skills

Hack your environment to stimulate creativity and focus

Hack your environment to stimulate creativity and focus

This year, I have been working towards making my workspace a place that promotes creativity and productivity. Little did I know, my environment was having a huge effect on my output. This week, I am going to share some strategies I have implemented in my life that has boosted my focus and creativity, increasing both the quality and quantity of my work. Feel free to adapt these strategies to fit your working preferences, habits, and routines.

Did You Just Drop the F-Bomb?!?!

Did You Just Drop the F-Bomb?!?!

No, not THAT f-bomb, the other one. Fear. Twice in two days I have heard or read something that refers to fear and the description has varied from fear being an effective tool for achieving an outcome, to fear being an oppressive feeling that fuels self-doubt. Indeed, fear is a key driver in many of our actions. I have a fear of heights (or at least of falling from heights), have been fearful of losing my job, and have been afraid to ask someone out on a date. I have used fear (not proud, more an admission) to try and get my way or drive things the way I wanted them to go. The list is pretty endless on both sides and some fears will always be there. However, the fears around my abilities, my value, my competence, and especially about a job are gone. That loss of fear is enabling me to achieve what I didn’t think was possible. Here’s what has changed for me.  

5 Ways to Avoid Miss Communication

5 Ways to Avoid Miss Communication

A couple days ago, I received a book in the mail from Amazon, but it wasn’t the book I ordered. This mistake could be the product of many factors, but this event got me thinking about communication. Specifically, how valuable is communication? According to an article by Mark W. Sheffert of Manchester Companies, “it is estimated that miscommunication can cost an organization between 25 percent and 40 percent of its annual budget.” That’s how big communication is to you and your company. 

Hi What's-Your-Name...

Hi What's-Your-Name...

Nearly 150 years after the death of Napoleon the Third, remembering names remains an important skill to grow and maintain. This leaves us with a few questions: First, why is it so important to remember names? Second, why do I (or people I work with) have such a hard time committing names to memory if it is a basic skill everyone should have? And finally, what are some exercises or tools I can use to grow my skill of name learning? 

How to Write a Weekly Blog During Your Coffee Break

How to Write a Weekly Blog During Your Coffee Break

Writing a weekly blog is a worthwhile process--one that is both challenging and rewarding. Despite our best efforts, Andy Ruth and I don't always get around to it every week. The hardest part is finding time. Through the successes and failures, I have come to realize the key is discovering the gaps of downtime between daily tasks and then learning how to utilize those breaks. For example, look for time between meetings and during breaks for coffee or lunch. You can also mentally prepare in the car (or public transit) and when you are getting ready in the morning (in the shower). About 10-15 minutes a day is all you really need, but remember: don’t limit yourself to 15 minutes if you are on a roll.

The IASA Architecture Competition – Entry #4

The IASA Architecture Competition – Entry #4

As you may (or may not) have read, I am (still) involved in the local (Seattle) chapter of Iasa first ever IT architecture competition. Team Skyscraper has delivered their second set of deliverables and are now in the home stretch. With the business requirements and conceptual architecture being the first set of deliverables, this past weekend they had to submit software, infrastructure and security architectures, and the technology stack they chose. 

What Will You Do With Your Extra Day?

What Will You Do With Your Extra Day?

Time is funny. We all have 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. Yet most of us complain about how little time we have and how there are too few hours in a day. This year is a Leap Year so we all have an extra day. This is also the start of a new year and many make resolutions, so this year I will make a resolution about time, and my extra day. I resolve to remember I have an extra day and use it to reflect on (and correct) the trajectory of my year. In fact, I will officially declare it as Extra Day - a day to limit work, take a breath and reflect on the direction the year is taking. I’ll do it on February 29th since that is where the calendar places our extra day. But, to do that, I’ll need a plan.

11 Lessons I Learned During my First Year of Blogging

11 Lessons I Learned During my First Year of Blogging

One of my favorite things I get to do at SEI is write weekly blog posts to engage with the public and our community. This was my first year writing in this format and I have learned a lot along the way. One year and 37 posts later (plus 32 posts by SEI mentor, Andy Ruth), 2015 has taught me 11 mandatory lessons every blogger should consider:

Finding a Role Model

Finding a Role Model

I’ve suggested before that you need to identify a role model to help you further your skills and career. You identify an area inside of yourself you want to change and find someone that you think represents the embodiment of that change. You consider why you think they are ideal, what they do differently, and how they do it. Then, you start practicing doing things the way they do. As you practice, you learn and grow your abilities in that area and before you know it, you have adapted their approach and tweaked it to make it your own. Find another area to grow and repeat. There are quite a few good things about this approach, however, there is a risk. You may get into the routine of only doing what others do and let your ability to experiment, innovate, and have original thoughts atrophy. Here’s how I have tried to balance the two approaches.

The Iasa Architecture Competition – Entry #2

The Iasa Architecture Competition – Entry #2

As you may (or may not) have read, I am involved in the local (Seattle) chapter of Iasa first ever IT architecture competition. In my last entry, I was guessing about how prepared the team would be and how the meeting would progress. I met the team last Friday and better understand the landscape now. There is so much I can show them that will accelerate their growth and career, and because there is so much, I may overload them.

Part V: The SEI Dock Model Pillar IV: Reflection

Part V:  The SEI Dock Model  Pillar IV: Reflection

Twice a year, Bill Gates disconnects from reality in order to reconnect with (and redefine) his goals. During each one-week break, Gates travels into the woods of the Pacific Northwest where he dives into papers written by the Microsoft community. He scribbles notes, maps out ideas, and writes summaries for executives. There are no interruptions (besides a caretaker who provides two meals per day and a steady stream of Diet Orange Crush), no employees, friends, or family to accompany Bill; even his wife stays at home. This is a time of deep thought, reflection, and goal creation, and has been responsible for many Microsoft innovations.

The Iasa Architecture Competition

The Iasa Architecture Competition

Our organization supports and works closely with the local (Seattle) chapter of Iasa, and when we get the chance, with the chapter in Ireland. This week the Seattle local chapter is kicking off an architectural competition and I am honored to be a mentor for one of the teams. The competition will end in January with scheduled milestones in November and December. The website for the competition is http://www.iitarch.org. I plan to blog about the competition throughout, so stay tuned if you are interested.  

Part II SEI Dock Model, Pillar 1: Health

Part II SEI Dock Model, Pillar 1: Health

One of my writing friends gives all her workshop students toothbrushes. She tells her students, “This is one of the most important writing tools I can give you. Use this twice a day: once in the morning and once at night.” The toothbrush does two things for these creative misfits who spend too much time in their heads thinking about stories: 

The SEI Dock Model: Introduction

The SEI Dock Model: Introduction

I think we’ve cured boredom.

You wake up with an app that tracks your sleep. You respond to all the text messages you received during the night. You get an email notification while texting. You pour some of your green-machine juice and do a web search for “reconstituted concentrate” to see if your juice is really 100% juice. You track your breakfast in a nutrition app. You get a Twitter notification (swipe it aside, you’ll look at it later). You read the news using an app that selects stories based on your interests. A Facebook notification interrupts you. Before you leave for work you check your step count so far this morning, and look to see how you compare to your friends. You check the weather app and decide to bring an umbrella. You listen to that new song on your streaming music app and tweet about it. You Instagram the sunrise on your way to work. You get another notification but ignore it. Your boss sends you a text asking you to pick something up from the printer/copy center. In line, you buy tickets to a concert this weekend. On your way to the office, a local coffee shop sends you a message using a location-based restaurant app promoting their seasonal drink that happens to be on special. You buy a coffee and pay for it by scanning your phone. In the elevator you Yelp a review. Good morning.

Emotional Intelligence Driven Management

Emotional Intelligence Driven Management

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Smile, your mood is contagious." Your mood and behavior can affect everyone on your team, this is especially true for managers. As you may have experienced, a short-tempered manager can create a productive or toxic environment. In the latter, employees will not be used to their full potential; they will go home at the end of the day exhausted and not feel like they have accomplished anything worthwhile.  

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Being busy is not a synonym for productivity.

The thought in the old paradigm was: A busy person will find a way for it to get done. Nowadays, the saying is: A busy person will find a way for it to get done… until they burn out.

The question people should be asking is “How should I manage my energy?” not “How should I manage my time?” 

Changing How You Change

Changing How You Change

People face change in every stage of their lives. We choose what schools to attend, when to start or switch careers, where to live, whom to marry, when (or if) to have children. We regularly see change at work with new procedures in response to technology innovation, globalization, and projects.  Sometimes change comes in the form of behavior modifications we adjust ourselves, and other times it is trying to sway others to adopt new practices or alter bad habits. And although we are faced with change almost daily, most of us don’t know how it works, how to follow through with it, or if it’s worth the time and effort.