Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Inspiration

Posted by debrahelwig on May 17, 2013

GoneFishin“Take a damn vacation”.

I stared at the prescription paper in my hand. It was an official Rx pad, doctor’s name at the top, my date of birth, his signature its usual illegible scrawl. And that was all it said.  No pills, no creams, no shots, no treatment.

William O. Snell, D.O. Marietta, Georgia. Best doctor you’ll ever want to meet. I adored him. But that day I thought he’d taken leave of his senses.

“Very funny,” I wheezed.

“I’m serious, Deb,” he said. “All this” – he gestured generally toward my upper body and its autoimmune disease-laden, serially offending lungs and sinuses – “is getting worse because of stress. You have to break the cycle. Get out of here. Go away. Take a damn vacation. Let your body heal itself. Give your brain a chance to rest and set everything else in order.”

And you know what? He was right. He did prescribe some meds, but the thing that really, completely, totally got me well was not the antibiotic and the steroids (which I’d taken again and again and again, only for the infections to return). The real cure came after a week on Daytona Beach, alone with my husband and the sound of the ocean.

The thing I loved about Dr. Snell was his utter pragmatism and his way of treating the whole person that a lot of clinicians miss. He gave you shots when you needed ‘em and dosed you up with antibiotics when it was required, sure – but he also had a big sign in his office that said “For good health: pray daily and take two weeks of vacation every year.” Here’s what I learned from him:

Just like muscles need rest after exercise, and your tummy needs time to digest after eating a big meal, your brain needs space to rest. A person’s ability to manage stress and heal their body is impaired if they run from thing to thing to thing and never take a break.  Even if it can’t be a full vacation, some time away (a day, an hour, a breath) from routine and pressing work can make an enormous difference in attitude, in productivity, and in inspiration.

As professional services folks, we instinctively know this.  It’s what all the end-of-year Tax parties are about, and it’s why U.S. public accounting firms are ghost towns from April 16 to April 30 pretty much every year (and in Canada, from May 1 to May 15). To be productive, to be happy, to THINK, we have to break away.  But it needs to be more often than the blowout “we survived tax season” extravaganza!  Big breaks. Little breaks. Deep breaths. Making spaces, intentional and full of energy, to give us the inspiration that will carry us, healthy and focused, through the next thing we want or need to do.

Lookie here:

Inspiration – breathing in. Taking a breath. Taking a break. Getting ideas. Coming up with something new and exciting. Becoming energized.

Expiration – breathing out. Pushing through. Breaking down. Falling apart. Ending. Death.

I think I’d rather inspire than expire, wouldn’t you?

 

** To that end, I’m off on my annual vacation and will be back here on the blog in a couple of weeks. See you at the end of the month!

 Photo by atomicjeepLicense.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Busy Season | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Painful Lessons

Posted by debrahelwig on May 2, 2013

pain“Where does it hurt?”

When there’s pain, that’s always the first question, isn’t it?  It’s what I’m asked by my doctor when I present myself with weird Lupus symptom of the week; it’s what I ask my Pre-K child when she falls down and starts crying.  It’s what my boss asks when something goes wrong in the office.  Where is the pain?

And then, we treat the place where it hurts.

It’s a normal response to a very basic cry: “HELP me. Fix what’s wrong. Make the pain stop.” After all, it’s human nature to want things to be better – and as quickly as possible, thankyouverymuch. It’s awful to be in pain, to see someone in pain, to be part of an organization in pain. So we cut to the chase.  We deal with what hurts, RIGHT NOW. The doctor prescribes a medicine. I spray my daughter’s knee with Numbz-it. My boss throws out the software (or the person, or the process) that was causing the trouble. We treat what’s wrong, and it gets better.

Only, sometimes, it doesn’t.

I ran squarely into this problem just a couple of weeks ago, when I began a macabre dance with a series of raging, screaming, agonizing headaches. I’d wake up feeling bad and go to bed feeling worse. Just taking a deep breath sent my left temple into a series of angry neural expletives. My reaction? “Where does it hurt?  My head!”  So treat the headache and it will go away! But 10 days of ibuprophen, yoga, massage, hydration….none of it helped.  I was desperately sick with the pain. I thought about seeing a neurologist – maybe it’s Lupus related? I mused about brain tumors and all sorts of wacky stuff.

Then I got a happenstance call from my brilliant friend Brantley Moate. Brantley is a certified massage therapist, trained in Asia. He understands pain better than just about anybody I know. And he was just, by chance, calling to tell me about a fascinating book he’d been reading by a neuroscientist called Lorimer Moseley called Painful Yarns.  You can get the gist of Moseley’s ideas in this fabulous TEDx talk:

I listened, and I watched. What Moseley said hit my already aching head like a bomb blast:

Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. But pain in a particular part of the body doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong where it hurts; nor does intensity of pain necessarily equate with level of injury. Treating “where it hurts” and “how it hurts” may not fix the problem. You may need to look elsewhere to fix what’s really wrong.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  So I might need to look at something besides my head and its supporting muscles to fix my headache? YES. Yes, indeed.

Turns out, the reason my head was hurting had absolutely nothing to do with muscle fatigue or sitting at the computer too long, or brain tumors, or Lupus, or any of the stuff that had been racing through my head – or any of the stuff I’d been treating. My problem was I NEEDED SLEEP.

For a couple of weeks I’d been working late and getting up early, doing projects for the office and the kids – and as a woman of 44 with Lupus, my body evidently can’t take the “four hours a night and fake it til ya make it” I’ve been putting it through for most of my life.  When I started really thinking about what might have changed in the weeks leading up to the headaches, what might have impacted me and caused my body to say “something is wrong here!” it occurred to me I might need a little more rest.  So I did something very uncharacteristic for me: I changed one of my regular patterns. Instead of throwing medicine at my problem, I changed part of my normal routine.

And it worked. Three days of 8+ hours per night and BAM. Headaches gone. Completely gone like they’d never existed.

Wow.

My now-not-hurting brain started to really spin on this idea. Where else are people I know – especially me – mistreating pain? And the obvious answer came back: AT WORK.

We’ve just spun through another absolutely insane busy season, full of chances for things to go wrong. And, now we’re a couple of weeks past April 15 and done with the “thank God we made it” party, we’re about to sit down in our teams and dissect what went wrong. We’re about to identify our pain. To say “where did it hurt?”

That’s good. Whatever we find, that pain is real. No doubt. And treating it is necessary. Absolutely.

But Lorimer Moseley shows – heck, my headache shows! – that identifying pain is just a starting point, nothing more than an indicator that something is wrong. It doesn’t say what. Or where the problem actually started. Or how many “normal patterns” or people or projects may actually be involved.

Treating the precise pain points we identify will feel productive, because we’re doing something, by cracky!  But unless we’re all very, very careful, dealing with those pain points may actually fix nothing at all. And when the problem (and the pain) crops up again – and again, and again – then we’ll be 1. back where we started (or worse) and 2. demoralized and really in a mess.

So let’s take a vow this year to stop before we start. Take a breath. Recognize pain for what it is – for all it is – a warning to look deeper.

Photo by random_dave: film for sale. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Professional Services, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Go, Make Something!

Posted by debrahelwig on March 14, 2013

MakeSomethingThis week, the stomach flu landed at my house.  On me.

Two days of evilness, followed by the sickest feeling I’ve ever had in my life: coming back to work to a list of 35 urgent “to do” items and an inbox with 150 actionable messages in it. It’s Busy Season in the accounting world and I was already crazy with work. Now…God help me.

And I had thought I was queasy before…

My immediate reaction was one of overwhelming inadequacy and stupidity.  Especially taking into account that there isn’t just WORK stuff. At home I have kids on spring break who are screaming “I’m bored!”; a house that hasn’t been cleaned, with puppy tumbleweeds flying across the den like we’re the last outpost on the lone prairie; bills to pay; a gratitude journal to write; a thank you note I haven’t sent; and OH MY GOD Easter is coming and I haven’t thought about cookies or egg hunts or any of that stuff….

It’s enough to send a person back to bed in a crumpled heap, never to emerge again.

It’s my guess that most of us have been in this place at some point – crushed by the feeling that “the world is falling on my head and I’ll never get out from under.” Frankly, considering it’s Busy Season, I’ll pretty much guarantee I’m not the only one feeling at least a little like this at the moment.

But, in the middle of all these feelings of “Oh My God, I will never be able to do all this,” and “I am suuuuuuch a miserable faaaaaailure!”, two independent pieces of wisdom floated into my inbox yesterday and combined in a way that stopped me in my tracks.

First, there was this post by Mike Figuolio called Quit Being a Critic and Go Create Something. Mike makes great points for anyone in a leadership role, saying:

What you must understand is your criticism carries weight.  It impacts the performance reviews of your people.  It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted.  It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not.  You get the picture – your words change lives. I invite you to go a step beyond the simple criticism.  Help build something beyond your words. … change your mindset from one of critic to one of creator.  Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas. 

From that came my first BIG THOUGHT:

I am the leader of Team Debra. And I am spending all my time criticizing me, instead of creating great work. I am a professional critic – of myself – and boy, am I a mean one!

Hmmmm.

Then, from my friend Michelle Golden, I received a link to a brilliant TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

In this presentation, Gilbert presents the idea that we are not solely responsible for our own creativity. She explains that in ancient cultures, they believed there was an external source for creativity (called the Daemon, or the Genius) that helped the process along. That, in that context, our only responsibility is to show up and do the work, and the creative spark will come. That it’s not on us, as radically frail and freaky creatures, to be the source of making good stuff happen.

Double hmmmmm…

SO – this was my internal conversation that pulled all these thoughts together:

I am a tremendously horrible critic – mostly of myself. When my workload gets too deep, I immediately go to that place of “I’m a horrible failure and it will never get better.”

          This is not helpful. Instead of being a critic, what if you become a creator?  Create, don’t berate.

But I’m too BUSY to create anything! There’s this awful to-do list of mechanical stuff that just Has. To. Be Done. And it’s not creative work! It’s spreadsheets and database files and uploads and….

          Who says that stuff can’t be creative? You’re making something.

Um…

          Even if you have some stuff that isn’t “creative”, so what? Not everything has to be. Just make something every day and you’ll feel more energized for other stuff you have to do.
Maybe just make ONE thing. Make dinner. Write a blog post. Clean up something (make a clean space!). Tell the kids a story.

But I’m soooo tiiiiiired and overwhelllllllmeeeeeddd, I can’t be creative!

          Oooh, but if Elizabeth Gilbert is right, YOU don’t have to be creative. That external THING has to be creative (call it what you will, the genius, the divine, God) – but YOU
don’t have to do it. You just have to show up.

And then I do stuff?

          Right.

And work gets done? I make things?

          Right.

And I feel good about it?

          YES.

But there will still be this huge list of stuff that I didn’t do!

          But it won’t feel the same, if you’re paying attention to what you ARE doing and what you made today. Things will move faster and feel better.

In so many ways, this internal shift doesn’t change a thing. My to-do list is still a morass of electronic insanity. I’m still eating toast and bananas and wishing I felt good enough for a cup of coffee.

But this morning, thanks to Mike and Elizabeth, I’m deciding that the place where I begin my day is not with the idea that “I can’t do all this” and “I am the worst employee ever”.

Instead of being scared of my list, now I’m curious. I can’t wait to find out what my Genius (the Divine, God, the Muse) is going to bring – and what I’m going to get done.

Anticipation, not fear.

Today, I am going to make something great. I wonder what it will be?


Photo by jessica wilson {jek in the box}. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Looking for Spring

Posted by debrahelwig on March 11, 2013

tulips_in_snowBack last summer, I finally got around to picking up the red-hot series by George R.R. Martin called A Song of Ice and Fire – a set of books most popularly known by the name used in its HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones.

Martin is a brilliant writer. For a person like me, who loves words and a rich character tapestry, the first books in the series were almost narcotic. I had picked the first one up casually, as a beachtime “well, it’s something to do.” Then, just a few chapters in, I became obsessed. It was one of those “read while you brush your teeth, read while you take out the trash, read while you should be cooking dinner” sorts of love affairs. I bought the second and drained it dry in a matter of days. Then the third. SLURP. Gone.

The fourth, I had to slow down. What had started as a bleak sort of story had gotten positively deadly. Everyone was betraying everyone else. Not a shred of hope in sight. My favorite characters, all expired. The hopeful plot threads? Extinguished.  The main character’s family motto – Winter is Coming – well, YEAH. Holy hell. Winter is HERE, dude. Landed on your head.

I bought book five (in hardback, mind you!), because I hate giving up on a good writer. But I had to give it up completely only about 40 pages in. I realized I was sad and exhausted by what I was reading. The reading high I was getting before had turned into nothing but bad smack.

Welcome to dystopia.

Not familiar with the term?  Dystopia is the opposite of utopia – a society characterized by human misery, where everything is as bad as it can be.

And George R. R. Martin isn’t the only guy presenting us with this stuff. Over the past 10 years, pretty much the entire culture of science fiction and fantasy has turned itself away from a positive future to a horrific, dystopic one – and that focus has begun bleeding into popular culture. Besides Game of Thrones, witness the popularity of The Hunger Games. I bet you can think of a dozen more books, shows, or movies you’ve seen in recent times that had a dark beginning and a darker ending, that left you feeling sad or scared or – dirtier – than when you started watching or reading them.

Is this a turn of our cultural psyche, in tandem with the tough period we’ve all been going through with our businesses and our jobs? Maybe. Heck, the guys in Congress can’t even pretend to be friends anymore. It feels like we’re all going to Hell in that metaphoric handbasket, only now we’ve got Game of Thrones and Hunger Games and fights on Reality TV as preview entertainment to show us the way. Whoopee!

What’s even worse – and what I only started realizing the other day – is this dystopic miasma is creeping into our personal and business language as well. It’s changing how we think about and talk to each other. And it’s negatively impacting the way we keep ourselves motivated, our families together, our staffs happy, and our clients satisfied.

When we talk about work, we say words like busy and stressed and overwhelmed. When we get together with our friends and clients, we talk about the disasters on the news (North Korea! Gas prices! Sequester!), the disasters on the sports field (did you SEE that awful NASCAR wreck?), and the disasters in our lives (dead car, dead dog, not enough money, and God knows what other crazy bad thing that happened this week). We Tweet and Facebook with righteous anger about the bad stuff going on all around us and mourn the devolution of our society. Then we go home and pop popcorn and watch the devolution of other fictional societies as if it’s supposed to make us all feel better about the one we’re living in.

This. Is. Not. Working.

Now, you and I are not going to fix the whole social order by refusing to buy into a dystopic worldview. There will still be plenty of people to watch and read and buy whatever the hot new “end of the world” saga may be. Congress is still going to fight, people are still going to do the wrong thing, and gas may be $10 per gallon by the end of the summer. I get it. And I fully admit that being a Pollyanna and pretending stuff ISN’T going wrong won’t work either.

But I CAN make some small changes to my thinking that will directly impact my outlook, and you can too. Maybe even more important, we can make changes that impact our ability to reach and help the people we live and work with every day.

While everyone else is focused on the fact that Winter is Coming, we can be Looking for Spring.

My friend Melinda Guillemette touched on this idea in her recent post The Upside of Self Centeredness. She’s 100% right. If we evaluate the media we’re taking into our psyches, the conversations we’re having, and frame them through the lens of “is this making me better? Is this making my relationships better? Is this elevating the people around me in any way?” we may stop a lot of trash thinking/trash talking before we even start.

There are some other things we can do, too, that I’ve seen work very effectively in recent days. Join me in trying one or all:

  • Write a gratitude journal. Every day, at the end of the day, jot down five things/people/happenings in your life that you are grateful for.
  • Write a gratitude journal at work. Before you shut off that PC for the day, write down five meaningful projects/interactions with clients/interactions with colleagues. Because it’s a narrower slice of our lives, this is harder. But it can also be intensely rewarding.
  • Focus on the positive in conversations, especially with colleagues and clients. Sometimes the most positive you can be is “I hear you. We’re in this together.” But just that little statement in place of commiserating (creating co-misery!) can elevate a situation in surprising ways.
  • Spread cheer. Just once a week, think of someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Send a note or a card (or an email, if it’s all you can manage) telling them they matter to you. In today’s raft of busy-ness, getting a card like that in the mail can be stunningly meaningful.
  • Clean up. Your language, your work space, your car, your house. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and miserable in a messy space. And that includes your head space.

Little changes. Incremental progress. That’s all it takes to change us – and it might be the start of changing the world.

Image by SimonWhitaker. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Leadership, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted by debrahelwig on January 13, 2010

Did you miss me?

No, really, did you?

Hurrah if you did (you make me blush)….but my bet is you’re so busy you never even noticed that I’d stopped posting to this blog for the last two months.

The stopping part wasn’t on purpose, mind you. A freakish set of health issues and work crises conspired to make every second of my available time disappear from November to now. But I’m grateful to say things are better, and I’m back on station to to share and discuss ideas with you.

SO – now you know where I’ve been, back to the question at hand.

Did you miss me?

The answer isn’t about my ego. It’s important because your reaction to my absence proves a point that’s applicable for your professional services career.

When you lose regular contact with the people you do business with, EVEN PEOPLE WHO LIKE AND CARE ABOUT YOU, you very well may drop out of their scope.

People like important clients. Referral sources. Heck, even good friends.

The old saw “Out of sight, out of mind” is a very real thing.

It’s not that people don’t care. They’re busy. According to studies, busier than ever before. And stressed to boot.

If we don’t make the effort to stay in touch, even (maybe especially) when we’re busy and overcome with crises, the likelihood is the important people in our lives won’t remember to either.

And when the moment arrives when it would be beneficial to reconnect….well, it’s awkward. Difficult. Easy to postpone. So we don’t.

And if we don’t – the potential for lost opportunities is infinite.

In my case, I’d have been much better off if I’d written a quick post every couple of weeks. Nothing earth-shattering, just a little placeholder note to the blogosphere to keep the connection open. For you, it might be sending a greeting card with a quick two-line note to a favorite client. A three word email (“Thinking of you!”) to a friend you haven’t talked with in a while. A forwarded article, or maybe a five minute phone call with a referral source you’ve neglected.

Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.

Sure, there are times when life happens. When we lose contact with important people. When we stop blogging, or emailing, or calling for real, honest reasons. And it’s hard to get started up again. Reconnecting is awkward. What do you say? How do you explain why you didn’t call or write or blog? It feels icky – at first. But, trust me, the benefits from the connections we reforge infinitely outweigh the discomfort of our avoidance.

For all you accountants out there, Busy Season is coming. Getting intentional now and making a firm commitment to stay in touch with the important people in your life and career, before your schedule swerves out of control, will go a long way toward keeping you TOP of mind, instead of OUT of mind, when April 15th rolls around.

As for me, watch this space. I’ll be hanging around here regularly from now on.

Photo by helgasms! (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Need for Speed

Posted by debrahelwig on September 29, 2009

speed demonWow, what a week this has been – and it’s only Tuesday.

My “Debra blew it” factor over the past few days has been a lot higher than normal.  I’ve missed some important stuff. Doing the octopus eight-arm dance of panic, I dialed in late to a super important conference call. I then followed up that bit of brilliance with a typo in an important email. Ai yi yi.

None of this is like me.  And it feels pretty crummy. But I take a tiny bit of comfort in the fact I’m not alone.  The number of blog posts I’ve seen about “mistakes” and “saying sorry” from super smart folks like Chris Brogan and Dianna Huff and the folks at Twitter has been growing by leaps and bounds.

What the heck is going on here?

It’s insidious. It’s ugly. It’s the need for speed.

The darkest downside of the “always on” Internet/Social Media revolution is that we can do stuff a whole lot faster than ever.  We can communicate in nanoseconds. Who needs a well crafted letter to express pleasure (or ire)?  We can tell people exactly what we think in 140 characters, faster than we can even dial a phone.

And because we CAN, we think we HAVE TO. And because we think we HAVE TO, we DO, and then people EXPECT US TO. It’s a vicious cycle.

What happens when we go too fast?

We do dumb stuff. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Yes, they happen. But they happen a lot more when we’re playing whac-a-mole. A recent Stanford University research report showed that using multiple media tools at once resulted in “broad based incompetence…where people are worse at focusing their attention, worse at organizing information, and worse at quickly switching between tasks.” Yikes.

We are inadequately grateful. In the past, good manners taught us to respond to benefactors in a gracious way. No longer. Think about the number of times this week that you responded to the kindness of friends and colleagues with a hasty “gee thanks!” via email or Twitter – or didn’t respond at all, thinking you’d write a longer email when you had the time. The pressure of the clock is dumbing down our interactions; our days seem more fraught with crises and less full of graces.

We spill the beans.
Dianna Huff tells the story of a lawyer who lost a case because she was overheard talking about it on a cell phone in public. A snarky Facebook post or Tweet in the wrong place or at the wrong time can be a shot heard round the world.  If you’re moving too fast and not thinking hard enough about what you’re saying to whom, you can deep-six yourself as fast as you can type.

None of these things are on purpose. But expectations are high, and the economy is tight, and who can afford to say no to anything our clients or colleagues ask us to do?  So we cram our schedules overfull and assume that technology will help us get everything done in the right order.  We add more tools and pop-up reminders and leave messages for ourselves on our cell phones. We make a to do list to control our multiple to-do lists.

And none of it works.

Especially in professional services, where a single mistake can be the kiss of death. Auditors can’t screw up. Ever. Lawyers, blow it and your client lands in jail or a deal goes bad. Marketers, make a mistake in a firm’s brand campaign, and decades of client loyalty unravel.

Often, quicker just isn’t better.

I’ve done some serious thinking and research on this, and I think I’ve found a way to stop the madness. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits calls it single taskinggetting intentional.

This week, I’m going to take a diligent and critical look at who is making demands on my time. Who are the clients or supervisors who constantly send work in crisis mode? What are the triggers that ignite the firestorms in my workplace? How can I re-align people’s expectations? I plan to get real about urgent versus important versus habitual (we ask for it fast because we can, not because we need to), and prioritize accordingly.

I’m going to make space to do my work WELL, not just quickly.

Going against the public grain – shutting down the speed demons (both real and internal) who constantly up the ante – takes a lot of chutzpah. But making a considered effort to get off the fast track, concentrating on one thing at a time, and saying no to unreasonable demands may do more than aid my sanity. It may work wonders on my career. And I bet it could do yours some good as well.

Who wants to join me? What can you do to silence your inner speed demon?

Photo by nahkahousu (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Leadership, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole)

Posted by debrahelwig on July 28, 2009

Wack a Mole photoThis past weekend, I got a great lesson in the power of space. And how space can affect your career (and sanity).

Last weekend was my husband’s 30th highschool reunion. And, since he had the civility to graduate in Daytona Beach, Florida, that meant a weekend at the beach. Without the kids. No pressure. No priorities.

Hooray, right? Sign me up!

Or so you’d think.

Instead, I started finding every excuse in the world not to go. The babysitter can’t handle the kids. The dog threw up. I have too much to do at the office. There are dishes and laundry and emails and OH MY GOD I haven’t blogged in 10 days and what about the Web site project and…

I was too overwhelmed to even consider time away.

I’m not unusual, either. Professional services folks everywhere are overburdened. A survey this summer by the Institute of Management Accountants found that “When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants [29%] said more time.”

I feel your pain. But here’s a truth for you: busy-ness begets busy-ness. And not all busy-ness is good.

Today, it’s easy for professional services work to become what I call a Cosmic Game of Whac-a-Mole. Remember the 1980s arcade game? You had a big mallet and a board full of holes in front of you. As the moles popped out of the holes, you hit them back down. And the faster you were, the faster they got. Never stopping, just hitting and hitting until the game was over.

Does your project list operate that way? How often do you get to work, sit down at your desk, and immediately get buried in mountains of email? Start with meetings at 8 a.m. and never make it to your desk? Take one client file off the pile only to have 10 more added to it? Is the pressure driving you crazy?

That was me. And if it’s you… survey responses aside, you don’t need more time. Or more staff.

You need space. A reflection zone.

I was lucky. When I started down my list of all the reasons I couldn’t take a weekend away, my husband told me to shut up, turned off my PC, and stuffed me in the car. And guess what? I came back energized – with thoughts about how to handle a crisis at the office, blog post ideas, and plans to kill a few projects, start a new one, and move others down the priority list.

Busy-ness begets busy-ness. Space begets sanity.

Even if you can’t find an entire weekend like I had, taking a few minutes daily to reflect can make a difference in your outlook.

Try this: schedule 10 minutes a day on your calendar as a “meeting”. Shut your door, or if you’re in a cubicle, find a private space. Turn off the PC, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the cell phone. This is think time. Use these moments to ask yourself basic questions about your work, like:

• What are my most important projects right now? Why are they important? Do I really need to be doing all of them, or can I delegate or reprioritize some of them?
• What am I doing that is urgent but not important? How can I reduce or eliminate that kind of work?
• What are the top three things I want to accomplish today? This week? This month?
• What am I doing to engage other people right now, both for business and personal development? Do I like what I’m doing? Could I try something else?
• What meetings do I have this week? How can I reduce the meeting time? If I am meeting too much, is it my colleagues or is it me? And if it’s me, what am I avoiding?

You may not find answers, at least not at first. But making space to ask the questions every day can be transformative all on its own.

If you stop playing Whac-a-Mole – if you give yourself permission not to be busy every moment of the day – you’ll get more done. And you’ll be a lot saner, more effective, and just plain happier in the process.

Where can you create some space in your day?

Photo by jrubinic (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Swine Flu and Pandemic Panic: A Wake Up Call for Your Business Continuity Plan (And Five Steps to Get You Going)

Posted by debrahelwig on May 4, 2009

swineflu This past week’s outbreak of swine flu (H1N1 virus) has set the world afire. You can’t turn your head, in public or online, without tripping over someone talking about outbreaks and closings and the potential for disaster if this nasty little bug really takes off.

And though (thank goodness) the spread of the illness so far isn’t living up to its media hype, the fact that there’s a panic about it makes sense. Not just because many, many people might get sick, but because a true pandemic could cripple operations for every kind of business imaginable.

Including yours.

Many firms already know this. The tragedy of 9/11, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in California, SARS and more – all of these events sparked waves of business continuity planning throughout our industry.

BUT (and this is a big but) – it’s been a while since the last awfulness. How up to date is your plan? Does it cover all the new ways you’re doing business? What about your completely remote workforce, who might be put out of commission by storms in their area while all is perfect weatherwise at the headquarters location? What if everything is fine in your company, but the factory you’re set up to audit next week is shut down because half the staff has swine flu?

You might want to dust off that old plan (if you ever had one) and think through these eventualities.

And here’s a twist you might not have considered – what are your top clients‘ business contingency plans? If there’s a pandemic or a disaster, how are they going to continue operating, and how might it affect the way you work with them? That’s a level of detail most firms skip – but if you don’t take the steps to find out, you may find yourself in a world of hurt when crisis hits.

So, with that in mind, here are a few items you should take care of right away. This week. Now.

1. Identify your top 10 clients (could be less or many more, depending on the size of your firm and the relative value of the clients’ activity)
2. Contact those clients and ask them about their business continuity plans. Use the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak as the opportunity to begin dialogue.
3. If their plans are insufficient, direct them to resources to help them consider their position, both relative to you and to their suppliers and clients as well. A few resource options are below to give you a start.
4. Using the client’s plan (or lack of plan) as a guideline, build a strategy for how your firm would continue to provide them with service in the event of a disaster or emergency. Ensure that every member of the client service team, from partner to staff, is aware of the parameters of the plan and prepared to implement if necessary.
5. File the plans in an easily accessible place or place(s) – (not just on a PC – what if there is a power outage with no computer access?) and hope you never have to use them.

If you need help putting together a business continuity plan, check out the following links:

http://www.ready.gov/business/plan/index.html
http://www.ready.gov/business/plan/planning.html
http://www2.agilityrecovery.com/resources/events/2/Webinars
http://www.yourwindow.to/business-continuity/contents.htm
http://www.fema.gov/business/bc.shtm
http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/nfpa1600.pdf
http://nonprofitrisk.org/tools/business-continuity/intro/1.htm
http://en.bcmpedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

And if you want to track or prepare specifically for swine flu, check out:

http://hbsp.ed10.net/r/GS4D/00YIN/RNJZBB/OHOZ2/D99V5/6C/h

http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/index.htm
http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/30/ep.swine.flu.questions.answers/index.html

Even if H1N1 swine flu doesn’t live up to the hype, there will be other emergencies. So get ready.

Being prepared for any eventuality is just smart business.

Photo by Archie McPhee Seattle (license).

Posted in Accounting, Leadership, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TMI

Posted by debrahelwig on March 13, 2009

Spring fever is in the air. In my hometown, the trees are budding. Flowers are blooming. The weather is gorgeous.

And the ducks are amorous.

Last night during my family picnic at the park, two ducks waddled up to our table, squawking and flapping, and — well — proceeded to make more baby ducks. Right under the nose of my loudly curious five year old.

*Ahem.*

How awkward. There are just some things in life meant to be enjoyed without lots and lots of extra details. Baby ducks are one of them.

Sausage is another. Most of my life I’ve heard the phrase “It’s like making sausage; enjoy the results but you don’t wanna know how it’s made.” There’s a reason for that one too.

Then there’s you and your firm.

You may be talking too much. About you. Too Much Information.

Stop.

Now, hang with me here – I am not trying to confuse issues of honesty and disclosure. Always tell the truth. Say the stuff that has to be said. That makes you more valuable, not less.

But there’s a bunch of stuff going on with you that really doesn’t need to be said. The “behind the curtain” part of things. The “I’m stressed out and overworked and it’s busy season and aren’t you sorry for me?” part of things.

It’s just about one month out from the end of tax season. The economy stinks. I know you’re under tons of pressure. The stress is mounting. You ARE under the gun. That’s real.

Your clients don’t need to hear about it.

They don’t need to know how time crunched you are. Or that you’ve worked every Saturday since the dawn of time and some Sundays too. Or that Bill dropped his coffee all over your laptop. Or that three people on your team have stomach flu. Or that your blood pressure is starting to spike.

It’s become a badge of honor in this country to respond to the question, “How are you?” with the answer “I’m soooooo BUSY,” with the word “busy” punctuated by a gust-of-wind-style heavy sigh.

But it doesn’t sound so great when you’re the one who has to listen to it.

Remember, your clients are under a heck of a lot of pressure too. The “Where are my customers?” kind of pressure. The “I could lose my business” kind of pressure. The “I had to lay people off” kind of pressure. All they want to know from you is that they’re a valued client and their needs are being met. They don’t want to know about your problems, or heaven forfend, infer that they are the cause of your anxiety. That’s a relationship killer.

In these stressful economic times, it’s up to you to be their calm in the storm, not an additional cause for concern.

Show them the baby ducks. Help them welcome Spring.

But, for goodness sake, don’t tell them how you got them there.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Leadership | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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