Jan 292010

Is it just me or is it unbelievable that it is already the end of January!   This month at Ruly we focused on goals and goal-setting strategies.  We learned from a variety of voices about how to set and achieve goals, summarized below:

Ruly also provided some helpful tips and advice:

We also discussed the Haiti earthquake and reviewed emergency preparedness and disaster survival strategies.  The situation in Haiti continues to bring both positive and negative updates.  Heartbreaking stories of amputations, food and water shortages and orphaned children abound.  But there are positive stories of survival as well.  I could not believe the CNN video below of a young boy pulled from the rubble after 8 days.

As proof that miracles do happen, The Washington Post reported just yesterday that a teenage girl was pulled from the rubble alive after 15 days without food or water!

The Ruly Challenge

Since we are closing out one month and preparing for another, the one thing we have not yet discussed is The Ruly Challenge.  This month, it seemed most appropriate to set The Ruly Challenge at the end of the month.  Armed with knowledge of goal setting techniques, this month’s challenge should hardly be a surprise.

The Challenge: Identify your goals for 2010.  Write them down and post them somewhere you will see them frequently.

Perhaps you will reaffirm a New Year’s Resolution, or perhaps now that the rosy shine of the new year has dimmed a bit, you might revisit what is achievable given the reality of your everyday life. Your goals might be a small rather than grand–something you have a decent chance of actually achieving come December 31.

For myself, I plan to set goals in the following categories:

  • Fun
  • Health
  • Finance
  • Relationships
  • Organization

I hope that you do set organizational goals for yourself.  Rather than a broad, general goal like “Be more organized,” break it down into something small, specific and objective, like “Clean out the linen closet.” My goal for Ruly in 2010 is to help you implement organization, timesaving and stress reduction strategies in at least 3 areas of your life.  Of course, I hope that you will find much more than 3 but 3 is my target.  If there are specific areas that you are looking for help in, please share in the comments and I will see what I can do.

On Monday, we start a new month with a new theme.  Please check back then to see.  Today is the last day to receive a Ruly thank you note for your comments by e-mailing your address to info@beruly.com.  I will be practicing a resolution this weekend by sending out my thank you notes.  I continue to be impressed by the comments.  I read them all and thank you for adding life to Ruly and teaching me as well.

Have a great weekend!

 Posted by on January 29, 2010 Monthly Recap, Ruly Challenge Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 272010

Some fascinating new research on willpower has been in the news lately.  The research suggests that our brains are a combination of rational and emotional processing centers and that there is a limit to how much each side of the brain can handle at a given time.  When one side of the brain is “full” the other side is going to take over and make the decisions, even when we don’t want it to.

For example, if the rational part of the brain is taken up processing something like a challenging and complex issue at work, there is no rational brain left when it comes to issues like deciding the appropriate foods to eat and the emotional brain will take over and eat whatever sweet and sugary foods it wants to.

Most of us assume that self-control is largely a character issue, and that we would follow through on our New Year’s resolutions if only we had a bit more discipline. But this research suggests that willpower itself is inherently limited, and that our January promises fail in large part because the brain wasn’t built for success.

–Jonah Lehrer, “Blame it On the Brain,” The Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2009

Although not indicated in the research above, I would not be surprised if it is also true that if the brain is overwhelmed on the emotional side (such as handling a difficult relationship or a death), the rational brain might take over certain decisions that would be better off handled by the emotional side.  For example, some people withdraw rather than getting involved with difficult emotional situations.  It might be that their brain is simply saying, “I am so overwhelmed by this emotional situation that my rational brain is telling me to avoid it and give myself a rest from thinking about it.”

Something also not indicated in the research but possibly true as well is that each person has different brain capacities on the rational and emotional spectrum.  My husband, for example, has a nearly endless capacity for rational thinking in almost any situation, whereas I lean more toward the emotional and sometimes have to focus hard to let the rational side of my brain kick in.  We are a good balance for each other as different situations require different brain processing skills.  Often people convey emotional thinking as “weak” and rational thinking as “strong” but I am convinced this is not the case.  There is a place for both types of thinking.  In business, emotional thinking can be very beneficial in any managerial, personnel or customer relations matter and certainly in marketing and sales.  After all, if you can’t motivate people, persuade or resolve conflicts, your success is greatly hindered.

In personal relationships, rational thinking is sometimes necessary to keep our relationships healthy or make difficult choices.  My husband’s rational approach to resolving conflict between us, for example, is one that he insisted on early on in our relationship and it continues to amaze me how powerful that approach is.  I honestly cannot remember the last fight I had with my husband or what it was about.  Whatever the issue was, it has been resolved.

So, fascinating as all of this is, if you are a person who needs more organization in your life, how can you use this brain research to your advantage?

  1. Self-awareness. You probably know at some level whether you are more of a rational or emotional thinker in most decisions.  You also need to try to pay attention and realize which type of thinker you are in specific situations.  Organization often rewards rational thinkers more than emotional ones.  Emotional thinking tells us to hold on to mementos or items that foster a sense of security.
  2. Promote rational thinking. Believe me when I tell you this is very hard for me personally.    I know it is possible to have deep emotional relationships with objects. When trying to improve your organization, however, you have to learn to be more of a rational thinker.  In this area, some of the rational questions you might ask yourself about your belongings or information are: How does this benefit me?  Does it make me money?  Does it save me money?  Does it save me time?  Does it promote my health or safety?  Is it in good repair? Is it commonly available? Does it cost me more in time or money to keep and store it than it would to just buy a new one if I need it?  Would I prefer to have a new one rather than the one I currently have?
  3. Reduce emotional thinking about stuff by limiting it to objects that deserve it. It would be ridiculous to assume that we all can become coldly rational and toss out everything that does not meet some rational criterion of need.  (Although I have met people who come close to this!)  If you are an emotional thinker when it comes to your stuff, use your emotional skills to discern which objects or data have the most positive emotional value.  For example, when you have a huge stack of your child’s artwork, some of the pieces will really connect with you, either because of the subject matter (I have a great drawing of a “fairy” from my 4 year old I think is amazing) or the situation it was created in (the first scribble from my 1 year old or the first time my 4 year old wrote “mom”).  Try to zero in on these high value items and preserve and organize them first.  Don’t let the high positive emotional value objects get lost or buried.  Sometimes we can be motivated if we think of our role as being a good steward of the most positive memories.  The key here, though, is to try to develop your skills at quickly discerning high value from lesser value objects.
  4. Eliminate objects that are an emotional burden. There are items that are highly emotional but promote negative emotions rather than positive ones.  Try to identify these burdens and remove them frequent view either permanently or at least temporarily in storage.
  5. Sort your stuff according to your emotional and rational weaknesses. There are both emotional and rational reasons we end up with a lot of “stuff.”  You can rationally justify hundreds of lightbulbs or rolls of toilet paper, for example.  One of the best tools to stop accumulating things, I have found, is to sort the items that are accumulating into the mental categories that address why we are accumulating the item in the first place.  Often just stacking like items together is enough.  Once your brain processes that you have enough of something, you will stop feeding the need to buy more of it.  For example, I once worked with someone who kept a drawer of magazines with “important” articles and was instructed not to throw any of the magazines away.  Since they were important to the person, I sorted them by magazine title and date and put them in labeled racks on a shelf.  Interestingly, once they were all sorted in this way, the person realized that they were just magazines and decided to toss about 75% of them!  Craft supplies often fall into the weakness category.  If you try to sort the crafts by specific projects rather than just heaps of color-coded materials, you start to realize where you are over-buying or whether there are crafts you really don’t want to do any more because you now have something better.
  6. Distract yourself from the voices that tell you to stop organizing. We have all been there.  You get on a roll with organizing and then it stops.  Why?  “I’m tired.”  “It’s boring.”  “I don’t know where to start.” With regard to the energy and boredom requirements, this is where background noise can really help.  A Ruly Mix is great.  I like to stream Frontline shows to feed my head while I am sorting papers in my office.  Sometimes watching a television show about organization or home improvement can be great background motivation as well.  With regard to the overwhelming feeling, this is where breaking a project into really small parts helps.  If you don’t know how to unbury your desk, go one paper at a time.  Do you know how to file this piece of paper?  If yes, do it!  If no, why not?  Although it is tedious, sometimes addressing one piece of paper creates a system that will save you hours in the future.  Even if you can’t motivate yourself to continue, at least identify why you are not continuing.
  7. Don’t let emotional burdens associated with disorganization drag you down. Organizing is a highly emotional activity.  If you are struggling with disorganization, don’t let your whole life become consumed by it.  Celebrate small successes.  Continue the work.  Remember, we are not aiming for perfection.   You are still a good person if your home or office is messy.  Based on the research above, one of the reasons leading to your messiness may be that you are so involved with thinking about other important things that your knee-jerk emotional reaction to relax is kicking in.  Stress reduction and work reduction may be what you really need!  Give yourself a little credit!

Are you a rational or emotional organizer?  What do you do to distract yourself when your emotional side is pulling you the wrong direction?  Please share in the comments!  Commenters can get a Ruly thank you note if you email me your address to info@beruly.com.

 Posted by on January 27, 2010 Organizing News Tagged with: , , , ,
Jan 252010

If you have found it difficult to set and adhere to goals for yourself in your personal life, you may find it heartening to know that professional forecasters have many of the same problems when setting goals for some of the United States’ largest corporations. We can learn a lot about goal-setting, however, by learning some of the corporate forecasting strategies used by professionals.

As a brief background, companies with stock traded on one of the public stock exchanges typically issue formal statements on a periodic basis about their expected performance over a given period of time. This type of statement is usually called an “earnings forecast.” Preparing an earnings forecast is a difficult exercise often involving the input of numerous people throughout an organization, primarily sales, operations and financial managers. A variety of data is put into a financial model and various calculations and assumptions are made. (At a basic level, it is not unlike the work an individual might do to prepare a household budget.)

The final earnings forecast is essentially a goal for the corporation to achieve for the year. It might be communicated to the public as a target sales number or target earnings per share. Professional stock analysts then use the data in their own complex financial models for further analysis. At the end of the year, if the corporation does achieve the forecasted goal, typically its stock price rises as more investors clamor to purchase shares. If the corporation fails to achieve the forecasted goal, its stock price often sinks as disillusioned investors sell their holdings. Generally, the earnings forecast released to the public is a positive increase somewhat short of the actual goal so that the corporation can “surprise” the public with especially good news.

Due to the economic downturn, many firms have been unpleasantly surprised by the difficult business climate. Forecasting earnings (or losses in some cases) has become even more challenging than normal. As a result, some corporate forecasters have adjusted their goal-setting process with some of the following strategies:

  1. Scenario Planning. Rather than calculating just one set of numbers for the year, a variety of calculations are prepared based on different scenarios. For example, a corporation might be concerned about consumer wealth and might have one forecast assuming the unemployment rate holds steady, one that it improves, and a third if unemployment worsens.
  2. Rolling Forecasts. If conditions are changing rapidly and it is difficult to predict events occurring a long distance in the future, many corporations are electing to forecast for a shorter period of time and update the forecast more frequently. For example, rather than forecasting for an entire year, the corporation might forecast for one quarter (3 months) at a time and update the forecast each quarter.
  3. Crowd Wisdom. Rather than restrict the forecasting process to just management-level executives, some companies are using web-based technologies such as Crowdcast to gather insight from their employees. These technologies poll employees for their opinions on issues such as the likely demand of certain products to customers, the impact of certain competitors and other key issues. The results are summarized anonymously and in some cases have shown to be up to 75% more accurate than traditional corporate forecasts.
  4. Data Weighing. If a company is having trouble determining a course of action due to uncertainty about the likelihood of some events, it might focus in on known events and weight the forecast heavily on the items that it has the most control over. For example, a company might not know how many people will purchase its product but it can control how much it produces and its quality.
  5. No Forecasts. Some corporations have essentially admitted defeat in their ability to predict the future and are not issuing earnings forecasts.

How can you use these strategies when setting your personal or small business goals? The following ideas incorporate lessons learned from professional forecasters.

  1. Have a Plan for the Worst. Understand the major factors that could impact your life during your goal period. While it is not fun to have to think in the negative, all individuals should be ready to face negative circumstances. Some people avoid thinking in the negative because they are afraid to confront loss or admit failure. I find, however, that if you prepare a plan (much like emergency planning), you can move forward with the rest of your life much more easily. I also like to tell myself that if I have a plan for the worst, it is less likely to be needed–kind of like a good luck talisman. Some of the “worst” questions you might ask yourself are:
    *      What if I or my spouse lost my job this year? (or What if my business income declines substantially? or What if I still can’t find another job?)
    *       What if I have to incur a significant expense for _______? (Figure out what is most applicable to you. A health crisis? A major home or car repair? A significant business expense?)
    *       What sources of income do I have in an emergency? If “none,” what would I do if I had to file bankruptcy?
  2. Consider short-term rather than long-term goals and continuous goal-setting. It is widely known that New Year’s resolutions sometimes seem overwhelming. A 90-day resolution may be more do-able. For example, one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to “lose weight.” Perhaps one could break this down into 90-day goals, such as “Exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes.” At the end of 90 days if the goal is not being achieved, perhaps it is the wrong goal and needs to be re-set. It might be more motivating to scale it down to “Exercise at least once a week.” for the next 90-days. If that gets results, then scale up from there. If it is still not being achieved, the next goal might be, “Figure out why I am not exercising.” Continuing to have a goal, even one that is significantly less ambitious than the initial goal, has helped me progress on nagging projects and learn more about my own work-style.
  3. Consider input from others in your goal-setting. Sometimes others with our best interests at heart have valuable help and advice to offer. You have to be careful, though. Goals are often very personal objectives and lay bare a lot of our own insecurities. Getting a lot of affirmations from people you trust about your negative qualities is not always helpful and you have to have a thick skin about this. Where input from others can be helpful, however, is when you are having trouble either identifying the source of a problem or how to solve it. “How do you deal with ____?” is often a helpful question and easier to tolerate than “How do you think I can better deal with ____?” –the answer to which almost no one wants to hear.
  4. Focus your planning on what you can control. Sometimes it is easy to feel that you have control over nothing but there is always something that you have control over. You can choose to have a positive attitude. You can choose to work hard. You can choose to be kind to people and develop loving relationships with your friends and family. While these may seem like small things, they matter quite a bit and often future success comes from having the small things right.
  5. Keep some goals private. Some of your goals may involve subjects that don’t need to be shared with everyone. While there is sometimes a motivating value to having a public goal, knowing that you will be ashamed if you don’t achieve it, some goals are better left unsaid.

I hope these corporate lessons have given you some food for thought this Monday. Please share in the comments any lessons you have learned about personal or business forecasting.  Any commenters this month can receive a Ruly thank you note if you email me your mailing address to info@beruly.com.

I am setting a goal for a thought-provoking week! Type to you on Wednesday.

 Posted by on January 25, 2010 Industry Lessons Tagged with: , ,
Jan 222010

Just in time to jazz up your weekend . . . the Ruly Mix!   Download for free a great track to give you the boost of energy you need to accomplish something difficult or keep you in a positive mood! This month’s featured artist is Jamie Smith from Edinburgh, Scotland.

When I was choosing the song for this month, Jamie’s sample came on and my little ones instantly started dancing all over the place. When the sample was over, I heard the sweetest little chorus, “Play it again! Play it again!” That was the only test I needed to know that Jamie belonged in the Ruly Mix.

The other thing that is simply delightful to me about Jamie’s music is that it is completely unexpected. While you might be thinking we are going to be treated to a bagpipe solo or something akin to Celtic music, you are going to be a bit surprised to hear some totally groovy jazz! Yes, Scottish jazz! Who knew?

Here’s a little more about Jamie and his music:

How long have you been playing/composing music and how did you get into jazz?

I’ve been playing and writing music since I was about 6 or 7. Like last month’s composer Rajiv, I started out on a Casio keyboard and shortly thereafter graduated to a battered old upright piano, much to the annoyance of neighbors. I studied classical music for a good few years before switching to jazz. I’d always been familiar with the Great American Songbook, and that material was my introduction to jazz and improvisation. Various family members play and sing, and there were lead sheets and songbooks around the house that I would play through and improvise on. I eventually got around to really studying how jazz harmony worked and how to go about improvising properly (I’m still working on it!). There’s actually quite a vibrant jazz scene here in Scotland, with annual festivals in all the major cities. Jam sessions are well attended and one of the music colleges has recently began running the country’s first full-time jazz degree.

What instruments do you play?

I play jazz and funk keyboards, ranging from acoustic and electric piano to Clavinet and organ. I did used to play flugelhorn, which is a brass instrument, but sadly don’t have the time to dedicate to that anymore.

What inspires you when you are writing music?

On one level it’s the creative challenge that inspires me. I always like to try out new things, whether it’s expanding my harmonic knowledge or writing in a new style. Inspiration also comes from the hope that people might enjoy listening to what you’ve created. If someone, after a hard day, listens to a bit of your music to relax and feel better, then you’ve done your job.

What were you thinking about when you composed this mix for beruly.com?

I really just tried to write something that Ruly readers would find catchy, lively and entertaining. I hope they enjoy it (my fingers are crossed)! It also amused me to think what my fellow jazzers would make of the bass and drum solos.

What goals have you set for yourself for 2010?

My main goal for 2010 is to work hard and continue making music – all the while trying to be more sociable and get out from in front of the piano now and again. The year’s got off to a great start with the chance to create something for Ruly. It’s been fun – thanks for the opportunity!

Intrigued?  Can’t wait to hear the song?  Wait no longer!  Click the picture below to play or right-click to download. (If the picture is not working for you, you can also download by clicking here.)

If you like what you hear, please feel free to share the song with others. To respect the rights of the musician, please comply with the simple Ruly License terms below.

Ruly License: You may download and play any Ruly Mix song for your own personal use so long as you keep the voiceover tags intact indicating the name of the artist and that the song came from beruly.com. Businesses may also download this song to play as background music in their establishments so long as the voiceover tags remain intact. Any other uses of the song (such as in videos, etc.) must be pre-approved by the musician. Questions about license permissions can be addressed to info@beruly.com.

If you love Jamie’s music, please post a comment and share this link with others!  Please know that all the Ruly Mix musicians love to get feedback on the songs.  Even a quick comment like “Cool!” or “Love it!” is tremendously appreciated.  Plus, this month anyone posting a comment can get a Ruly thank you note if you email your address to me at info@beruly.com.

Wishing you a hip weekend!

Previous Ruly Mix artists:  Rajiv Agarwal

 Posted by on January 22, 2010 Ruly Mix Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 202010

Ruly Ruth at one of her many parties

While having goals for your social interactions is a bit of an odd concept, some recent experiences have reminded me that we can all use a refresher in the basic rules of human behavior.  For 2010, I have come up with a list of anti-goals– the don’ts we should all avoid to build more bridges than we burn and to energize our social groups with more positivity than negativity.

  1. Don’t create cliques. When involved or living in a tightly-knit community or social group, invite everyone! Small social gatherings are a really fun time, but when everyone except 2 or 3 are invited, it becomes more of a clique than a social group. Not cool and hurt feelings abound. In my experience, it all works out—err on the side of more invitees.  If there are people you don’t like, they will be dwarfed by those you do and their presence will not “ruin” your event.  If you’re worried about food/drink expense, make it a potluck or BYOB with specific suggestions! I’ve recently attended a cocktail party where we each brought an hors d’oeuvre and a martini in a flavor we each chose. (Mine was pomegranate, by the way—highly recommend that one!).
  2. Don’t have “third party” social networking conversations. Do not hold a conversation on a third person’s social networking sight when it’s only with one other person who you may not have “friended.” Bring that to your own site. I’ve now seen this happen three times—two on other peoples’ sites and once on my own! Get off my wall if you’re not holding a general conversation! Especially when it’s a confrontation. OY!
  3. Don’t forget to RSVP. It’s on there for a reason. Even if there isn’t an RSVP, a courtesy email either yes or no is very helpful. Evite does help with managing this matter with it’s requisite emails reminding you to RSVP. I’ve often been a “maybe” pending a travel trip or a visitor heading my way—but most of the time those maybes turn to nos. So in the future I’d recommend erring on the side of No if you’re in the Maybe/not sure category.
  4. Don’t be shy. Try to accept as many invitations as you can! Even if the invitee is not necessarily a close friend. People like to meet new friends and interact with new people too. Some will be flops—that’s the world of parties/events etc., but some will be what I call Silent Sparklers—maybe the last place you thought you’d meet your next job connection or someone special. And always thank the host/hostess on your way out!
  5. Don’t take the hosts for granted. If you know of a big event being planned, offer to help participate in the planning or event itself. Chances are your help may not be required, but even the smallest tasks can often be handed off with a huge sigh of relief from the host/hostesses/coordinator. (Note: If you are the host and people do offer to help, have a list of small tasks ready to hand off, ex. bring ice, help invite people, etc.)
  6. Don’t complain about an event if you did not help plan it. Only offer suggestions if you are willing to help with the next event! I can’t make this clear enough! 20/20 Hindsight is a goldmine for all of us…..we don’t need the peanut gallery chiming in with complaints when they are not willing to pick up the ball themselves.
  7. Don’t send your invitations out at the last-minute. Get information out early enough!! That last minute “Oh, could you plan/invite/make…” for something tomorrow???!! Seriously—you need to cue people with as much advanced notice as possible. A week is desirable—a month is delightful!  A last-minute invitation also makes people wonder if they were on the “B” list and are only being invited because someone from the “A” list is not coming.
  8. Don’t email important invitations and don’t distribute them at work. Events that occur once a year or once in a lifetime demand an old-fashioned mailed invitation! Email is just not the same and ruins the tone of the party.  For work-related or work social group invitations where your spouse or family is invited, mail the invitation to the home address!! Work places can get busy, frantic, chaotic. The last thing someone needs to worry about at work is inviting their spouse to a social event.
  9. Don’t forget to help with cleanup. When at someone’s home, help clean up. Even if it means taking 1 or 2 dirty plates into the kitchen. As a guest, any help you can provide is a sign of gratitude for the meal/tea/coffee you’ve been served. And make sure kids’ toys are replaced in their proper spots before leaving. Small gestures speak very loudly to the host/hostess. They are greatly appreciated.
  10. Don’t forget the significance of a mailed thank you note. While any expression of thanks is welcome and appreciated, try to mail a hard copy thank you note for any significant event you attend.  Including pictures from the event is extra thoughtful.  A quick email or Facebook message is convenient but does not leave the same impression.  It is definitely better to email or Facebook than nothing, however.  (I need to take my own medicine here and remind everyone of the Ruly post on thank you notes!)

I hope that you don’t recognize yourself in any of the above don’ts but realistically we are all guilty of at least some of these things some of the time.  Resolve to do better in 2010!

Is there a social faux pas you want to see remedied in 2010?  Please share in the comments.

(P.S. from Anne: A reminder that all commenters can receive a Ruly thank you note if you email your address to info@beruly.com.)

 Posted by on January 20, 2010 Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , , ,