Aaah, the weekend! Let’s relax with a little housework

I don’t care whether you work in or out of the home, if you’re managing a busy family the weekend is anything but relaxing. One of the most depressing moments of the week is that point on Saturday when I realize that I need to fill the seemingly endless stretch of hours before me with laundry and other yucky chores. I don’t know why, but it always seems like a surprise. After all these years of kids and working on my own, I still have that TGIF mentality that says on Friday the work week is over and I’m free to relax.

But that is no longer my reality, nor is it for most of the people I know. The days run one into another at breathless pace. Here’s what reality looks like to me these days:

  • My house is full of children who don’t belong to me. They come and go at a dizzying rate. And they eat my food.
  • I can do an entire load of red laundry and another that’s entirely yellow and green.
  • I run out of milk every half day or so, and when I go to buy more…
  • The checkout guy at Trader Joe’s says to me, “Do you realize you buy two of everything? Is that intentional?”
  • My neighbors comment on how often I drive up and down the street.
  • My schedule is more crammed than ever, but in addition to work meetings it’s full of items like “cats in for shots” and “orthodontist consult”.
  • (And by the way, I had to make a budgetary choice between a year of braces for my kid and having a cat’s tooth pulled – roughly the same cost. Guess what I chose.)
  • I have necessary household items, like wine, delivered to my home.
  • There’s always someone bleeding around here.
  • Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth my time to take a shower. Or put on clean clothes. I just go to the grocery store, the library, the post office, etc. as is and hope no one I know is there.
  • I never, ever notice what I pay to put gas in my car. What’s the point? It’s not like I’m not going to fill up.
  • I’ve stopped keeping a to-do list because items on it age out.
  • I send my husband off with the CostCo list even though I know the trip will cost twice as much if he goes.

Of course, like everyone. I find many ways to procrastinate on a day like this. Blogging for instance.

What does reality look like to you today? Commiserate with me.

Why I hate Halloween, or never wear a costume to work

IMG_0335I have never pretended to be a fun person. Perhaps that’s why I don’t like Halloween, a holiday whose primary objectives seem to be having fun and eating candy, two things of which I generally don’t approve. Oh, and walking around a sidewalk-free suburb in the dark.

I don’t know what it is about Halloween that makes perfectly sane people dress like some warped version of their alter-egos – vampires (which, frankly, might be a little sexual for the workplace), Star Trek characters (please!), or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (in your tornado-head-injury-induced dreams). Sitting in a meeting full of these characters was enough to make you hit the hazelnut flavored coffee.

“Have you no pride?” I wanted to shout, to which they surely would have cried, “Why are you no fun? Lighten up, for crying out loud. It’s Halloween, that greatest of all holidays where all you have to do is dress up, eat candy, and walk around in the dark!”

I was clearly an army of one in my fight against Halloween. And even I have to admit it did have one very important purpose – it reminded everyone that it was near time to string holiday lights throughout their cubicles. No wonder our utility bills were always over budget.

So what do you think? Costumes or no costumes at work? And why?

How I learned to tough it out

A recent post I wrote on yelling at your kids got me thinking about a time someone yelled at me. And what it did. It toughened me up.

Like most lessons, I learned this one the hard way, with an angry exchange. It erupted over something so trifling that it caught me completely off guard. A college honors advisor lit into me for the seemingly innocuous request to substitute one history class for another, hardly an uncommon situation. In fact, I think that was what precipitated his reaction – it was late in the day, and I could very well have been the 20th person to ask for an exception. His blistering verbal response was enough to send me from the room gasping for air. But I was also angry. I knew his reaction was unreasonable. I vowed then and there never to let a situation like that affect me again.

I believe that episode was the first step in my growing one of the toughest skins ever to grace corporate America, which served me well when I started my career in the auto industry in the 80’s when women were still a somewhat unwelcome novelty in the field.

Not too many years later, the owner of one of my car-dealership clients did the same thing. He was furious over something the company had done and he let me have it. But this time I kept my cool. And because I did it really took the steam out his attack. In fact, he apologized and took me to lunch.

Unless you have just done something utterly stupid or thoughtless, the reaction of another is rarely about you. It’s much more likely that it arises from some other factor and you just happen to be standing in the path of the tornado. So what did I learn from these two episodes?

  • Don’t react. I guarantee that if your adversary is  the only one in the room yelling, eventually they will start to feel sort of foolish. And then they will stop.
  • Tamper your own emotions, if you can, and really listen to what the other person is saying. Somewhere in there is a problem statement – and a solution.
  • Consider accepting fault, even if it isn’t warranted. This might be counter to the usual advice you receive, but it can neutralize anger. I have stopped a few people dead in mid-rant with this powerful phrase: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to antagonize you.”

I don’t know whether it is entirely good that my early career taught me to respond passively to unreasonable attacks of all sorts, but I’m pretty sure it’s protected my psyche and my dignity over the years.  When someone’s unreasonable, you can’t necessarily say it, but it helps to think it: “It’s not me – it’s you.”

Have a hard interpersonal lesson learned to share? What wisdom did it bring you?

Free-floating dissatisfaction, or what’s bugging me today

What is it about autumn that makes me feel frustrated with my environment? Since I work primarily from home, it’s probably that I’m shut up in the house. I’m surrounded by things that bother me, yet I don’t feel any particular urge to fix any of them. I feel disoriented, restless yet unmotivated.

As a result, I have spent a great deal of time standing around today, feeling annoyed…and strangely that does not seem to tick off any of the items on the to-do list.

Things that are bugging me today:

  • My garage smells like a combination of new tires and mice.
  • It’s only 62 degrees in here but I haven’t had the furnace safety-checked yet so I don’t want to turn it on. I’m so sleepy I’m afraid I won’t notice if I’m being overcome by carbon monoxide fumes.
  • There’s nothing for lunch.
  • Our deck looks like a shipwreck that has been raised from submersion and plopped in our backyard, barnacles and all.
  • There are at least a million wet oak leaves on the lawn.
  • I need to make a trip to the compost heap, but I’d have to walk through the million wet oak leaves on the lawn. My obsession with re-using all things organic means I have a kitchen full of vegetable peelings and coffee grounds.
  • I am working on two different computers because I can’t seem to migrate everything over to the new one. It seems I have a problem with commitment.
  • I’ve done all the laundry except the socks and underwear but I don’t feel like gathering up socks and underwear.
  • We did sun salutations for the first 20 minutes of yoga class yesterday and I have sore muscles I have never been aware of before.
  • Did I mention there’s nothing for lunch?

If I applied myself I could take care of most of the things on this list pretty fast. But it’s so darn cold in here. Guess I’ll start by kicking that furnace on and taking my chances. At least then, if I’m disoriented, I’ll know it has an origin.

What’s bugging you today? And what are you going to do about it? I am badly in need of some inspiration.

Life is not a competition. Or is it?

About once a day I find myself telling my boys, “Life is not a competition.” This is usually in response to a) a fight; b) someone bragging; or c) the constant one-upmanship that occurs in our household – my day was worse, my math score better, my defensive play more aggressive. I find the constant, competitive banter exhausting.

My spouse disagrees. To him, getting up in the morning is a competition that I either lose by getting up first, or lose by getting up last. (Yeah, I see the problem in that statement.) And while he doesn’t openly encourage the competition, he makes no move to squelch it either.

If I’m honest with myself, I can’t put the responsibility for the competitive nature of my kids solely on him. I’m also competitive. I think of the early years of our marriage as a battle for supremacy. (Who won? Depends on who you ask.) It’s not realistic to assume our kids will be that different from us. And my husband’s competitive nature works to his advantage in his sales career and that, in turn, makes my self-employment possible.

I’m conflicted about the whole thing. In some respects, I think it’s stressful to grow up feeling like you have to be faster, smarter, better…but on the other hand, if you don’t have a competitive sense, how do you achieve excellence? The very root of excellence is that you must excel – that is, be better than everyone else – to succeed. And I also think because of the self-esteem movement, we’ve raised a whole generation of individuals for whom excellence is highly subjective – and man, are they ever hard to manage.

So what do you think? What role does competition play in our lives and workplaces?  How have you or your kids benefitted or suffered from competition? There has to be a line somewhere. I just don’t know where it is.

Spring cleaning, and not just metaphorically speaking

After months of remodeling and a not-yet-over winter, my house (and my business) are badly in need of some spring cleaning and I’m starting today. My philosophy has always been to clean the house from top to bottom. I love the visual of the dust slowly settling to the floor as you move from the ceilings, to eye level, to the baseboards, finally sweeping all that accumulated dust right out the door. I don’t know if this is the most efficient method but it works for me.

Perhaps, like me, you also need to polish up your business after a long, cold winter. So start with the high ceiling corners and…

  • Clear the cobwebs – revisit your vision for the business. Has it changed? Do you need to touch up the paint a little? What are you moving towards? Away from?
  • Clean the light fixtures and the windows – let in some light. Who can help you reach your vision? What outside expertise do you need to bring in some clarity?
  • De-clutter and dust the furniture – clear the decks. You know that pile of to-do’s you have sitting there? I bet you can let go of some of them. If they aren’t relevant to where you’re going get rid of them. Then see what you can hand to someone else to do before you tackle the things you really love on your own.
  • Polish the floor – take on the high visibility tasks. What is going to give you the highest return for your investment of time?

Oversimplified? Perhaps. But you have to start somewhere, right? I’m rolling up my sleeves and grabbing a dust mop. And I think I’ll grab another cup of coffee, too, while I’m at it.

What are you doing to spring-clean your business? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

How is bad customer service like a trip to Florida?

Years ago I had a boss who called us all together in a conference room to tell us we’d had a bad financial year and would all have to buckle down – no year-end bonuses, no raises, no additional help for our burgeoning workload.

The next day he left for Florida for a month’s vacation. How much extra effort do you think those of us left behind in the frigid Minnesota January felt like putting in?

I think of that day sometimes when someone has dealt me a decent load of lip service. Your customers will listen to what you say, but that won’t counteract your actions if they aren’t consistent with that message. Here are some behaviors that are guaranteed to put off your clientele:

  • Customer service representatives who cannot make even the most basic concession without the intervention of a manager.
  • Unexpected service charges and fees that significantly hike the cost of your bill.
  • Not showing up on time (or at all).
  • Loooong hold times on your customer service lines.
  • A hard-to-navigate phone system. How many buttons should I have to push, after all?
  • No physical address or phone number on your web page.

I could go on and on. But I won’t. Let’s leave it at this: Be honest about what you can deliver. Tell me upfront what it’s going to cost. Deliver what I’ve paid for in a timely fashion and if I have a problem, fix it right away.

Simple, right?

Have a story about a nightmare customer service experience? Send it to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use it I’ll feature your business.

The power of No

When my children were very small we were being told, as parents, not to use the word “no”. Instead, we were encouraged to couch our feedback in other language that was less black-and-white, to give the kids more of a chance to participate in correcting whatever undesirable behavior was at hand.

I’ve never understood that.  I think perhaps we have raised a whole generation of kids who aren’t used to hearing the word “no” (and I can tell you, from experience, that managing a group of people who aren’t used to the word “no” can be a nightmare).

I don’t seem to have an issue telling my kids “no”. Sometimes I feel a little like it’s my default answer, and that I could perhaps spend 15 or 20 seconds thinking about the question at hand before I use it. But just because you’re able to say no when at home, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it once you leave the house.

Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to say no even though we know, in our hearts, that the situation calls for it. Instead, we let clients, vendors, colleagues, and people on the street win a silent argument every time by refusing to utter it.

Why is it so hard to say no? In my experience, there are a number of reasons. Here are a few of them.

  • We are trying to assist. Most people are inherently helpful and want to please the other party in a conversation. Saying “no” stops the positive interaction dead.
  • We are avoiding confrontation. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid controversy because it is so uncomfortable.
  • We are afraid to say “no” – either because we know the consequences of saying it, or because we DON’T know the consequences of saying it . Either way, we’re afraid of the outcome.

The ugly truth is that avoiding a “no” doesn’t usually make the negative outcome go away, it just postpones it to a later date. In fact, your delay in saying “no” might have the unintended effect of actually making that outcome worse when it finally occurs. Or worse yet, you’ll take on a client, task, or expense you can ill afford to take on.

So give yourself permission to say no. After all, it works with the kids…if they’re listening.

Have you ever had to say no in a business situation? Send your stories to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them I’ll feature your business.

Don’t ignore your business “growing pains”

Two of my kids are suffering from growing pains right now, those strange spasms and generalized aches that characterize a rapid growth spurt. While both of them welcome the idea of growing taller they aren’t exactly enamored of the pain it’s taking to get there.

If you’re running a growing business you are surely feeling some of those pains. You may feel short of staff or cash. Your systems may not be keeping pace with the work flowing through your business. Or maybe there’s just a generalized ache that’s telling you all is not well. Often, the growing businesses I meet know that there are things they should be addressing but they aren’t sure how to address them – or what to do first.

While it’s natural to welcome growth, growth that’s badly managed can be a disaster – I’ve seen it take businesses to the ground. A growing business that requires an uptick in cash flow may find the cash comes too little and too late. A business reluctant to add staff may find their customer service suffers to a point that key customers are vulnerable to competitors. Pay attention to the pain and don’t let it get too severe before you take some action. And if you can’t pinpoint what’s causing the pain, consult a “physician”!

Is your business suffering from growing pains? Send your examples to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Of geography and business growth

As your business enters the Surly Teen years the tasks at hand won’t necessarily get easier – in fact, some of the things you’ll be called upon to do will seem downright bizarre. I was thinking about this parallel tonight as I helped my daughter with a school assignment – carving a map of Africa out of a pan of brownies. No where in the parenting handbook did it say I’d be called upon to do this!

But carve we did. And it got me thinking about the potential pitfalls a business faces as it grows and adds complexity. (Yes, I really am that easy to distract.) If you are in your Surly Teens, take a few moments to review some common problem areas:

  • Legal exposure. The larger and more complex your business, the greater the potential for legal challenges. Make sure you have a trusted attorney with whom you can proactively discuss possible exposure.
  • Problematic cash flow. Selling more can be your ticket to higher profit – or your ticket to miserable cash flow. Budget carefully for manageable growth and make sure you have safety nets (like adequate lines of credit) in place as you service larger and larger accounts.
  • Human resources challenges. My favorite story comes from a former colleague who once had to mediate between two employees  whose argument had resulted in one of them being duct-taped to their desk chair. (See, truth really is stranger than fiction!) Make sure you have competent HR assistance. HR regulations change constantly and when you run into problems you’ll be glad you have professional guidance. It needn’t be in-house – there are plenty of professionals who can lend a hand on a part-time or interim basis.
  • Poor tax planning. Make sure you do not outgrow your financial advisors. A good CPA who knows your business and your industry can be worth their weight in gold – literally.

It’s not easy but by surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do about these things you can navigate the treacherous waters.

I must say we did a pretty good job with the map of Africa although we did have to retrofit (a forgotten) Madagascar into the picture. Not sure I’ll be able to sleep comfortably though. I think I ate a little too much of the Indian Ocean.

What’s the strangest business task you’ve ever taken on? Send a note to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use it I’ll feature your business.