When Times Are Hard

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You’re going to walk into the office or desk or just to the front door and feel like everything is too heavy for either yourself or someone else and when that happens, professionally our approach is just to try to patch the wound with some sentiment like “Try to find the positive in this…” before patting someone on the shoulder and getting back to the grind.

However, I want to suggest that, the next time you find yourself or see someone else in this spot, I want to suggest a different tack.

  • Give someone a hug.
  • Talk to them, then listen, then (and only then) act. Always in that order.
  • When the dust clears, find them and do more listening.

There is a difference between caring and appearing as if you care. The people you interact with know the difference, so when it comes to you, be the care people are looking for.

Strategic Venting

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Today I listened to a friend vent some frustrations related to work. It was a pretty intense list, long with issues. I let him vent for about 30 minutes with little interruption aside questions to clarify.

After that, I asked him:s so what now?

Because that’s the thing, right? We don’t want to walk away from the scene of a good vent, a good meeting, or a good idea without the answer to that question. Especially when we are frustrated; that very frustration might be your call to take a moment and address that what now question.

There’s a few ways to answer that question, but I’ll simplify it to three concepts:

  • Create
  • Refine
  • Destroy

Essentially, make something new, better, or failing those two things, get rid of what isn’t working. As for who should “own” that process, that might be the simplest thing to answer: you.

So here we are at the end of a pretty good idea.

What now?

Attention

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Earlier on in my professional career, I was often told that I need to determine how to better manage my time. I mean often. Mind, it was very much needed at the time, but more and more I find that time isn’t my biggest issue. These days, it is my attention.

“So you mean priority, right?”

No, I don’t.

I work in the support department. Prioritizing is a given when you’ve been in that department as long as I have because, without the ability to prioritize, you drown in backlog. However, even with your best effort to prioritize the tasks before you and even with the ability to manage your time to be super productive, none of that matters if you can’t give yourself to those tasks and only those tasks.

So then, before I can prioritize and manage time to most effectively do the most I can, I have to decide what to pay attention to.

The thing that bears so much repeating is that attention is a limited resource.

One phrase I have at the office for this is “I can’t brain right now.”

What I mean by that is I’m out of attention to spend on anything else right now. Recognizing that your attention is a limited resource changed a few things for me in terms of just handling the day. One of them being making a shrine out of the time between 8:30-9:30AM every day. That’s my planning time where I have enough attention in the tank to prioritize things that day.

From there, it’s a mad dash to around 12:25PM to handle top priority, high attention stuff. Things that require me to focus on details in order to solve a problem. After lunch, I get into the lower attention stuff because, although I have a reserve of attention, it gets consumed with “Hey, I got a quick question” pretty quick. You’d be surprised how quickly that chews through what you have in the tank.

Sometimes, if I need that attention for something else, I have to pass out the occasion, “I can’t right now…” and that’s OK. Again, attention is a limited resource. Other things I do to help keep my attention where it should be:

  1. Wunderlist.
  2. Scheduling appointments with myself.
  3. Fitbit alarms.
  4. Headphones.
  5. These wallpapers (take them if you’d like, I made them):

How do you manage attention? Comments are yours.

When Things Are Personal

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One of the more frustrating things that I read are people in defense of things like the executive order which is, in effect, a muslim ban. It is my thought that these people are blithely unconcerned because it is an issue they are not touched by.

For me, this isn’t a matter of “trying to protect the nation from bad people” or “making sure the vetting process is working well”. I’ve actually seen what that process looks like thanks to my work experience.

It’s a 3-inch stack of paper. It’s questions that not even native-born Americans know about our country and history and laws. It’s having to submit that same paperwork multiple times.

I took this whole executive order to heart. I have a friend who is Iranian and is serving in the US Navy. He can’t go home. His family can’t go home. We have people in a Dubai office where I work. One of them is a dual citizen of the US. I’m hoping he’s in an unaffected area because, if not, he can’t see his family, either.

I wouldn’t be so bothered by it except that there was not a single check to whether or not there would be any negative repercussions in signing this order. Had that been done, it is possible people wouldn’t be stuck abroad while pursuing their academic goals.

How do you defend that? Especially if you have a single shred of respect for another human?

I don’t know. How do you defend any of this? At what point do we stop bending our brains and finally decide to do what is right by everyone?

A Caring Soul

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This past week I spent a bit of time between my normal work duties chatting with some of the guys around the office about just their day-to-day. What I ended up with was a gentle reminder that any effort I make to make sure the people around me feel cared for is not time wasted.

I wish this were a thing that happened everywhere, but for all the talk in the industry regarding soft skills, there seems to be no consideration at all that whatever you do to your clients should be done to the people you work with internally as well.

Maybe we could benefit from that thought. Maybe we should apply it.

Dance

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No, not that kind of dance, but the kind of thing where the answer is: both and neither.

In a time where people have very strong opinions about everything and have just as strong a tendency to be unwilling to hear both sides of a story, I want to remind you all that sometimes the answer is a dance between things we perceive as opposites.

Truth is always that, but in terms of dealing with most of life, we aren’t answering questions of absolute things, but rather relative things. Try to find a place where you can embrace as much as possible.

For example: happiness.

Do you need to feel happy all the time to be a happy person?

No.

Does dealing with depression mean you aren’t happy at all?

No.

There are no laws for this sort of thing. It is a dance. I am happy sometimes and sad at others. People have been touched by depression and lead happy, fruitful lives. They are doing it right now.

So can you.

Before you batten the hatches and draw the battle lines, take your feelings and your thoughts and step onto the ballroom floor, then allow those things to be free and flowing as they are. You can be constant and at peace while you process them and watch them pass.

Storytelling: Part I

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent a bit of time steeped in storytelling. Specifically, at the prompting of a friend and my own curiosity, I’ve taken up the mantle of Dungeon Master for a game of D&D.

I wanted to share all of that excitement with lessons I learned about this experience so far:

  1. Every story is told on the shoulders of a giant. There’s a lot I could have done wrong, but I didn’t because I had access to the experiences of others. I learned about things that make the story hard to enjoy or engage with. It let me go further. While my story is uniquely my own (and fabulous if I do say so myself),, it has a history and an ancestry, too. So does yours.
  2. Stories are a collective effort. I had my ideas, but then these players – five of them total – took this story and interacted with it and it became big. Breathtaking. I spend a lot of time how on earth I even got into this wonderful thing. Here’s the takeaway: your best ideas will bring other people into the fold. Remember: your vision grows in proportion to the relationships you can gather around it.
  3. Great and good are very different things. I could have made a story that is just enjoyable and full of combat, but that’s not my style. I enjoy depth to a story, so there’s a lot of elements in this campaign that make people question what they experience and who they are as people. That brings the best out of my players from what I’ve seen. There is a distinct difference between moments that you enjoy and moments that you both enjoy and remember. I’m going for the latter and that has made me have to make things not easy in this story. The challenge is worth it and I think that’s what is making this story a great one.
  4. Remember to be normal, too. I asked my players to tell me what their characters like to do in their free time. What they aspire to in life. What would make them happy or sad. That dimension is important because your characters in game aren’t just chess pieces or pawns in battle. They live and breathe. Just like us. That adds an interesting angle that allows you to bleed in reality when you want to while also providing the escapism we all enjoy in games like this.

So then: how are you telling your storiesWhat stories are you telling? Who are people becoming as they listen?