Good For You

The First Month of Lift

A day or so after starting this project, I read a blog post on why our resolutions often fail. Turns out, it’s often a failure to change those nit-picky little things that we do- those small changes in our habits. In other words, we should start small, and gradually the bigger changes will come together. Go figure, right?

Which is a perfect lead in for Lift. In the last post, Lift became the app of choice for this personal development project. After one month of using Lift, I’ve (sort of) gotten the hang of it. Setting it up was straightforward- you just click the + sign in the upper right hand corner, and there’s a list of categories:

IMG_1650



I already had some specific ideas in mind, so I just searched for them in the little toolbar and started following them. The winners were: No Sugar (3x a week), Speed Work (running) once a week, Spend 30 Minutes Writing (3x a week), Stop Drinking Soda (All week), Cook New Recipe (once a week), and 30-60 minutes of Reading (4x a week). Here are some of my opinions so far:

Things I Like:

  • When you follow a certain task, you can see the comments, questions, and helpful tips others who follow that particular task have. There’s quite a bit of support that goes along with this app (which, according to the aforementioned blog post, is another key component to increasing your chances of success).
  • You can “follow” questions within a task. For instance, in my “No Sugar” task, I can see all the questions people have asked for support. Some examples include: “Anyone have any sugar free recipes?” (a bunch of people answered this guy), “Did anyone else feel dizzy about 3 weeks in to a no-sugar diet?” and, my favorite, “Does alcohol count?” If someone has asked a question that you find compelling, you can follow it and get a notification whenever other people offer an answer. Of course, another option would be to ask a question of your own and get answers that way, but if that’s not your style (it’s not mine), following questions is a great way to get extra support.

    Lift_Questions

    An example of questions from “30-60 Minutes of Reading”

  • You’re in charge of how pushy Lift gets. If you’re the type of person who needs external reminders to do stuff throughout the day, Lift can make that happen. If you’re more hands-off, you can tell Lift to leave you alone and not send any notifications at all. There’s plenty of gray-area here, too, so if you don’t identify with either ends of the scale (like myself), then you can toy with it a bit more.

IMG_1654                                                        IMG_1655

 

  • You can track goals privately or publicly. So, if you’re working on something that you aren’t keen on sharing with the whole world, don’t. Mark it as “private” and get to moving!
  • A fun sidenote: when you click that you’ve accomplished a task in Lift for the very first time, it kinda makes it sound like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it (ex. “Congratulations! First time ever Flossing!” As if I haven’t flossed in 24 years…).



Things I Don’t Like:

  • There’s one BIG issue that I have with Lift. I forgot to check off something that I’d done one day, and it ruined my “streak.” Lift doesn’t allow you to go back to the day before and check something off, which annoys me (although it makes sense, I suppose). It threw off my little progress calendar, and now it’s driving me nuts. Again, this is 87% user error…but it’s annoying when the computer thinks you’ve broken a streak that you have in fact, not broken.

IMG_1651

  • It’s not clear how to add tasks. At first, I started adding random tasks. A bunch of other tasks pop up, so I was under the assumption that you could only join the pre-determined goals that Lift created. In reality, these are groups that other users have created, and it offers a chance for you to join a little community, if you want. Once I figured out that you CAN in fact add your own personal goals, it made me happier.
  • I started getting some annoying e-mail and notification activity (happening around 3-4 times a day), until I re-did my notification settings.

After the first month, Lift has helped keep me accountable, and I’m still interested in keeping up with this whole thing (my usual resolution checkout happens about two weeks in). And, since Lift shows my progress on a daily basis, I remember to check in (most) every day. For the next month, I’m planning on taking things up a notch (this month was more of a trial and getting the hang of things) and adding more challenging tasks. If anyone has any suggestions/ideas, they’d be appreciated!



Out of the Rut: Getting Started

OuttatheRut

The Lorax is my mascot for this project. And probably for my life.

Something’s Gotta Give.

I’m an insomniac. As frustrating as it is to want something (like sleep), and not get it, over the years I’ve learned how to cope with it. Sure, I spent a fair amount of time stomping my feet tantrum-style, crying “This isn’t fair!” But, demanding that I deserve sleep or complaining about sleep deprivation isn’t going to get me anywhere. I tried. That energy is better spent on taking action (relaxation pre-trying to sleep, no caffeine in the afternoon, etc.).

In the past month or so, I’ve become more aware of how often I say  “I wish I was better at…” or “Someday, I’d like to be able to…” Suddenly, the coping process for my sleeping problem felt like it had a deeper purpose. Instead of trying to force these changes via wishing (preferably upon a shooting star), I could dig my heels in and actively make some changes.

Most of the time, I keep these goals internal, but hey, maybe there are other people out there who’d like to make some changes, too, or have some helpful tips. So, I’m going to share a bit about this process via blog in the hopes that a) I learn some new things about goal setting and technology and b) that other people get inspired, too.

Goal Setting (& Organizing)

This first step was the easy part: I more or less took the “I wishes” and turned them into specific goals. For instance, “I wish I was better at cooking” translates into “Try 1 new recipe a week.” “I wish I knew more about public relations” translates into “Listen to one relevant podcast a week and read something PR related for 20 minutes, 2 nights a week.”

To get these going, I started a spreadsheet. This divided up my goals into sections that made sense (fitness, finance, education/professional development, human-hood). I even had a category for “Action Steps,” and felt amazing already just by having proactive thoughts. My brain got lazy, and considered just stopping at the spreadsheet, because “Hey, this looks good. Probably close enough, right?”

Wrong. The next step was to find an app, which (ideally) will help keep me stay on track, and keep my goals somewhere other than my sneaky brain.



App Selection

My criteria: free, low maintenance (it sends me reminders but isn’t overly obnoxious), focused on details (as opposed to the big picture).

ISO: App that is practically perfect in every way.

ISO: App that is practically perfect in every way.

This point in the process hung me up the most, in part because I’m a commitaphobe, and my winning app choice had to be strong enough to see me through some challenges. I have a hard enough time taking advice from real people, so a robot has it’s work cut out for it. (Note: the list of apps below is by no means an exhaustive list of the candidates, just a snapshot of the serious contenders).

Everest

What I liked:  Everest is a “personal journey” app, meant for sharing a picture and then sharing the experience behind it with a larger community. Sounds cool, and I generally enjoy the idea of getting motivated/inspired by others, and I loved the idea of a visual element.
Reason I didn’t choose it: This is more of a “big picture” app, and I already tend to think about the big picture. The app I have in mind needs to strengthen my attention to detail.

Lifetick

What I liked: Before getting into your goals, this app determines your core values, or what makes you “tick.” Each goal you set must be “S.M.A.R.T.” : Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Specific. It seemed like it integrated Big Picture/Small Detail thinking well, which was a huge bonus.
Reason I didn’t choose it: There’s a two week free trial period, but after that, it costs money. Next.

Lift

The Winner!

The Winner!

What I liked: The name hooked me, and the reviews (online and in the app store) were stellar. It focuses mainly on changing the little things. One of my biggest obstacles is attention to detail, and Lift is all about making small, bit-sized changes. It also gives you the opportunity to connect with other people and offer encouragement. After all, it’s just as fun to encourage others as it is to be encouraged. And, there are fun quotes (see below) that pop up, and I love that sort of “warm and fuzzy” stuff.

 

Next Steps

So, as of today, I have some goals going in Lift. It will be interesting to see whether or not having an app to assist will be helpful (or annoying), and what kind of progress there will be along the way. Stay tuned!

 

IMG_1527 (1)

Lift: the start of a beautiful friendship.



Godzilla Cake Disaster of ’98, or How to Work With Your Limits

My brother’s 7th birthday party was Godzilla themed. The movie (with Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno) was alright in my opinion, but Stephen thought it was The Greatest Movie of All Time. Of course, this is the same kid that made fun of me for crying at My Dog Skip, so I’m inclined to question his taste in cinema. In order to make this party the greatest Godzilla party ever thrown, Mom decided NOT to consult Hannaford (Shop ‘n’ Save, at the time) for a cake. Instead, she asked a local cake-making woman if she could construct a cake that resembled Godzilla. The Cake Woman seemed a bit hesitant, but agreed to the task at hand.

It turned out awful.

I haven't located the original picture, but this is an eerily accurate artistic rendition a la MS Paint.

I haven’t located the original picture, but this is an eerily accurate artistic rendition a la MS Paint.

No one wanted to eat the Godzilla cake- including me, the cake-eating aficionado of the family. It was a one-layer cake, vaguely shaped like a t-rex, topped with a green, gray, and brown frosting combination, and a garish face that would give Stephen King nightmares. Mom clearly regretted not going the Hannaford route, and was a little peeved that the Cake Woman thought this offensive cake was appropriate to give to a customer. 

I don’t know why, but Godzilla Cake-gate has been on my mind a lot lately (so has cake in general, but that’s neither here nor there). Did The Cake Woman simply agree to a task she knew nothing about, thinking “Eh, how hard could it be?” Was it a personal challenge gone wrong? I refuse to believe that The Cake Woman simply made this particular cake and wiped her hands of it. What happened?  Why did she expose us to this cake horror show? 

One of the possible conclusions is that The Cake Woman agreed to do something she wasn’t 100% sure she could do. Honestly, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. I agree to do quite a few things that I’m not absolutely sure I can handle (besides- how certain are we, really, of anything?). Should you be a certain percentage of surety before committing to something, on a work-related level?

Andy Dwyer, the Everyman.

Andy Dwyer, the Everyman.

“Never challenge yourself” is not at all the moral of this tale. If you never challenge yourself, you never learn. There are thousands of articles and blog posts out there asserting the idea that we must push ourselves in our search for improvement. In fact, that’s something that I really enjoy about this job: I’m learning something new on a daily basis. In fact, we have a set time once a week specifically dedicated to learning something new. The Cake Woman may have seen the Godzilla cake as a learning opportunity.



Giving yourself time to learn and execute a new task is also recommended. “Rome wasn’t build in a day” seems like a tired cliche, but it’s spot on. Maybe you’ve seen the various 30 Day Challenges out there. It’s worth noting that these are a) challenges,  and b) they are issued for a month long span. That’s some time and dedication. If The Cake Woman had put off making the Godzilla cake until the night before the birthday party, she probably didn’t give herself enough time. If she had instead started toying around with the idea a week or so in advance, she could have toyed with the general shape of the cake, the color of the frosting, how it was going to be decorated, and so on.

Here’s another baking experiment example: I was part of a group project for a class at Bates, and our project involved making amazing cupcakes for our entire class (it was senior year). Before the final presentation, where we brought in a few dozen cupcakes, we spent about a month practicing, toying around with recipes, different flavor and frosting combos, and figuring out how long baking actually took. Sure, it may sound like a lot of work for what it was worth, but we were able to deliver a polished finished product to our classmates. And everyone was psyched to eat cupcakes at 8 a.m.

Challenging yourself, whether in your personal or professional life, is something most everyone recommends these days. If your particular challenge involves giving a customer a finished product, give yourself some learning and executing time. Trust me, you don’t want to be in the position of giving a customer a product or service that is the equivalent of Stephen’s Godzilla cake.

That being said, I did totally eat some of that Godzilla cake. Waste not, want not, right?



4 Ways You Can Introduce Technology to Your Current Job Description

integratingtechinyourjobLearning more about technology involves not only research but application. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall short in terms of increasing their tech skills.

The question is, if you already have a full time job, how are you supposed to increase your technology skills within it? Here are some ideas we’ve had about that (all things I’ve actually tried in less technological jobs than I have now!)



1) Propose a technological solution for a non-technological problem.
Let’s say you hear your boss mentioning the uptick in customer service phone calls related to the release of your latest product. You could offer to create an orientation video showing the product’s features or FAQ section for the website addressing specific concerns after interviewing several customer service representatives. Make sure you get permission from your supervisor before you do this (and get your actual work done!), but in demonstrating you can solve problems with technology, your boss will be much more interested in your next idea. And if what you do becomes a hit, you might find yourself with a modified job description!

When I used to work at a school, there was lots of technology but none of the teachers were using it. So rather than another memo, I started a monthly ‘Tech Thursday’ for the teachers. They could come after school and for an hour learn about something technical, like setting up the LCD projector or using iMovie. I’d try to make it fun, like giving out a prize to the person that could set up the LCD projector the fastest. School leadership was appreciative that I tried to help them tackle the issue and I got a once a month excuse to learn something new.

2) Do volunteer work with a technological slant.
Many jobs not only allow but compensate individuals for doing some kind of volunteer work. Consider a volunteer opportunity with a technological slant that is related to what you want to learn, like teaching a computer course at the assisted living center, running a robotics team at your local middle school, or redesigning the website of a local non-profit. This work will not only teach you your new skills but in teaching what you learn to others, you’ll solidify your knowledge.

In my old job at the newspaper, I volunteered at a local middle school starting a tech club called Zoey’s Room. I had to help the girls troubleshoot tech issues and had a lot of fun. On the days I did that, I just came in an hour early into work to get what I needed to done.



3) Find a technology mentor in your company.
Just because you work in the sales or accounting doesn’t mean you only have to associate with others in your department. Seek out a potential mentor in your company who has a more technical role, and offer to take them to lunch. When it becomes clear that you aren’t gunning for their job but simply want to learn more about, say, PHP programming, your new mentor will likely be excited about your interest. You can then figure out a structure that works well for you, whether it’s ‘learning sessions’ 30 minutes a week or collaborating on a company project together. Your employer will likely be excited about cross department collaboration and the potential that brings.

I’ve had many mentors since starting this business who are more tech savvy than myself. That said, a mentor relationship is one of give and take so I tried to use my skills to help my mentors out in return for their generosity with their time and knowledge. Like with Matt, I try to draft emails, manage projects and do other tasks to make his life easier while he teaches me about, say, advanced CSS.

4) Document what you learn.
Whether you record what you learn in a blog, on a Youtube channel, or even presentations you upload to Slideshare, documenting what you learn using technology not only increases your skills but allows the world outside your job to see you as an expert in your chosen technological field. This might turn into a new employment opportunity or simply a way to help others out not as far along in their learning process as you are. Either way, it’s good for you and the world. This blog started as a way, in part, to document what I was learning… and turned into something even more amazing than I could ever expect. But it wouldn’t have come my way if I wasn’t putting my ideas out there.

We live in a world where technology infiltrates almost every job… and if it doesn’t, there are easy ways for you to increase its role within your work. Get more tech in your work life, you’ll be smarter and happier for it.



Conducting Your Own Annual Review

yourownannualreview(I was going to call this a ‘self audit’ but the word ‘audit’ seems to make people nervous and think of taxes!)

I think I can safely say all of us what to have the best life possible. But what we are all liable to do is coast, phone it in, or otherwise, not try to be better as individuals. And by be better, I’m not talking about necessarily losing weight or making more money (though those are fun). I’m talking about setting and regularly evaluating goals.

We’re all good at setting goals. It’s the evaluating part that we have to make ourselves do.



On the most basic level, we can all think of making New Year’s resolutions as an example of us striving to be better. Why don’t they work often? Because we aren’t evaluating ourselves. When was the last time you revisited your new years resolutions, found out why they were or weren’t working, and set new goals?

Businesses are regularly audited financially or otherwise. Employees are regularly evaluated by bosses. Students and professionals in some fields are asked to regularly take tests. Why don’t we evaluate ourselves personally? We should, right?

I’ve read several great resources if you are actually interested in doing this:

Now the thing these three resources have in common is you can do them yourself (other great evaluation tools involve having a team of people or accountability partner you regularly consult with). I don’t want not having someone in mind to stop you from doing this.



They all have a few things all these self evaluations have in common:

A somewhat time consuming initial brainstorming and narrowing process.

The Best Year Ever book has a whole chapter about basically conducting a 3-4 hour goal setting/evaluation workshop with yourself.

Point is, if you think you are going to get out of this in 20 minutes you are wrong. The brainstorming, narrowing, and evaluating are all necessary.

If you are a busy person, this is the step you’ll most want to skip over (myself included here-I have a hard time with anything I perceive as touchy feely and sucking up too many hours) but take the time for the brainstorming, ranking, and personal reflection necessary. You are setting yourself up for success here so let yourself do that!

Personal and business goals are involved.

Whether you are self employed or not, some of your vocational goals intersect with your personal life goals and vice versa. I was surprised to find how many personal things I do, from how I dress to who my friends are, effect my business life. So when you sit down to do this, be prepared to think of your life in a more holistic way than you would in a job evaluation and you’ll get a lot more out of it!

Establishing a way to measure progress that is a) regularly done and b) works for you.

Gretchen Rubin’s chart involves you checking in with your goal daily and simply giving yourself a checkmark (I did this) or not (I did not do this) for each resolution on each day. You might be more numbers oriented (scoring yourself 1 out of 10), you might more list/narrative orientated with a journal. (I work more this way and I have been noticing the months I haven’t written my notes in my little Google Doc on my goals are the months I have slacked.)

Regular check in and actually writing things down is key. So pick a time (daily, weekly, or monthly), find a format that works for you, and schedule it in.



Revisiting, re-evaluating, and preparing for year 2.

If you go into this thinking it’s ever going to be over, it’s probably best not to start. Every piece of literature detailing this personal evaluation process involves following up to the review/evaluation and moving forward (ie the equivalent of the big chunk of time you put in at the beginning being at the end as well, like neat little bookends).

One of my resolutions was to write personalized thank you notes every month to friends and clients as a way to more genuinely keep in touch than simply ‘liking’ their Facebook status. I have found handwriting notes a chore (and if you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll know I struggle to do it neatly) so I have decided instead to stop liking statuses and instead leave engaging comments on peoples’ status updates. It takes more time but it is somewhere between the more thoughtful personal note step and the chore I perceive as writing letters.

Think of this larger evaluation as a very indepth check in and reworking (ie next year’s personal evaluation!)

Dwelling somewhat on the negative.

Most processes involve acknowledging what didn’t go well and why. Among the questions for the self evaluation portion of ‘Your Best Year Yet’ are “How do I limit myself and how can I stop?” and “What were my biggest disappointments?”  This is the WORST part because who likes being wrong or negative? But unless I visit what I failed at, I can’t get better I suppose.

Also these are literally 20% of the whole evaluation process at a maximum so the pain is relatively short lived. Don’t let it stop you!

Do I recommend a self evaluation? I absolutely do. Will you be more accountable to a self appointed board of directors, accountability partner, membership website or some other third party you check in with? I’m sure you will. But a self evaluation is a start of the conversation and can help you decide who to enlist for help, what next project to work on and lots of other things. Now that the whole wedding thing is behind me and we get ready to move into our slower season of work, I plan on doing this process in the next month to get ready for 2015 (doing it around Thanksgiving/Christmas is too chaotic for me- going to get a jump start!)

Buy your own copy of “Your Best Year Yet” on Amazon (Note: This is an affiliate link)



8 Inspirational People Who Put The Time In

I love that we live in a video culture, not because I think I’m particularly photogenic but I’ve always thought photos and text captured only part of a reality. A video can really give you an idea of someone’s mannerisms, voice, poise, and process. A video can give you a really good idea of who someone is and what they are about. (That’s part of why we’re doing so many videos this year.)

In a world where everything seems instantaneous, it’s nice to remember that people have put time in to get good at something. The time lapse video phenomenon allows us to enjoy this process without watching paint dry (sometimes in a very literal sense.)

Watching these videos, a few things struck me:

1) It is possible to show improvement over time in a wide variety of disciplines, from drawing to dancing. I kind of wish I had video of myself working six or seven years ago. I bet I type faster, do more complex tasks, and seem much more relaxed. It would be cool to see that!
2) It’s not about looks. It’s contrary to think that we’re watching videos but it’s not about what any of these people look like: it’s about what they’ve accomplished. Even the guy who takes selfies as he walks along, we might notice his beard slowly growing but we more notice the passage of time and how far he’s come. I am not even sure what color his hair is, but I think it’s brown… though I do remember how far he walked and the variety of terrain he encountered.
3) There is the time it took to make the video… and the time it took to get good at the skills in making the video. So it’s one thing to understand that to create a full drag face can take 4 hours to accomplish but understanding shading, contouring, etc. took many many more hours than elapsed in the video. In watching these videos, it’s easy to understand we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.



So here are a few time lapse videos (not of grass growing or people aging- ie stuff that would happen anyway) of people doing something.

The Girl Who Learned To Dance In One Year

This Guy Who Draws A Ball

This Popsicle Stick Mansion Builder

This Guy Who Walked Really Far

What This Person Does In Photoshop

This 30 Story Building Built in 15 Days (even if construction isn’t meant to last more than 30 years, as some commenters have implied, still impressive)

This Makeup Job

This Man Who Overcame A Lot To Not Only Walk But Do A Lot More

I don’t know about you but seeing what’s possible makes me not only aware I need to put my time in but happy to do it.