cleveland State University professor Vasilios Kosteas noted that people who regularly hit the gym were likely to be making about nine percent more than non gym-goers. The study showed that the increased productivity that regular exercisers brought to their jobs made them more valuable to their employers. Add to that that people who work out tend to be healthier than their sedentary counterparts and employers may also see a decrease in health benefit costs from their fitter employees

So, when are you going to start taking time away from work so that you can be more productive when you’re in your office? Just promise me that if it’s been a while since you worked out, that you start slow or check with your doctor – getting injured isn’t productive for anyone.

Increasing Daily Productivity

In my last blog post, I talked about what happens when the dreaded Unproductive Day happens. We looked at how to get your day back on track when you’re going down the road of sloth and the final point was to take a moment at the end of your day to plan the next. But that’s only the start. By planning to be productive, you can increase your daily personal efficiency. Here are some tips to help you get there:

  • Make the ultimate to-do list. Take some time (usually about two hours is enough) and write down everything you need to do in the next month. Everything from calling suppliers to making a dentist appointment should be on the list. After you’re done, sit back and look at your list. Overwhelming, isn’t it? Not sure when you’re going to accomplish is all, huh? I can see you nodding. So let’s keep going.
  • Classify the tasks on your list. Which ones are critical? Which ones are unimportant but would be nice? Which ones can you delegate? Which ones look so big you’re not going to finish them in the near future? I personally colour-code my list. Red items are must-dos, yellow items are nice-to-dos, blue are delegate and so on. Choose a system that works for you. It could be sub-lists, colour coding or some variation. Are things looking a bit more manageable now? Great! We’re moving on.
  • Take those too-big tasks and break them down into chunks. “Create a website” is so much bigger on paper than, “write two paragraphs about my business for the website” and “choose three possible images for the home page.” Breaking down the big items makes them far more manageable
  • Delegate what you can. Ask your friend if she’s willing to car pool your children to soccer. Sit down and chat with your spouse or partner about sharing cooking duty. Assign a project to a junior at work (bonus points if you assign the whole task start to finish so the person gets a chance to lead a project). Any projects you can move off your plate to someone else’s makes your to-do list more manageable
  • Just do those critical items. To borrow from Nike, Just Do It! Schedule the critical or difficult items first. They may not be your most pleasant tasks, or the ones that bring you personal satisfaction, but they need to be done. No, now is not the time to do the 35 unimportant items because they’re easier. Do the critical things and get them out of the way
  • Continue the process. Take time at the end of each day to review your list. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so to cross of completed tasks, add new tasks for the next day and to evaluate if anything needs to change

Once you make productivity a habit, you’ll find that good things start happening. Your stress level will dissipate (I’m not promising that you’ll never be stressed again, but the stress will lessen), you’ll have more time to focus on the projects that you do enjoy, you’ll create more time to think and perform tasks with more care and, best of all, your system will allow you to be more flexible when you do need to make room for last-minute demands on your time.