Category Archives: Problem Solving

The right thing or the easy thing?

Do your employees always look to do the right thing, or do they look to do the easy thing? This past weekend we visited Nashville, TN to watch the Tottenham Hotspur game at the spurs logoNissan Stadium, as well as squeezing in a couple of site visits and meetings with clients for my husband’s business. It turned out that this was tax free weekend in TN so the resort that we stayed at had very limited availability when we booked it a couple of months ago. Due to the high number of visitors, we actually had to make three different reservations, one for the first night, one for the second night, and then a third for the remaining three nights. This would have meant 3 room changes during the course of our stay, which normally wouldn’t be a problem and would provide us with a clean condo each time, but when there are two young boys in the mix, as well as the fact that I am 6 months pregnant and it’s almost 100 degrees outside, remaining in the same room was much more appealing. When we arrived I asked the gentleman at check in if it was possible to stay in the same room for the duration of the stay, even if it meant having a slightly smaller unit. He took a very quick glance and informed me that there was no way that anything could be done as there were three different kinds of rooms involved with the reservation.

The following morning my husband went down to the front desk and asked again if anything could be done. The employee responded without even looking at the computer system and informed my husband that there was nothing that could be changed as they were very busy, and we should expect our new room to be available at 4pm. This makes life extremely difficult when you have to be out of your current unit by 10am and have 2 young children who are going to need naps, as well as refrigerated and frozen food which is going to be homeless for 6 hours.

This employee then left as her shift had come to an end. My husband went up to the desk and asked the newly arrived employee about the situation, and the response was completely different. Stacey checked the reservation system and noticed that the room that we were due to move into was a 2 bedroom lock-off which actually included the room that we were currently in, so there was actually no need to move anything! We would just open up the door between the two rooms and have double the space for that day! She also saw that the last reservation was actually the second half of the lock off by itself, so again no need to move a thing. My husband returned to the room with a cup of tea for me and the news that we had the comfort of remaining in the same unit for the duration of our trip.  Music to my ears!

If he had not asked the newly arrived employee, we would have gone through all of the hassle of packing up our belongings, our food spoiling, and our boys going without a nap, bored employeeonly to find that there was no need to move in the first place. This was a very simple thing but the first two employees just didn’t take the time to look into the situation, instead deciding to share canned responses with us. The second employee was about to end her shift, and sat with her jacket on and her bag on her back for 30 minutes before the clock struck 7am. She had no interest whatsoever in helping guests, she was just passing the buck with minimal effort until she could get out of the door.

The third employee thankfully had a focus on customer service, and wanted to do whatever she could to make our experience enjoyable. In the end, she actually didn’t have to change anything, as we had already been assigned connected rooms which meant there was no need to move. However, she took the time and effort to investigate the situation, and made our whole experience much more enjoyable.

In your position at your work, do you do what it takes to get the job done the right way, or do you just do enough to squeeze by and get to clocking off time? Do you have employees who are engaged enough that they will do whatever is needed to make the customer experience a special one? Or do you have employees who do the absolute minimum, and spend the last 30 minutes of their shift looking at the clock with their bag packed and ready to go, as many of us did back in school during the last hour of the day? How do you train this quality? Can it be trained? How do you develop a culture of providing impeccable service? What drives you to do the right thing, regardless of how long it takes, or the obstacles that might be in your way? We are eager to hear your thoughts on this, as well as examples where you have had similar experiences. Until next week stay safe, and expect the exceptional in everything that you do.

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Ah! Distractions!

I sat down to write this blog approximately 3 hours ago.  But then I remembered something I needed to research for my photography business.  Oh look!  Someone commented on the picture I posted on Facebook this morning.  Definitely need to check that out.  And while I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and peruse the news feed – oh geez, another political article.  There are so many out there, but it’s my civic duty, so I will read it to be well-informed.  And I’d better check out the related links under the article as well, because why not?  Ugh, taking forever to load.  Anything good on the DVR?  Yes, new How To Get Away With Murder!  PLAY! …15 minutes later… commercial.  Instead of fast-forwarding, I will use this time wisely to get back to work.  Oh look, video loaded.  I waited this long, may as well watch it.  Commercial’s over!  Time for more murder.  Oh, speaking of murder, I have so many true crime books I want to read.  Maybe I’ll just pop on my library’s website and see if they have any new ebooks available.  Uh-oh.  Boys are awake.  Has it really been that long since they fell asleep?  Did I really waste an entire naptime?  WHEN BOTH BOYS WERE NAPPING AT THE SAME TIME, I.E. THE HOLY GRAIL?????????

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Most days are not this bad.  Typically I manage to finish my work whether the boys are awake or asleep, and at the very least I can wait until Boy #2 is sleeping and give Boy #1 my pho – I mean, a very educational puzzle to put together while I’m working.  But for some reason, today was bad.  Which made me wonder, what super awesome tips can I find online that will help me focus on days when it is hard?  So I put on my blinders, and hopped online with the goal of ONLY looking at focus techniques, and here are the best of the best that I found.  I hope this helps you as much as I hope it helps me!

  1.  Practice – this is actually a tip from my very own brain* & **, so I have no idea if it works.  I earned my master’s degree in elementary education a couple of years ago.  One thing that I learned about helping young children focus on a book for a longer period of time is that they need to practice, and build up to it.  For example, start by asking them to read for three minutes at a time.  Then increase to five, then seven, then ten over the course of several weeks.  If this is something we had to learn, then surely we could use a refresher course every now and then!  This is not a quick fix by any means, but maybe start by focusing on one thing for 20 minutes.  That means no email, no phone, no TV, no anything except for what you need to accomplish.  Increase this time gradually until you no longer have to think about it, you can just sit down for an hour and accomplish the task at hand.  Just like most of us are able to read a book or article without stopping every time we hear a noise, surely this practice will help us to finish a task without getting completely off-track every time our email pings.
  2. Creativity first – sometimes I really dread having to come up with ideas out of my own head, and would much prefer doing a simple, mind-numbing task that would still allow me to feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Typically, this feeling of dread happens at the end of the day, when I have already dealt with full plates of food being thrown across the room, nap-time tantrums and most importantly, coming up with creative ideas to entertain my gloriously energetic boys!  Therefore, I would be better suited to handle the creative works at the beginning of the day, when my mind is fresh and full of ideas, and leave the menial tasks to the afternoon when I will inevitably be in a sluggish daze.
  3.  Set goals – I found a great tip for drinking your required ounces of water per day, which is to use a dry-erase marker and section off your bottle by times.  This way, you will look down and know how much water you need to drink by 11am, 2pm, etc.  It makes it seem much more manageable, and the same can be done for the tasks you need to accomplish at work each day.  This article suggests making your goals concrete, and determining which ones you will finish by a certain time of the day.  Breaking your goals up is a great way to trick your mind into thinking they’re nbd.
  4. Designate a space – this is more for people like me, working from home. The main thing that pulls me from my tasks is – well everything.  Every single thing around me.  The boys.  The TV.  My phone. Crumbs.  Noises.  Colors.  Crumbs.  So it might suit me to create a space for work purposes.  I just so happen to have a kitchen desk, which is also fittingly called a “mother’s desk,” as I’m sure many of you have as well.  And what do you use yours for?  Mine is displaying our wine.  So while the follow-up tip to this is to add pictures and “make it pretty,” I will be leaving mine as-is, thank you.  Just plop the laptop down and I’ll be having a far better time than people without wine at their desk!  (the only problem with using the kitchen desk is that the kitchen is where most of the crumbs are…)
  5. Stay off the internet – no, that isn’t a joke.  In fact, I think it’s the single most important tip I have listed.  Yes, we rely on email to communicate about work things.  And yes, we often need to get on the internet for work related reasons.  So my personal suggestion is to open the pages you often use, like your email and your work website, and try as much as possible to avoid all others.  There are billions of distractions online if we open ourselves up to them.  So do what you can to avoid them at all costs!  If it means actually blocking facebook (or whichever social media is your kryptonite) from your own computer, do it.   Leave that as your reward once you’ve clocked out.

I hope this helped, I know I learned a lot and I will certainly write an update in a month or two to let you know how it worked!

And if you’re so distracted by other things at work that you can’t manage to, oh, fix that leaky toilet?  These are your guys.  Give them a call and find out how much you can delegate and what important things can be moved to the top of your list!


*After writing this tip, I found the entrepreneur article and saw that number three was all about brain-training!  So I guess it’s a legitimate idea, thanks Entrepreneur!   Note they suggest starting at 5 minutes, instead of 20, so just see what works best for you!

** I swear I really, really did write this tip before starting my online search.  I am so much smarter than I thought I was.  Again, notice the time margins are much smaller to begin with than I suggested.  I mean, I’m not a doctor, so probably trust this guy.

One path to stress relief

Samsung phones have this cool little feature that allows you to measure your stress levels.  From time to time, I check mine and I typically fall right smack dab in the middle, if not on the low side.  I pride myself on my patience (hence the ability to spend my days with two toddler boys) and I am generally an easy-going type of person.  However, my oldest just turned three.  And I feel like living with a three-year-old is equivalent to living with a fourteen-year-old girl. No offense to fourteen-year-old girls; but I used to be one, and I know how that went.  Sometimes I handle the tantrums and “attitude” with ease, thinking to myself “Man, I should teach other people how to be awesome parents!”  But most of the time I feel like this:

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Tonight, for example, I decided to measure my stress level just for fun in the middle of a stage five meltdown, and let’s just say it was not low.  But this is my job.  I chose it.  I love it.  I would absolutely not do anything else in the entire world.

What causes your stress levels to increase at work? Maybe you have an irritating coworker who never leaves your office.  Or maybe you just can’t get caught up with that giant pile of paperwork staring you in the face.  If you work in retail, you might be stressed about the heater giving out on the coldest day of the year.  Each of these is a legitimate cause for concern, and while I cannot help too much with the annoying coworker (other than to suggest fake phone calls – that always works), the heater situation falls right into the wheelhouse of Royal Services, specifically their facility maintenance services.  Royal works with your company to make sure everything is up and running as it should be.  They offer  scheduled maintenance to help you avoid surprises as much as possible, but if something does go wrong, they also offer break-fix services to get you back into business as soon as possible.  So when you walk into your store on the coldest day of the year (which also happens to be the day of your huge winter sale), only to find that it is just as cold inside as out, you will only need to make one phone call and Royal will be there.  Rather than spending your time calling around to every heating company in the phone book, you can spend your time setting up your store and getting ready for a busy day of making money and putting smiles on your customers’ faces.

Stress is inevitable; what we do to alleviate it is up to us.  I can’t necessarily call in help during a screaming fit, so I choose to take deep breaths and maybe pour a glass of wine.  But breathing and wine will not fix the heater, so check out how Royal can help remove this bit of stress from your life to leave you with more time for what’s important, and hopefully leave your stress tests looking like they should!

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Kids in the Winter – Yikes!

As a work-at-home mother, the winter months tend to be the ones I dread the most.  I love the beginning, when it’s fun to get cozy and curl up under blankets for an awesome Pixar movie, but as time goes by, watching Toy Story again starts to get old for parents and kids alike.  The holidays require a lot of work on the part of parents, which leaves the kids begging for more attention, and when everything calms down a break is much needed.  But not for the kids!  They are ready for more action.  Whether or not you are home or off to work during the day, winter with little ones can be trying.  Therefore, I present a list for your winter activity needs!  Maybe you don’t have kids, but are still looking for things to do when it’s freezing outside.  Read on.  You may get some ideas!

  1. Build a fort – this is a fun activity that reminds you of your childhood while entertaining the little ones in your life at the same time.  And there is no rule that says children need to be present while a fort is being built.  So give it a try when the weather is nasty and being inside one more day seems unbearable.  Plus, you already have everything you need, which is a sheet.
  2. Have a picnic – choose a dinner that does not include anything messy, such as sandwiches and veggies.  Then throw a blanket on the floor and have a picnic dinner!
  3. Game night – pull out some games for the whole family and play the short versions to hold the kids’ attention.  And this way, you can get through two or three different games in a night!

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  4. Play in a different room – this may seem simple, but even providing a new environment can eliminate the boredom the members of your household are feeling.  If you typically play in the family room, set up some toys in the dining room and utilize the space in your home!
  5. Bake – when it’s cold outside, baking can warm your home and provide entertainment for the whole family.  Find a recipe that everyone can help with, and start delegating.  You might even find multiple recipes to keep the activity going and the children captivated.
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This is a start, and will hopefully help with the winter blues.  Do you have ideas for winter activities?  Put them in the comments below!

Get started on your financial goals

As the new year approaches, it is easy to say to ourselves, “Next year is going to be different.  I’m going to be thin, rich, and much, much happier.”  Inevitably, next year will be quite similar to this year unless you put your mind to making a big change.   But what if you committed yourself to a small change?  Something that is easy to attain?  What if you made a small change in your finances that would help you reap big rewards down the road?

In this segment, I have compiled a list of finance-related tips for 2017 from a number of websites (all of which are linked).  There are so many tips out there, so I have found the ones that I feel are doable and will actually make a difference for a wide range of people.  I hope this helps get you on track for your financial goals in the coming year!

  1. Make saving automatic – it’s easy to say that you will put aside a portion of each paycheck, but when the time comes around, there are bills to pay and things you want that always seem much more important than saving for later.  But many banks offer an automatic deposit into your savings account.  Speak with a banker to find out what options are available to you, and figure out how much you can actually afford to save.  At the end of the year, you may be surprised at how much you’ve accumulated!
  2. Track your spending – an effective dieting strategy is writing down every bite of food you put into your mouth, and assessing where you are going wrong at the end of the day.  This is the same idea – write down every single penny you spend, then take a look to see where you could save.  You may even opt out of purchasing something unnecessary because you don’t want to put it on paper!  This diary will come in very handy when you are setting your new and improved monthly budget.

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  3. Focus on your debt – no matter which financial strategy you follow, you won’t find one that tells you to get into more debt (unless your financial planner also works for your credit card company).  Debt is bad . And it creates more debt.  And while you may see getting out of it as impossible, take whatever steps necessary to accomplish that goal.  As your debts lessen, so do your monthly expenses.  Which leaves you more money to pay your debts.  Seems simple enough, right?  It isn’t.  But it can be done, so set your mind to it and make a change this year!
  4. Review your insurance coverage –  when you set up your health insurance, you might have been in family planning mode.  Now that you’re out of that phase, you might not need as much coverage.  Check it out and see if you could be saving money each month.
  5. Shop around for deals and discounts – it is certainly easier to buy everything at one place, but if you do your homework you might be able to save quite a bit of money by shopping at multiple locations.  Take advantage of sites like Ebates that offer cash back on purchases, but don’t get married to those sites.  Do the math and figure out which deal is actually best, when you take into consideration shipping, tax and rebates.
  6. Grocery shop online when possible – everyone has the best of intentions when they make a list to take to the store.  If we’re really intent on sticking to it, we make sure to eat first and set a shopping time limit.  But unless you are the most disciplined person in the world, chances are you will run across something you just have to have, or you “forgot” to add to your list.  When you shop online, you can type the items you need into the search bar, find the best deal and add to your cart.  There is little chance of purchasing items you don’t need, as you won’t be passing them at every turn.  Many places offer this now, and will even deliver for free if you spend a certain amount.
  7. Reflect on 2016 – how did things go this year?  Were you able to save money, pay off debts, or overcome obstacles?  Did you spend too much, not save enough or make major financial mistakes?  Looking at what went on last year can help you to make improvements for the year to come.  Correct any mistakes you made, and look to improve upon your successes.

I hope these tips will help you to leap into 2017 on the right foot, confident in yourself and your ability to make changes where needed!  Even a small step in the right direction is an improvement, so don’t be disheartened if you aren’t a millionaire by 2018.  As long as you are doing your best, you’re doing something right!

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Different is not bad

The earth is made up of over seven billion distinct individuals.  Everyone has their own traits; some are positive, which can put them ahead of others, and some are negative, and these flaws ensure that no one is perfect.  No two individuals are the same, and this is how it has been since the dawn of time. So why does it seem difficult for some to accept those who are different?

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The other day, I completed a questionnaire to obtain my DISC profile. I have done this before for different work requirements, and it always amazes me how these seemingly arbitrary questions somehow give such an accurate portrayal of my personality and work habits.   There are things that I do better than others, things that I need to work on, and flaws that I would love to change, but at the end of the day need to find a way to embrace as they are a result of the way my brain is wired.  For example, I have never been a neat and tidy person, however I very much like and appreciate and neat and tidy environment; it makes for a more productive day with less distractions, and a generally happier demeanor.  So where is the disconnect?  It seems simple enough – I like it tidy, so I should keep it tidy.  But for some reason, it has never been this way.  I do try, but ultimately there are other things that take my attention away and the goal of straightening up always gets put on the back burner.  So when someone with a completely different brain and personality notices this, they might scoff and boil it down to laziness.  But it really is just a different brain make-up.  I’m not going to get into the science of our brains, as interesting as it is, however I would like to offer a few suggestions for those who work with someone with traits different from your own.  It may seem impossible for the two of you to accomplish anything together, but it might not be.

  1. Take the DISC profile – have your office mates take the profile then share your results as a group.  It might be very eye-opening to realize that the person who you thought was snubbing you every morning at the coffee pot is really just extremely introverted and shy.
  2. Remember no one is perfect – you might be tempted to write someone off because of a trait that you view as a flaw; but maybe instead of a flaw, it’s just different from how you operate.  This doesn’t necessarily make it bad.  And even if it is something that could use some work, remember that you are not perfect either.  Try to be more understanding of others and you’ll probably find that your frustration levels will lessen.
  3. Look at the positive – for every bad trait, there is bound to be a good one.  Try and focus on that next time you start to get fed up with a coworker.  Maybe it seems as though they take far too long to accomplish a task; but possibly it takes a little longer because they have been busy lending a helping hand to others.  Or who knows, maybe they are just spending all of their time on elaborate pranks for the amusement of others.  Also a good thing.Jim's pranks on Dwight:
    Whatever differences you may have, if you look hard enough you should be able to find an admirable quality in everyone around you.  Find a way to embrace the differences in others, and remember that different is not bad!  We can learn from those who are different and work to improve ourselves in the process.

Doing YOU this holiday season

The holidays are stressful.  For everyone.  I think they are even stressful for kids, even if it’s just emanating from their parents and attaching to their psyche.  As wonderful and happy as the holidays are, at times they just suck.  Here is a standard train of thought in my brain around the holidays:  I need to remember to buy ingredients for neighbor treats, my portion of the Christmas dinner, and Boxing Day brunch and dinner.  But before I do that, I better make a list and plan the meal.  Next weekend I’ll go shopping for gifts for my husband, two boys, parents, grandparents, in-laws, brothers, sister-in-law, and niece (so excited to buy a girl gift)!  And we can’t forget our wonderful trash collector! Additionally, my husband’s office will most likely do some sort of meal that he needs to contribute to, and we can’t have him arriving with a store-bought layer dip, can we?  When should we visit Santa?  And we promised the boys we would go on a carriage ride at the plaza, better put that on the calendar.  I also need to get the Christmas card picture taken, and that might take an entire day with two toddlers.  After that, I need to order the cards and have them addressed and mailed by December 1!  But wait – I don’t have all the addresses I need this year!  I better make some phone calls.  Did I ever do thank you notes for the first birthday party?  Great, those people are probably checking their mailboxes every day and becoming more disappointed with every day that passes by with no thank you note.  I’ll do that tomorrow.  I should probably also try on every outfit in my closet so I have something to wear for the office Christmas party, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.  Whew.  Time for some wine.

And honestly, with toddlers, my mind isn’t even racing nearly as much as parents with children in school!  Inevitably, I will end up crying on New Year’s Day, just out of pure relief that IT’S OVER.  Oh wait.  Another birthday January 5.  Better get my thank you notes started now!

So what to do?  My first response would be to eliminate unnecessary items.  But I am a creature of habit, and I feel very strongly about traditions.  So that might only stress me out more.  Instead, I just need to find ways to stay calm and relax.  I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, suggesting yoga, aromatherapy and deep breathing for a few ways to calm down.  And I stand by those ideas for the holidays as well, as none of them take too much time and can be done while you’re wrapping presents (yes, even yoga).  But I might also suggest taking some time to yourself.  Around the holidays, we all spend so much time focusing on others, which is WONDERFUL.  But unless we take care of ourselves, we cannot accomplish everything we want to.  Even if it means pretending you need to grab something from the basement, but actually just sitting down there in the dark for a few minutes while your husband deals with the crying boys.  Wait, what?

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I have not done either of those things.  Promise.

But in all seriousness, at the end of my yoga classes, the instructor always thanks us for coming to class and doing something FOR OURSELVES.  I always feel such a sense of calm when they say that, because it reminds me of how important it is to take care of me in order to take care of others.   It also makes me feel less guilty for taking an hour away from the family for something other than grocery shopping.

So this holiday season, between the giving and creating, stay healthy and happy by taking some time for you!  Even if that means grabbing a Starbucks and taking a leisurely stroll around Target while you’re shopping instead of racing from one place to the next trying to cross everything off your list in record time.  Because if you’re like me, you might even prefer this over the beach:

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