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I have a confession to make.  I get anxiety…when ordering coffee.  I know how to make it, but I don’t really know the ins and outs of how to order it.  One time I was at Dunkin’ Donuts and I asked for a medium coffee.  They asked if I wanted cream and sugar, and I replied, “Sure.”  When I received my coffee, I took a sip, and was taken aback by how sweet it tasted.  I opened the lid, and was also surprised by how light it looked.  I turn the cup over, and see they wrote a “3” in the cream section, and another “3” in the sugar section.  Now I know everyone likes their coffee differently – but to me – 3 creams and 3 sugars in a medium coffee seems like a lot.  When I make it at home, I usually put either a 1/2 a packet to a full packet of Splenda, and then add 2 tablespoons of cream.

One time I went to Willoughby’s with a friend.  She ordered an “iced, nonfat, mocha latte”…Is that just a fancy way of asking for a chocolate milk?  What’s the difference between an latte and a frappe?

One other time I was at Starbucks.  The guy in front of me asked for a “Red Eye”.  What was that?  I stood behind him, frantically trying to find it on the menu.  It wasn’t there!  I looked it up when I got home.  I found out that Starbucks, as well as many other restaurants, has a hidden menu!  A “Red Eye” is a shot of espresso in your coffee.  How are we supposed to learn about this stuff?

I didn’t drink coffee for the first 25 years of my life.  Back then, I never really cared for it.  But one Christmas I received a Keurig as a present.  I’m sure you are all familiar with them.  You put in the little K-Cups and less than a minute later out pops a cup of coffee.

KeurigK75

I then embarked on my first mission:  ‘To find the perfect K-Cup.’  I tried different kinds of roasts.  I started out with the lighter ones, and eventually made my way over to the darker/bolder roasts.  I never really acquired a liking for the Italian or French roasts.  From a flavor standpoint I liked the Island Coconut and Rain Forest Nut.  For brands, Green Mountain Coffee makes good coffee.  Much like the coffee we have a work, I didn’t care much for the Starbucks blends.  They were a little too bitter and burnt tasting for me.  However, the K-Cup that I thought was consistently the best, was ‘Seattle’s Best House Blend.’  It has a nice full consistency, isn’t bitter, and tastes good.  At this point, I’d say I’d found the perfect K-Cup.

Seattle's Best House Blend.jpg

When I had first started drinking coffee, I noticed that my hands would shake a little.  Sometimes my eyelids would twitch.  After a quick search, I realized I didn’t have cancer, it was just my body adjusting to caffeine.  They eventually went away.

As I’ve mentioned before I listen to a lot of productivity podcasts.  I also stumbled upon this next topic in the Tim Ferriss book “The 4-Hour Chef.”  In both of those, I was noticing a trend in suggesting whole-bean coffee.  The “coffee snobs”, which I’ll refer to them from this point forward, mention that if you want to taste coffee how it’s meant to be tasted, you really need to make it fresh using whole beans.  K-Cup coffee is great and all, but they kept touting how much better whole-bean coffee would taste.  I embarked on my next adventure.

How was I going to brew these whole beans?  I’m the only coffee drinker in my house, so I didn’t want to buy one of those coffee makers that makes 12 cups of coffee.  I typically only have one cup a day.  That’s when I decided to go with the Aeropress.

Aeropress

The Aeropress is a pseudo french press that makes one cup of coffee.  You essentially take ground coffee, pour it in the Aeropress, dump some water in, and press it down into your mug.

But I still needed a way to grind the beans.  At first I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll just use what I already have.  I can use a Magic Bullet and grind the beans that way, then throw them into the Aeropress.  But the coffee snobs didn’t like that.  They said metal blades and coffee beans are a big no no.  Metal blades don’t grind beans consistently, and similar to a garlic press – people were recommending crushing the beans to get the full flavor out.  You had to grind them using a burr.  That’s when i stumbled on the Javapresse.
Javapresse

The Javapresse is a manual coffee grinder.  You can find it for about $24 on Amazon.  Fancier versions cost more, but this one gets the job done.  It’s portable.  If there’s a fancy coffee you like, and you don’t want to drink what the hotel is offering, you can make your own coffee using the Javapresse.  Since it’s not electrical, you can use it when camping.  It’s also adjustable.  Inside is a crank with 18 different settings to grind your beans from coarse to fine.  For the Aeroress, I usually keep it somewhere in the middle.  So while it is cheap, portable, and adjustable, I was also finding that it was time consuming.  I was adding 5-7 minutes to my morning routine grinding coffee.  That’s a lot when you’re also trying to get two kids ready for school.  There had to be a quicker way!

After some heavy analysis paralysis research, I finally settled on the Capresso electric burr grinder.

Capresso

In my research, I knew it wasn’t going to be ‘the best’.  But it was ‘the best value.’  It’s quieter than most.  It’s easy to use.  It’s adjustable.  And it grinds beans consistently.  On the downside, it can be a little messy.  When I take it apart to clean it when I’m switching coffee beans, there is a decent amount of ground coffee inside the machine that I need to use canned air to blow out.

Back to the present day.  I’m currently on a mission to find ‘the perfect whole bean coffee’ to grind in my Capresso, and brew in my Aeropress.  I’ve found a lot of Aeropress recipes online.  I really enjoy using the ‘inverted method’ where you turn the Aeropress upside-down and brew the coffee for a few minutes in the Aeropress before flipping it back over and pressing the coffee into your cup.  There are many different factors that come into play when using the Aeropress.  One of which, is how many beans you use.  Which of course, you’ll need to weigh in grams on a food scale.

Food Scale

You can adjust how fine you grind your beans, again using the burr grinder.  You can adjust how long you let it brew in the Aeropress before pushing it into your cup.  And last but not least, you can adjust the water temperature.  Which leads me to a possible future purchase.  You see, the coffee snobs say to make a really good cup of coffee, you have to get the water to about 205 degrees.  I currently use the Keurig to heat my water, and the max temperature on that is 192 degrees.  So my next purchase will likely be for some sort of electric kettle where I can set the water temperature.

In conclusion, I have one last confession to make.  If I’m being honest, at this point in my endeavor, it all tastes about the same.  Here’s hoping the perfect whole bean is still out there somewhere.

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It has been a while since I’ve posted anything.  Family, work, and school have managed to take up most of my time.  At the time that I’m putting this together, one MBA course wrapped up, and the next one doesn’t start for a few more days. I thought it would be a good idea to transcribe my Toastmasters speech(es) as close as presented – but modified to fit this format.  I gave my first one back in August.  It went something like this…

Why I’m Here

The title of my speech is “Why I’m Here” and in the next few minutes I hope to clarify that point and explain exactly that – why I’m physically here, standing in front of you all, giving my ice breaker speech.  In order to do that, we need to travel back in time about 3.5 years.

So let’s hop into the DeLorean, and adjust our time circuits.  We need to travel back to March 24, 2014.

My First Year

TimeCircuit1

The Good

There were some good things that occurred during my first year.  I got to take part in some really important projects.  There are two that I’ll mention specifically.

The first was the EDC Evaluation project.  This allowed me to meet with a lot of stakeholders from various divisions across the organization and learn more about the industry.  We worked together to detail the difficulties they were experiencing in the current landscape with multiple EDC systems spread across multiple sites, hosted externally.  We defined what an ideal landscape would look like with one system – which would have the effect of giving better control of our data, in addition to significant cost and time savings.  We worked together to develop an RFI and sent it to multiple vendors.  We reviewed and scored the vendor responses, and shortlisted a subset of the vendors for onsite presentations.  The results of this evaluation effort can now be seen in some of the active projects going on today.

A second project I felt positively impacted my learning during my first year was the Data Quality Excellence project.  I worked with an experienced employee on a project that dealt with doing an in-depth end-to-end mapping of existing processes, identifying gaps and potential issues, and recommending possible solutions.  We held various meetings with many stakeholders across the organization and across the globe to complete this project.  This project had a double-benefit.  It provided me with a better understanding of how things are done at our company, as well as in our industry.  Also, by assisting this experienced employee, I learned extremely valuable lessons on how to effectively execute large projects with many stakeholders.

The Not So Good

During my first year, there were also a couple of things I struggled with, or in retrospect, could have done better.

NotSoGood

I had a boss that tended to let me be since I was involved on various projects.  Now when you know what you’re doing, that could be a good thing – they leave you alone.  When you’re new and don’t really know what you’re doing, it can be not so good – well, because – they leave you alone.  I felt like I was held back in growth opportunities and wasn’t sure where to go for guidance.  Because of that, I felt I was coasting along – and not really growing.

The Really Not So Good

But then there were some really not so good things that happened during my first year.  The company went through a reorg.  And while everyone in my former department was impacted in one way or another, I was one of the worst ones impacted where there wasn’t a role for me in the new organization.  I was notified that I was going to be put on a wave, which essentially means I will be let go at a future date – to be determined.

The Short-Term Plan: Stay at the Company

ShortTermGoal

I created a short-term goal for myself.  And that was – To stay at the company.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Why would you want to do that?  It doesn’t seem like they care much about you.”  I had a couple of reasons I wanted to stay.

First, I really like the culture at the company.  Everyone seems to get along well with one another.  There isn’t any passing the buck or blaming others like you see in other companies.  For the most part, everyone is genuinely interested in helping one another get things done.

Second, from a personal standpoint, I had concerns with the impact this could have on my resume.  I felt someone reading it might get a negative impression upon seeing that I was at a company for such a short period of time.

I reached out to others within the company for advice.  Some mentioned they’ve been impacted by reorgs in the past.  Interestingly, a few mentioned they had been impacted several times.  They all had the same advice.  It was along the lines of ‘if you want to stay with the company and you act strategically, you’ll find a way to stay.’

I got aggressive in my search.  I wasn’t looking externally yet, as I really hoped to find something internally.  But one of the consulting companies we contract with caught wind of what was going on and reached out to me.  I let them know of my desires to stay with the company, but let them know I would be interested if something internally didn’t work out.  It felt good that they saw me as valuable during this troubling time.

With my internal search, I had a few phone interviews, and one in-person interview.  Unfortunately, I eventually received notification of my wave date.  It was very short-notice, and my date was at the end of the week.  Following the wave date, I entered a ‘warming period’ which can be summed up by saying ‘you get paid as if you are working, but you get to stay home.’  Sounds glorious, right?  In reality, it’s not much fun.  You have a lot of free time, but don’t want to do anything that costs money, because well, your job prospects are unknown.  So you end up doing odd tasks around the house.  The rose bushes looked great that year.

Fortunately, during that warming period I received a phone call.  I got an offer.  Now let’s get back in the time machine and travel again – this time to two years ago.

TimeCircuit2.JPG

My Second Year

I had a job…I was safe…for now.  But what did I learn from my experience?  I needed to find ways to increase my value to the company.  I wanted to be seen as someone they wanted to keep around the next time they have a reorg.

ActionPlan

I wanted to enhance my existing strengths.  There were things I was good at that I wanted to improve.  I also wanted to build new strengths.  There were things I wasn’t good at at all – that I knew I needed to learn.  How could I accomplish these goals?  I decided to do four separate things.  First, I joined the mentoring program at work. This has been a great opportunity and I think everyone here should look into it.  It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of someone outside of your department.  Second, I signed up for, studied, and got PMP certified.  My summer vacation last year wasn’t fun as it was spent studying.  Speaking of studying, third, I started my MBA.  I’m in my third and final semester – and I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And finally, I signed up for Toastmasters.  Speaking of that, we need to get into the time machine one last time, and travel back to the present.

TimeCircuit3

This all leads me to why I am standing in front of you today.  I was originally going to say I’m here out of fear.  Fear of, ‘What if this all happens again?’  But I thought that sounded too dark.  So while there may still be some truth to that, I wanted to spin it in a positive light.

LevelUp

I’m here to level up.  I’m not really afraid of public speaking per-se, but I know I have a lot to improve upon.  I need to get better at controlling my speed, and making sure I speak slowly.  I know I could get better at eye contact, mumbling, fidgeting, and ending lists with ‘and things like that…’.  I want to get better at storytelling, and sounding confidant.  But what else am I missing?  What don’t I know, that I need to work on?

So while this is the end of my icebreaker speech, this is not the end of my Toastmaster’s Journey.  Thank you.

ToBeContinued

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Many of you have probably made a resolution of getting into better shape.  (Personally I’m against such things…I think if you want to make a change there’s no time like the present,  but that’s a topic for another time.)  Below are excerpts from my running/workout playlist.  I don’t really have ‘an order’ on this playlist  – I usually shuffle the songs, so I grouped them into categories below.

Girl Power

Ladies first…I’m not ashamed to admit it, I have some kick-ass songs from female artists that are spread throughout my playlist.  Here are some good ones:

Keeps Getting Better – Christina Aguilera
Miss Independent – Kelly Clarkson – 
This one is good for interval training.  Every time she hits her chorus – run hard.
Hit Me Up – Gia Farrell – You’re may be wondering who Gia is.  Apparently she didn’t get very far, but this is still a good song.  It was in Happy Feet.  This song has a good tempo throughout and is probably best mid-workout.
Rumour Has it – Adele

90’s/2000’s Rock & Alternative

This section will probably grow over time.  I always mean to add more songs to it.  I don’t know if it’s because I was a child of this era or not, but this category and the next make up a large chunk of my list.

My Generation – Limp Bizkit
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine – 
The entire song is hard and good,but the last minute really pumps me up.
The Boys of Summer – The Ataris – Another good one for mid-workout.  No real high’s or low’s but a good one for keeping a good pace.
Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle) – Limp Bizkit
Calling All Angels – Train – 
Save this for longer runs.  It’s got a slower pace but feels upbeat.
Bawitdaba – Kid Rock
Chop Suey – System of a Down

90’s/2000’s Techno

Again, not sure if it’s because I grew up in this era, but I feel this was the best time for electronic music.  Maybe it’s because I’m older, but a lot of the newer stuff all sounds the same to me.  The songs of this era were all unique and you could identify one song from another.

Tao of the Machine – BT – From the Blade 3 soundtrack.  Really good for the beginning of a workout.  Good for getting things going.
Song for Mutya – Groove Armada – Better for longer runs mid-workout.  The chorus can be good for interval training and the lyrics are upbeat/uplifting.
Hymn (This Is My Dream) – Moby – Another good one for longer runs.  It never really picks up but has a positive sound throughout the song.
Paranoid (The Crystal Method Remix) – Garbage – Hard throughout.  Good for when you need a pickup.
Apache (From On the Floor at the Boutique) – Fatboy Slim – Good for interval training. Run fast every time the ‘jump on it’ part plays.
(Can’t You)Trip Like I Do – Danny Saber Mix – There’s nothing like the original – but this remix is good for getting pumped up.
Hand Clap – Girl Talk – I stumbled across this somewhere and it’s an absolute gem.  This song is basically a mash up of a couple other songs which eventually blends into Hollaback Girl.  It’s very short but very good.
Firestarter – Prodigy – As heavy as this song is, it can be good for both interval training and getting pumped up.  Towards the middle and end the drums kick in and out.  It’s good for picking you back up.
One Man Army/No Man Army – Prodigy & Tom Morello – Great mix of hard rock and electronic.  Both versions are good.
Cowgirl – Underworld – When I first heard this while watching Hackers, I was hooked.  In the top 3 of my favorite songs of this genre.

Everything Else

These next few songs didn’t really fit into the categories above, so I gave them their own.

Light Suits – Blue Man Group – Along with “Tao of the Machine” this is a good one to listen to at the beginning of a workout/run.  It has a good buildup.
It’s Tricky – Run DMC
Turn Down for What – DJ Snake & Lil Jon
I Want it All/We Will Rock You (Suckerpunch Soundtrack) – Queen/Geddy – Aside from being visually appealing, this was one of the few good things that came out of the movie.
Wish Liszt – Trans Siberian Orchestra –Sure it’s a holiday song, but you can run to it all year round.  The last minute is great for the end of a run for pushing through when you feel like you have nothing left.
Les Fleur – 4 Hero – This is a really weird one.  However, for some reason I like it.  The original is from the 70’s and originally sung by Minnie Riperton.  This song has a lot of slow points, but whenever the chorus hits I run as fast I can.

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If you read any recent business books, blogs, or articles, often they talk about the great service a company like Zappos provides.  Zappos is frequently mentioned for empowering their employees to make decisions which leads to the company being recognized for exceptional customer service.  Unfortunately for me, I had to climb some hurdles with my bank over $2.50.

A few months back I noticed a charge on my checking account.  I went to a branch and inquired with one of the tellers.  They said they notified all the members with my account type that the new minimum balance was changed from $5,000 to $7,500.  I mentioned that I received no such memo, and asked if they could give me a credit for that month.  I received my credit and  all was well.

Fast-forward to a few months later and add a child to the mix along with diapers, daycare, and Desitin,  and I was struggling each month to maintain the minimum balance.  I found myself having to wait an extra week for another paycheck to come in before I could pay the bills.  (Part of this is my fault, I like to pay them off as soon as I get a statement.)  I went back to the branch, and asked to change my account type to the next one down, that has many of the same perks, but only requires a $1,000 minimum balance.  I noticed in the brochure that one of the differences between the accounts was that this new one had an ATM card where the one I was switching from offered debit cards that contained a credit card logo.  I mentioned it to the teller and she said I could keep the debit card but they would charge me a fee.  I offered to surrender my debit card for an ATM card.  All seemed well.

Fast-forward to a few weeks later and I’m checking my account online.  I see two new service charges.  The descriptions are vague, but I can make one out to be  for the debit card that I no longer owned.  I had a check to deposit, so I figured I would go to the bank and speak to the teller about it.  As I’m filling out the deposit slip, I see an employee lurking in the queue.  In the past they’ve had a sales air about them letting you know of some promotion they are running where if you refer a friend you each get $50 or something similar.  Today however, I got the sense he was figuring out what types of transactions people were doing for the new employee behind the counter.  I mentioned to the lurker I was just making a deposit and he mentioned, “Oh John should be able to help you with that, right this way.”

So I proceed to the counter.  To my amusement, the new guy reminded me of the squeaky-voiced teen from the Simpsons (Jeremy Freedman is the name of the character on the show.)  So part of me goes, “Oh here we go, the new guy is going to have no clue how to answer my questions.”  But then another part of me went, “You know what, they have to learn somewhere.  Let me ask him anyway and see where this goes.”  So after he does the obligatory, “How’s the weather out there?  Did the sun come out yet?” and deposited my check, I get the “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  I replied, “Why yes there is…I have these two charges on my account…”  He’s able to look up the descriptions that were cryptic online in a little more detail.  He replies, “Well the $1.00 charge was because you have a debit card..” and I quickly interrupted him to let him know I surrendered my debit card to the teller (ironically that same teller was helping out another customer to my right) the same day I switched my account.  He replied, “Hmm I see.  Well I will need to check with my manager.  She’s on vacation for another two days.  I can write down your account information and have her look at it when she gets back.”  I can see him writing my account information on a blank deposit slip.  I asked him if I could give him my cell phone number so the manager could call me with confirmation she got the message and give me an update, to which he replied sure.

I didn’t get a good sense that the manager was going to call, or that a credit was going to take place, so I decided to call the 800 number.  I spoke with customer service representative who reiterated everything Squeaks told me about the debit card vs. the ATM card.  However, she had a little more power, and was able to credit me the $1.00 service charge.  When I inquired about the $1.50 charge, she mentioned it was for an overdraft protection line of credit that I had, which was previously free with my other account type.  I told her I was not aware that this would result in fees with the new account type, and asked if she could close my line of credit account.  She said she would need to transfer me to the Loans department and they would be able to help.  Now I’m on the phone with someone from the Loans department, and he tells me in order to close my line of credit account I need to go back to the branch in order to sign a form.  I say it’s unfortunate since I had just returned from the branch.  He apologized but said that is what is needed to close the account.

Fast-forward to two days later, and I received no phone call from the squeaky-voiced guy’s manager.  I wasn’t surprised.  I decided to go to a different branch to see if I would have better luck.  This time, there was a senior-looking employee that looked like she would be able to help.  I started telling my story.  First she replies, “Well you know, you get so many perks with the other account type, and the interest bearing account type you’re in now pays so little interest, maybe you want to go back…”  I replied, “No no, it’s not that I didn’t like that account, I struggled to maintain the new minimum balance you guys changed to a few months back.”  She quickly backed down.  I thought to myself, “So far, so good.  Let’s keep this going.”  But then as luck would have it she goes, “Well I do see you were charged but then later refunded a $1.00.”  I said, “Yes but that’s not why I’m here.  I’m also charged $1.50 for a line of credit that I would like to close out.  I was told I had to come to a branch and sign a form.”  She replies, “Oh no you didn’t have to come here to do that.  You could have done it over the phone.  But anyway, I can put in a request to close it for you.  Please keep in mind I can’t close it myself, I’m only putting in a request to have it closed.  You should check back your account in a week to see if it’s actually closed.”  Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!

As she is closing the account, I start my fight for my $1.50.  “Since I was unaware that the account change would incur this $1.50 service charge, is there any way you can provide a credit for it?”  To my amazement, I see her whip out a blank deposit slip.  “Well, I would need to check with my manager to get approval, but I can take down your information and send it to them.”  At this point, I started to feel like I was going to get far with this teller either.  However, I had another thought that concerned me.  “So to confirm, you’re not sure if you can credit the $1.50 for last month, and I’m closing the line of credit this month.  Am I going to see another $1.50 charge on my account for this month?”  She replied, “Well your billing cycle starts on the 6th, today is the 12th, so you technically  have had the protection for a few days in this cycle, so there is a chance they will bill you for this month. But I did just put in the request to close it, so you should check in a week or so to make sure it goes through.”  I thanked her and left.

Now, at this point, most people would say, “It’s $1.50.  It’s not worth your trouble to further.”  But to me it was a matter of principle.  I couldn’t give up.  I took to Twitter.  I have had good luck in the past reaching out to companies via Twitter.  For some reason, it has been a boon for customers in trying to get good service from many companies, myself included.  My tweet: “@BankName Whatever happened to empowering employees? Ive gone to 2 branches and a phone call to try and get a credit on a new charge.”  Four hours later, I get a request to direct message them my personal number and a good time to call.  I message them my information, and 90 minutes later, my cell phone rings.

I give her a summary version of the story you just read.  She was very helpful, agreed it’s silly not to credit the $1.50 and told me she would put it through, and that I would have to wait 24 hours to see it on my account.

So because this bank did good in the end, I chose not to name them.  However, this would be my advice to them, which is applicable to any company:  Empower your employees.  People are frustrated enough they get bounced around from Person A to Person B.  When I see them write information down on a piece of paper and follow up with “I need to check with my manager” I assume one or two things are happening.  1)  You have no power to do anything.  2)  You are being trained to pretend to care and write my information down but you don’t actually plan on doing anything with it.

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I recently cancelled my Comcast subscription and switched to U-verse for reasons I will explain below.  I’ll be basing my feedback on my experience with Comcast for the past 5 years and my first few months with U-verse.

The Creeping Bill

I signed up for Comcast in September 2007.  My monthly bill was $150.  In March of the following year, it crept up to $159.  By August, it was at $193.  I threatened to cancel, spoke to a retention specialist, and was brought down to $159 in October 2008.  It stayed that way for another year, but in October of 2009 I noticed it was up to $173.  I threatened to cancel again, and they brought it down to $165.  After another year, it was up to $230.  I threatened to cancel again, and they bring me down to $182.  Ten months later, it was back to $199.

October 2007 $150
March 2008 $159
August 2008 $193
October 2008 $159 (New Baseline)
October 2009 $173
November 2009 $165 (New Baseline)
March 2011 $230
April 2011 $182 (New Baseline)
January 2012 $199

Notice a pattern?  Each time I threatened to cancel  they would lower the new rate but didn’t quite bring me back down to the original rate.  It was always just a little bit more where I am happy it’s not $40 more, but I seem to keep quiet with the smaller $10-$15 increases.

The last retention specialist I spoke with was interesting.  (I won’t complain about their customer service, that is one of the things I’ll say is a plus for Comcast – almost every one I spoke with gave great service.)  I told him their fees were too high and needed him to work something out in order for me to stay.  He mentioned an al a carte option where I can pick and choose specific services and channels.  By the time we were done picking my options based on what I currently had, the quote was at $210.  I had to remind him my reasoning for wanting to cancel was because of the high bill, and this new model had me paying more.  He pauses for 10 seconds and goes, “What if we just put you back to what you were paying?”  I agreed.  My bill went to $188, and then the following month was back up to $199.  I was back to where I started.  I realized I wouldn’t save much on the money front if I stuck around.  But I also had another nagging problem…

Speed at Night

For the past 8-10 months, my internet speed at night was unbearably slow.  Pages would take a long time to load.  YouTube videos would hang.  My Roku box would have to reconnect and play video at a lower quality at a slower connection.

When I played online games, there were times when there was so much lag that I would be disconnected or the game would hang, and I would find out my character was dead.

Perhaps one of these first two factors on their own might have been bearable, but the combination of the two was absolute deal breaker.

The User Interface

The Comcast Guide looks like it was last updated in 1995. To make matters worse, they modified it a few years ago and the quality went down.  The user interface looks like it was designed for the original Nintendo console.  The Guide used to let you sort by date, genre, etc.  They removed that or I’ve not figured out how to do it in the redesign.  The old Comcast Guide used to show more channels at one time, the new one shows less.  In the old guide if you were at the bottom of the list on the screen when you pressed the down button the remote, it didn’t select the advertisement at the bottom.  On the new guide you have to ‘double-down’ because the focus now selects the advertisement as you scroll through.  Comcast On Demand is slow to load and navigate.  Once you press the On Demand button, the screen turns black with the old ‘Nintendo’ font saying “Please Wait..”  When it does come up, it gets rid of what you’re watching while it displays their own programming.  Finally, before they changed their guide, they had true Picture in Picture, where you could watch 2 separate channels at one time.  They got rid of that with their update.

In comparison, the U-verse Guide is very modern.  The fonts are appealing.  Both the U-verse Guide and On Demand overlay your current channel, so you don’t lose what you’re currently watching.  It has a nice look.  On Demand is fast to load and browse.  Not only do they have picture in picture, they let you create multi-views that let you watch 4 channels at once.  (One complaint: You can’t ‘sort’ the channels in the multi-views so you can’t change the order in which they appear.)

DVR

With Comcast, you could only record two shows at once.  When both shows are recording, one of them has to be the channel you are viewing.  There were a few times where my wife would head up to bed, and I couldn’t change the channel because she was recording Dance Moms and Real Housewives and I was forced to watch one of them.  With U-verse, it’s possible to record up to 4 shows at one time.

Customer Service

Overall, Comcast had very good customer service.  There are a few minor things I will point out.  When I called to cancel and the specialist asked me why, I mentioned the rising prices and internet speed at night.  I was hoping he would acknowledge the slowness at night, and mention how they were doing something about it.  Instead, he said I’ve been a great customer, and was sorry to see me go.  Later on in the conversation he asked if I noticed any slowness in internet if I was watching HD channels at the same time.  So far I have not.  Why are they so quick to try and point out the flaws in U-verse without admitting their own?  We ended the conversation with him giving me the address to the Comcast store where I could drop off my equipment.  He mentioned how nice it would be since they are now modeled similar to Apple stores.

I get to the Comcast store to drop off my equipment.  It’s 20 minutes before closing time, and the store has no customers.  In one hand I’m carrying a bag with 2 cable modems, 2 analog adaptors, and 3 remotes.  In the other, an HD digital box.  I’m greeted by an employee and he asks me my name.  At this point, you think he would offer to take the digital box off my hands.  I give him my name, and he puts it in the computer and tells me to someone will be with me shortly.  I wait 2 minutes for my name to be transmitted to the help desk, and the two very friendly people behind the counter begin to help me.  They’ve done so much right with the layout store and the concept of taking your name down, but they forgot the small stuff.  When you see someone carrying a large number of items, offer to help them.  When they’re the only customer in the store, don’t make them wait for their name to get processed in the computer.  Go ahead and take care of them.

My Advice

The Comcast business model encourages disloyalty.  They told me how great a customer I was, and said if I come back I would be offered the introductory rates.  What incentive is there to remain loyal?  Give customers a competitive rate and they’ll be more likely to stick it out.  (They  probably make a profit off a ton of customers who put up with the rate hikes and maybe I’m in the minority.  I would hope more people catch onto this.)

Fix the speed.  It got to a point where it was too unbearable to do anything at night.  Update the user interface.  Modernize the Guide and On Demand.  Bring back Picture-in-Picture.

A less important point, but I’d recommend increasing business hours from 7:00pm to 9:00pm EST.  The current time makes it difficult for people on the east coast.

I can’t imagine that the lack of features for Comcast has to do with bandwidth. Cable is supposed to be capable of very high speeds. Why do they have fewer features? Why does it appear so dated in comparison?

I’d say more, but I’m going to go record 4 shows at once while I play a game online.

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I take the back roads.  I pass a couple of farms and residential areas.  Every now and then I get stuck behind a tractor going 15 mph,  and during the school year I have to stop on occasion for school buses.

However there is one thing I look forward to on my commute during the school year.  As I make the drive down one particular road, there is a group of houses on my left.  If I make it before the school bus arrives, I often pass a father and son passing a football.  Sometimes they’re standing there going back and forth, sometimes the father has the son run for it.  Sometimes the son misses and chases after the ball.  But they’re always smiling.

The father and son pass the ball back and forth every morning.  Early in September they are wearing short sleeves switching to light jackets as fall approaches.  Come winter, they’re in heavier gear, and the process reverses as spring arrives.

When the bus arrives, the son picks up his backpack, waves goodbye, and boards the bus.  The father waves back, still smiling, and watches as the bus takes off before he goes inside.

That’s the kind of father I want to be.

Munchkin

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I have been working in the corporate world since 2004.  During my time, I’ve witnessed, and at one time or another committed, some office etiquette blunders.  I thought I’d take the time to write about my biggest office pet peeves, as well as those of friends and colleagues.

‘Office’ Office Etiquette

I am going to start off with ‘Office’ office etiquette, that is, Microsoft Office, and the things you should be doing to use it effectively.

Utilize the ‘Location’ field for Conference Call Information (So it Appears in Meeting Reminders)

I attend a lot of meetings.  Several a day, and dozens a week.  Nothing ticks me off more than to have to click through the reminder popup to retrieve the conference call information.  The meeting coordinator should put that dial-in information in the Location field.  Don’t worry if you’re also booking a room; you can modify the location field after you add the room to include the call-in information.  One of the worst feelings in the world is when you’re 30-seconds late for a meeting and you have one more click to get the phone number.

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Only include the participant dial-in information in the location.  If you copy and paste all your call-in information, some poor soul is going to accidentally dial the host number.  Then the host won’t know what’s going on while everyone else is on the call waiting.  The next 5-10 minutes of the meeting are wasted trying to figure out who it was.

Meeting Reminders/Recurring Meetings

Always use the reminder feature.  It is typically on by default, so this shouldn’t be an issue.  But once in a while, there’s that meeting that gets set up and the creator didn’t set a reminder.  The next 10 minutes are spent rounding everyone up.

Make a conscious effort to properly utilize the recurrence feature.  In the unfortunate instance where you must set up a daily meeting, make sure you use the proper selection of everyday vs. every weekday.  Every weekday will only schedule meetings Monday thru Friday.  If you quickly, and likely inadvertently, select everyday then everyone with a smartphone will get an alert on weekends.  If you’re an electronic victim like me, you likely sleep with your phone inches away.  There’s nothing worse than being alerted on a weekend at 8:15am to for your upcoming non-existing meeting.

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This next piece could probably go into my regular ‘Meeting Etiquette’ section, but since it typically involves Outlook, I’m going to include it here.  Set an end date to your meetings.  I once was invited to a recurring weekly meeting.  I noticed it started getting cancelled week after week.  I deleted it from my calendar.  It never came up for over a year.  All of a sudden, the meeting organizer sends the invite again to occur every week without an end date.  So I assume they want to start it up again.  So the meeting time comes, and the meeting doesn’t happen.  What the heck?

Attendees: Read the Information Before you Email a Question

Sometimes you have to have a special password or a bit of key information you need to share with users. One would think putting “THE WEBEX PASSWORD IS 123ABC” in big bold letters right in the subject of the email invite would get their attention.  To my amazement, people clicked the link to the WebEx, and then followed up via email with “Hey, what’s the password to the WebEx?”

Organizers: Send the Agenda Before the Meeting

For weekly meetings, you send out the agenda right after the meeting.  Between then and now I get 577 more emails.  So when the next meeting rolls around, I have a hard time finding the minutes from the previous meeting.  So either send it out again right before the meeting (which nicely reminds people of the upcoming meeting) or make it available on SharePoint (which is probably a better idea since the most recent document is in a central location.)

Meeting Etiquette

I’ve mentioned some of these in the past, but they are worth repeating.

Be On Time, Start on Time

Be on time for meetings.  If you’re joining a meeting via conference call, dial in a minute early.  If it’s in person, try to be right on time.  Don’t be the person that has to be constantly reminded that they’re supposed to be attending a meeting, and then shows up 2 minutes late.

End on Time

Be respectful of other people’s time, and end the meeting at the scheduled end time.  People have a lot of other things to do and going late messes up their schedule.  In the event that the meeting looks like it’s going to go longer than scheduled, end at a good stopping point and schedule a follow up.

Don’t Schedule Too Early/Too Late (Factor in time zones)

It should be an unwritten rule that no meeting should start earlier than 9:30am or 4:00pm.  When people first get to work, they check e-mail, follow up on the last minute things they couldn’t finish the night before, etc.  At the end of the day they wrap everything up.

You should make an effort to leave work on time.  You’ll feel better, have more time to do non-work related activities.  In most non-emergency situations, it’ll all be there in the morning. A difference of 4:55pm tonight and 8:35am tomorrow morning won’t mean much a month from now.  Abstaining from scheduling meetings in those early and late hours helps avoid working late.

Factor in the time zone when you are scheduling meetings for people in different locations.  Try to be respectful of the 9:30-4:00 rule taking into account in their time zone.

Respect the Conference Room Booking Process

Every company has a different method of booking the conference room.  Whatever the process, It should be respected.  The same employee will go from “I booked the conference room at this time” to “Oh I didn’t think we still used that system to book the room.”  Use whatever system your  company follows, and stick to it.

Interrupting People When They Are in a Meeting

The following is a true story.  I was in a meeting where people could see inside the conference room from the main area.  A co-worker was looking for me and realized I was in the conference room.  So first they just stared at me from outside the door.  I gave a face that said, “I’m in a meeting we can chat later.”  They stared at me for another 5 seconds.  I had my computer at the meeting, and noticed an email came in.  It was from the gawker, “I need help with xyz.”  To which I replied, “I can’t help you right now, I’m in a meeting.  I can help you when it is over.”  They were persistent, “But I really need help with xyz.”  I knew it could wait.  So now I’m losing focus on the meeting because this person thinks they have an emergency.

This next scenario has also happened to me a hundred times.  I’m on a conference call in my office.  Someone peeks in and one of three things happens.  Rarely, they make a face that says  “I’ll come back later” and leave.  More often than not, they look at the phone to see if you have it muted, and then just start talking as if my meeting isn’t important.  Occasionally, they don’t even have the decency to do that, and just start talking anyway.

If you need to talk to someone and they are in a meeting, whether it be a in person or a conference call, wait for them to get out of it before you sidetrack them.

Attendees: Respect the Meeting

I try to schedule as few meetings as possible.  So when I do, it’s usually for a good reason.  I also keep my meetings as short as possible.  So for the 20 minutes I ask you to meet with me, put the phone down and give me your attention.

For those dialing in, we can hear everything around you.  This includes, but isn’t limited to: chewing food, driving in your car, and the barking dog.

Organizers: Don’t Have Meetings for the Sake of Having Meetings

I’ve mentioned this in the past: Limit the number of recurring meetings.  If there isn’t a reason to meet, cancel the meeting.

Try to limit who you invite.  Don’t invite someone if their time is better used somewhere else.

In the Office

This section has to do with communication and respecting others while physically in the office.

Don’t Take Advantage of Cube Location

There are three main spots where this is typically abused:  the bathroom, the kitchen, and the exits.

Like the children’s book says, everybody poops (more on this later).  Don’t pounce people on their way in or out of the bathroom.  Don’t make people think twice about going to the bathroom because they’re worried they’ll have to go through you.  (Side note: Who knows, maybe it makes them more productive, I read somewhere that people make better decisions when they have to pee.)

Everybody goes to the kitchen, likely multiple times a day.  Don’t make people go hungry or thirsty because they’re worried they’ll get stopped every time they go to the kitchen.  At the same time, respect the people whose desks are near the kitchen.  Don’t heckle them for the two minutes and thirty seconds it takes to cook your Hot Pocket.

Everybody in the office has to come in and exit through the front door.  Don’t stop them.  When they’re coming in, they probably haven’t had that cup of coffee yet, have all their belongings strapped on their shoulders, and just want to get to their desk.  When they’re leaving, they just want to get home.  The last thing they want is for you to say, “Hey, got a minute?” as they’re almost out the door.  It’s never a minute.

I used to work with someone who was so bad at this that I would have a co-worker leave at the same time as me and we would pretend to be engaged in serious conversation just so we could get out.  Also respect the people who work near the front door.  Don’t start up a conversation with them on your way back from your cigarette break, coffee run, etc.

Beginning of Day, End of Day Interruptions

Let people settle in when they get into the office.  Give them a good 20 minutes before you hit them with something if it can wait.  At the end of the day, leave them alone for the last 20 minutes to wrap things up.  People typically designate these beginning and end times to gather all their thoughts and tasks.

“Working Through Lunch”

I’m probably not working through lunch.  I’m probably catching up on my RSS feeds, reading the news, taking my mind off work.  The last thing I want when I’m eating my sandwich is for you to come in and talk about work.

Quota on Interruptions

There should be a quota on how many times, whether in person or electronically, you are allowed to interrupt someone.  I’m all for interaction, but when I’m trying to work on a specific project and you visit every 20 minutes, I lose focus.

Speakerphone

In offices with thin walls, use speakerphone sparingly.  In cubicles, use speakerphone only if you’re the only one left in the building.  Someone once told me a story where three people all within 10 feet of each other, all on the same call, were all on speakerphone.  One person was in an office with the door open, one in the next office over with the door closed (I may have been the victim here), and one in a cube across from them.  You could imagine how annoying the delayed voices were on the various speakerphones.

Personal Calls

Be aware of your surroundings.  No one needs to hear about the status of your latest medical condition or what’s for dinner.  Talk softly or go outside.

Food & Cleanliness

Don’t be ‘that guy’.

The Water Cooler

I’m all for being green.  Go ahead and re-use that water bottle.  Just don’t stick the mouth of your bottle up and over the spigot.  Chances are you weren’t that good at Operation as a kid, and that bottle is going to touch the spigot.  If your hands (or anything else) touch the spigot by accident, do the right thing and give it a wash.

Replace the water cooler when it’s empty.  If you are strong enough, offer to replace it for others.  If you’re not, ask someone for help.  The same could be said for filling up the coffee pot.

The Fridge

If you brought something in but decided not to eat it, you are responsible for seeing that it gets thrown out.  If you bring something in to share, you are responsible for seeing that it gets thrown out after it’s edible time has passed.  No one wants to see, or smell, a furry science experiment weeks later.

If you didn’t bring something in but want to eat it, too bad – it belongs to someone.  Don’t steal food.

The Sink

Your mother doesn’t work there.  And even if she did, you’re an adult.  Wash your dishes.  When they’re dry, put them away.

The Microwave

That soup that  just exploded all over the inside?  Clean it up.

Bathroom Etiquette

When I walk towards a urinal or toilet, I don’t want to see a foamy pile of pee waiting for me.  Flush.  Then, wash your hands.  I don’t care if you didn’t get anything on them.

Shut the light off when you’re done, and leave the door cracked.  Don’t keep people waiting making them think you’re still in there when you’re long gone.

If you made a mess, for whatever reason, clean it up.

Final Thoughts

Leave a comment if you have a good office etiquette story.   Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts when I talked about creating this post.

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I attended the Leadercast 2011 seminar via their simulcast at the Shelton Chamber of Commerce.  Overall it was another great learning experience.  I was a little peeved when there were technical difficulties/connection issues with the first two speakers, John Maxwell and Seth Godin.  Seth Godin is one of my personal favorites and it was going to be the first time I’d see him speak live (even if it is via a satellite.)  Below are the notes I took and overall thoughts of the event.

Local Leader Panel Discussion:  Steve Pelletier (Prudential Annuities), Edward Schultek (Sandler Training), Robert Scinto (RD Scinto, Inc.)

Before the real show started, they had local leaders in an interview panel.  Robert Scinto was the standout of the three.  He owns the business complex where the Shelton simulcast was held.  It is a beautiful campus.  There were at least 3 buildings, a restaurant, and a parking garage from what I saw when walking around.  Many of the parking spots had covered walkways into the buildings.  The building where our conference was held had a lunch deli and a gym.  You could tell this guy values his tenants.  The three keywords he focused on:

Service, Imagination, Time

Robert demonstrates his service in the way he takes care of his buildings.  I would love to work on a campus with all those amenities.  Edward Schultek also mentioned being communicators and being knowledgeable are two of the most important qualities a CEO should have.  Overall, I was left with a desire to know more about Robert Scinto and how he was able to do all he has done with the area.  (I understand there are things going on with him at the moment but I’m leaving that out.)

John Maxwell

The person I went with is a big fan of John Maxwell.  After watching him speak, I can see why.  He was very good.  He has a new book coming out that discusses the 5 levels of leadership.  A picture is worth 1000 words, below are the levels he talked about, with the keywords and descriptions of each level.

5 Levels of Leadership

What I found interesting, is if you are a manager this is likely true with your employees, each person at different levels.  You probably have some that are just there for the position (Level 1).  They give the bare minimum acceptable effort.  People in Level 2 listen well, observe, and are learners, which all leads to better service.  The quote I took away from Level 3 is, “Be a tour guide not a travel agent.”  A travel agent sends you to places they’ve never been.  A tour guide is there with you and shows you around.  At Level 4 is an increase in capacity.  This is likely to occur if you recruit better people.  (As an aside, this was a big point from many of the speakers.  You have to hire people you get a good feeling from.  If you hire people you don’t get a good feeling from, there’s  more of a chance you’ll get bad results.)  Put people in the right places.  Recruit good people, put them in the right positions, and equip them with what they need to do their job.  I forget where in the day this was mentioned, but there was a story about a varsity basketball team playing the junior varsity team.  The catch, was that the varsity team had to switch up their usual playing positions, while the junior team played their usual positions.  In the end the junior team won.  The point of the story is put people where they’ll produce their best for the best overall results.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin was one of the main reasons I wanted to see Leadercast.  I read his blog everyday and own many of his books.  Unfortunately, at this point the technical difficulties were at their worst, so I was only able to catch bits and pieces.  The parts I was able to get were:

Seeing what is vs. Seeing what you hope for
Irreplaceable parts vs. Interchangeable parts  
(What I took from this is make your employees irreplaceable rather than interchangeable.  Yes, it’s risky, but it’s worth it.)
Hard work vs. Long work (Work smart and give 100%)
Lead vs. Manage
Artists vs. Accountants (In this example he also used painters.  An artist creates something special, a painter paints.  I can’t remember if it was Seth Godin or someone else that expanded on this, but an example they used was they asked two guys what they were doing.  One guy said, “I’m putting up a fence.”  The other guy said, “I’m building a house.”  They were both doing the same thing, but the second person valued his work more than the first.

Mack Brown

Mack Brown is the head coach of the University of Texas football team.  He is known of having at least 10 wins every season from 2001-2009.   He reiterated earlier points about picking winners.  If you pick the right people, you increase your odds of winning.  When recruiting, he only looked at people with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  This decreases the chances the student will have a drug or alcohol problem, and obviously demonstrates that they are smart.  Two key quotes I liked, “Quit complaining or quit.”   and, “The company pays you, so as long as you work for them you should be loyal to them.”  After his players won the national championship, he told them, “Don’t let this be the most important thing you do in life.”  I appreciate that he said that…he wants more out of his players than just to win a game.  He wants them to continue to succeed in life.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson was very enjoyable to watch.  The first third of his presentation was comedic and talked about how he moved to L.A., visited Las Vegas, and celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary by having an Elvis impersonator re-marry them.  I was thinking, “How did the Queen of England knight this man?  He’s very funny but I am not seeing where this is going.”  And then he neatly wove his comedy stories right in to his inspirational one.  He encouraged us to use our imagination to remember the past and plan for the future.  Most people endure their lives rather than enjoy them.  The question “What do you do?” is different from “Who are you?”  

Don’t do something you are good at if you don’t love it.  Be in your element, love your element.  Imagination leads to creativity.  Creativity leads to innovation.

Erin Gruwell

The movie “Freedom Writers” is based off her story.  She’s a schoolteacher who went above and beyond her typical duties to see that 150 of the lowest graded students in her district were given a chance.  She had to find unique ways to reach out to them when initially they wanted nothing to do with her.  She brought up examples of specific students that she was able to connect with.  The most touching moment was when they brought out an actual student and presented her with a $20,000 scholarship.

Frans Johansson

Frans is up there with Sir Ken Robinson as surprisingly very good.  The best ideas emerge from different perspectives.  The people we know today who change the world are people who try more ideas.  We only know them for their successes, but in addition to that there are probably more fail stories that led to their successes.  The example he used was ice hotels in Sweden.  Initially the person who developed it, wanted to do ice sculptures, then an ice art gallery, then an ice event hall.  Each one didn’t take off the way he wanted.  It was only when backpackers asked if they could sleep there that the idea of an ice hotel came to be.  He was very captivating and interesting to listen to.

Suzy Welch and Alison Levine

It may be because it was towards the end of the day, but Suzy Welch didn’t grab me.  She had an audience with the mothers in the crowd; there was one lady who laughed out loud for a good 30 seconds straight at one of her stories about her kids showing up to one of her live events.  Her questions had to do with “When you are 70, what will you think of your life?” and “What do you think other people will have to say about you?”

Alison Levine, first of all, looks great for her age.  I thought she was in her late 20’s early 30’s, and I later found out she’s 45.  She’s had a lot of health setbacks in her life, but that didn’t stop her from climbing Mount Everest.  She spoke well, but I think her accomplishments are what make her stand out.  One thing I liked was how she said storms are temporary.  Be patient and the skies will clear.  Executing is more important than planning.

Dan Cathy & Muhtar Kent

Muhtar Kent is the CEO of Coca-Cola. D an Cathy is the CEO of Chick-fil-A.  I’ve seen this in the past, and I saw it here today.  This is no knock on Muthar Kent, and I am 100% certain he is a very smart man, and a true leader, but I don’t know if he’s the best public speaker.  Dan Cathy on the other hand, is a very well public speaker.  I think they make a good team speaking together.  One quote I liked from this session, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Dave Ramsey

I don’t dislike Dave Ramsey, I just don’t always agree with him.  He thinks people who use credit over cash have a psychological tendency to spend more, even if they pay their bills in full at the end of the month.  I think if you stick to a budget and are smart with your money, you can use credit cards.  He thinks after saving $1000, you should pay all your debts before you start saving for anything else.  I think you should pay off all your high interest debts first, but if you have student loans or  a mortgage at low interest rates, that it is okay to save for retirement or other things.  I guess where he leans strongly toward one side, I try to meet in the middle.

Okay, I’m done ranting.  All in all, he gave a very good presentation.  The key points he talked about:

Leadership matters – leadership = service
People matter – your employees, your vendors, even your competitors matter.  They are not numbers, they are people with husbands, wives, and children.
Team matters.
Slow and steady matters – People don’t become sensations overnight, it takes time.  A crock pot is better than a microwave.
Financial principles matter (He didn’t get into everything I mentioned above, which I guess was a good thing.)
A higher power matters – Whether it’s someone on your team, your boss, your country, or your God.

Final Thoughts 

One last thought before I close it out.  The host, Tripp Crosby, did a great job.  There were little segues for certain speakers and they were absolutely hilarious.  He really kept people captivated through the entire event and I’d gladly watch him again.


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…which makes nothing a priority.  Below is a picture (click on it to get a larger view) of an agenda from a meeting on a specific project.  I’ve distorted the information that isn’t relevant to this article.  The area I want to focus on is the third column.  This meeting was held on August 31st.

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The agenda has twelve items.  Four have a date of “August” and two are labeled “ASAP”.  The numbers 1-12 have nothing to do with priority.  They just happen to be ordered by the date the item was added to the list.

Each week, this group will meet, and run through the twelve items.  Is 1 more important than 7?  No one knows since they all have a high priority.  Here would be my suggestions:

Prioritize

Instead of ordering the items chronologically, order them by importance.  Number 1 is the most important and deserves the most attention.  Number twelve is just going to have to wait another day until we have more time and resources to focus on it.  Once an item gets crossed off the list, the others can shift appropriately.

Specific Deadlines

Rather than mark an item as “August” or “ASAP” give it a hard deadline.  People tend to focus on the quick wins and attention grabbers.  They’re probably shuffling 5 other projects besides what’s on this list.  With a vague deadline, your line item just got pushed to the bottom.

Offer realistic deadlines.  How realistic were these deadlines if everything is labeled as “August” and the meeting is held on August 31?  Don’t be too aggressive if you can’t meet the date.  Factor in other projects, holidays, potential unplanned activities, or any other possible distractions that will keep you from meeting your target date.  Nobody is perfect so don’t expect them to be.  Things will go wrong and you should factor that in.

Ownership

Hold one person responsible per line item rather than an entire department.  When someone sees a department as the owner of a specific task, they figure someone else will do it.  When they see their name next to a specific task, they know they are responsible for seeing that it gets done.

Keep a Backlog

Separate the list into 2 sections.  If something can’t start due to a dependency on another task, don’t bring it up each week.  If that task with a dependency is so important, bump up the priority on the task that is holding it back.  If an item has no progress from the previous week, find out why.  Is the right person assigned to the task?  Is it as important as you thought it would be, or should the priority be lower?

Once a month or so review the backlog for a large project.  If it isn’t feasible to get it in this timeframe, defer it for a later time and move it to a completely separate list for another project.  Which leads me to…

Keep Lists Small

This isn’t a complaint against the actual list I mentioned above, I think it does a good job of keeping it small. But I think it’s important and wanted to bring it up anyway.  If a list has 10-12 items, it’s very manageable.  Once a list gets too big, it’s too overwhelming.  People look at the list, freak out, and procrastinate.

Break large lists into a couple of smaller ones.  It’ll feel easier.  When you’re done with all the items on the first list, move onto the second.  It will make everything feel less stressful because you are managing smaller pieces at a time.

So there you have it.  Keep the above in mind the next time you work on a list for a project.  Hopefully things will go smoothly and work out for you.

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I went to the “Get Motivated” business seminar today in Hartford, CT.  Below is my recap of my experience.

Prior to Going

A few weeks ago we received an email from the CEO and VP of Client Services about the upcoming “Get Motivated” seminar.  I had heard about them in the past, but didn’t know too much about them.  I talked to a few co-workers and did a Google search.  I found mixed reviews.  The worst things I found was that it could be a huge sales pitch, some people view it as very right-wing, and some of the speakers can get a little religious.  On the other hand, it could be motivational, anything is better than nothing, and I’m not easily convinced with things I do not believe in.  With work giving us the day to go, I figured I had nothing to lose.

The Event and the Speakers

There was a lot of debate between my friends on who we would actually get to see, and who might speak ‘live’ via satellite.  I was pleased to say that all speakers were live and in person.  It was open seating and we had a pretty good section.

Joe Montana – Joe Montana was the first speaker to come out.  His key points focused on preparation and fundamentals.  One thing he talked about I found beneficial was to aim for perfection.  If you miss, you will still probably end up doing very good.  If you aim for mediocrity and you miss, you’re not going to do so well.  Paying attention to details is what helps you reach the goal.

Laura Bush – The second speaker was Laura Bush.  She mentioned how George Bush Sr. just went skydiving on his 85th birthday.  I’m shocked but happy to hear it.  When I got home I did a quick search on a video of it, and that motivated me.  He did it for two reasons.  One, it was exciting, and two, he wants to stay active so he doesn’t get old and senile.  I actually wrote about this on an essay in college where I said if people find purpose in their life it helps them live longer.  I worry when people stop looking forward to things, mysterious events occur and they deteriorate physically and mentally.  Anywho, back to Laura Bush.  The main themes I got out of her speech revolved around democracy, freedom, and individualism.  Two books she mentioned during her speech are on my reading wish list, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Krish Dhanam – I never heard of this guy before the seminar, but I was very impressed.  His eloquence captivated the audience.  He quoted many famous people and books.  He has an Indian background, and I believe he migrated to the US later in his life.  His belief is that political correctness will be the death of this nation.  One thing he said that stood out was to make an impact on your new hires.  Do this by telling them “Of all the companies you could have chosen, I sure am glad you chose this one.”  Some other takeaways are, “Give more than you have; leave more than you take.”  “Offer praise to the inner circle.”  This next quote I may have recorded inaccurately, but it was something along the lines of “Look inward and upward before you can act forward and outward.”  In summary, I really liked what he had to say and he was definitely in my top 3 for the day.

Phil Town – Next was Phil Town.  Here is where I thought it got very sales-pitchy. Very quickly (can’t really hold it against him given the time frame of about 60 minutes) he went through his method of successful investing in only 15 minutes a week.  He claimed it was very easy and anyone could do it.  Then he showed us his product on the big screen, and ‘if you sign up now, we’ll throw in this special offer’.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounded very interesting, but it just sounds too good to be true.  His method had to do with covered calls, buying companies on sale using statistical software, looking at legal insider trading, and selling when the software predicts they’ve reached their high.  The software seems like it could work, but it’s $600 a year.  For now, I think I’ll stick with a basic approach of various index funds across a diversified asset allocation.

Tamara Lowe – The last speaker before the lunch break was Tamara Lowe.  She was kind of bouncy which rubs me the wrong way but I think works well with others.  She is the co-founder of the Get Motivated seminars along with her husband.  She briefly talked about how she was born in Hartford but grew up in New Orleans.  She’s a former drug addict/dealer, but has since cleaned up her life.  Her belief is that people fall under 6 types of categories, which makes up their ‘motivational DNA’.  The 6 categories can be broken down by 3 main headers:  “Drive, Needs, and Awards”.  Under drives people are either “Producers” or “Connectors”.  Producers like competition, and connectors like cooperation.  Under needs people either like “Stability” or “Variety”.  And under Awards people either want “Internal Awards” or “External Awards”.  Tamara believes that people can be classified under each of these categories, but I personally don’t think it is that cut and dry.  I think I can be competitive, but I’m also cooperative.  Ultimately I want what is best for the team, but I’m also trying to be the best.  There are certain things in life that I like to remain the same, yet in other areas I get bored and like change.  I had a hard time applying her principles to myself.  However, she did touch upon how to apply these techniques as a sales person, and I did think they could be effective in certain situations.  She was selling a book where 100% of the proceeds go to charities, but then discounted the book to everyone at the convention.  I thought this sent the wrong message…if your money is going to charity, wouldn’t you want to give them more money, not less?  I enjoyed her rap at the end though, it was good.

Steve Forbes – Steve Forbes was the first to speak after lunch.  He had a lot of talking points, but his two main topics were that we should make the dollar king again, and we need to fix the tax code.  But first he mentioned that we need to look at the examples of others to see what has worked in the past.  He discussed the success of McDonald’s and how they became the giant company they are today.  He also mentioned that in order to succeed we don’t have to invent anything new, we just have to use a product better than anyone else.  The example he used here was how Wal-Mart uses computers to help them do business.  He used a car’s gas tank in relation to symbolize pouring money into the economy.  If we pour too much, commodity prices will go up, and in the car we flood the tank.  Don’t pour enough, the car can’t go, and commodity prices drop.  He went on a while about taxes, and how we need to fix it, get rid of all the IRS code, etc.  I thought this was fine, and I was hoping he would follow up with what he plans to replace it with, which he eventually got to.  He is in favor of a flat tax, and had other ideas that could simplify the tax code that I didn’t have enough time to take notes on.  However I thought they were reasonable points.  I thought he was enjoyable listening to, and I would put him in my top 4 for the day.

Zig Ziglar – Prior to today, I had heard the name but not much else.  I knew he was a motivational speaker, but I didn’t know who he really was, how long he had been around, or what his style of motivational speaking was like.  Zig suffered a bad fall within the past few years, and has since developed vertigo and short term memory loss.  He came on stage with his daughter who guided the conversation.  Zig seems like he was a great speaker in his prime, but I genuinely felt sorry for him today.  When he started talking, about 5 minutes in he started to repeat something he said at the beginning (about courting his wife and making her happy everyday), and his daughter reminded him how he already mentioned it.  Zig has some quick wit, and responded he thought that a couple people in the front row weren’t paying attention which is why he was repeating himself.  After doing it a second time, the daughter decided to show a video.  The video contained some highlights of Zig throughout his career, and that’s where I saw that he really good speak well.  When the video was over, he was trying to wrap up but started repeating himself and his daughter had to cut him off again.  As she finished and was trying to get him off stage, you could see they turned his mic off as he was still trying to explain himself.  I felt really sorry for him at that point, and hope his memory comes back.  I think in future seminars, they should try and do it a little differently; use the video as a tribute and try and limit his time on stage; instead of asking him questions that he has to answer, tell them they are happy he is here and he can smile and wave and maybe say a few words.

James Smith – The 8th speaker of the day was a man named James Smith.  I felt another sales pitch coming on.  He started of mentioning how we should position ourself to win the game of life.  We can do this through property investing.  He mentioned tax-liens in relation to real-estate investing as well as other areas. I thought he contradicted himself in the current state of the economy and foreclosures.  At first he mentioned he hopes no one forecloses on their house, and we should help people out if we can.  Later on, he shows us a picture of a foreclosure he bought, and then another picture of the house re-modeled and how it’s gone up in equity.  I will say he was enjoyable to listen to.  I started a “watch this” counter 5 minutes in.  I counted him say ” watch this” 43 times by the end of the seminar.  A friend had seen him speak the prior year, and apparently his recent “Denny’s” story was a repeat of the last time he saw him.  One quote he said that I liked a lot was “I’m not better than anybody else, but there’s nobody else better than me.”

Rudy Giuliani – Rudy was the second to last speaker of the day.  He was a joy to listen to, I’d list him in my top 3 for the day.  He had 6 main principles of leadership.  The first was to have strong beliefs.  Believe in what you do, what you sell, how you live.  Second, we have to be optimistic.  You get more done thinking positive than you do thinking negative.  Third, we have to have courage.  Courage is overcoming fear.  Fourth we have to have relentless preparation.  We can overcome fear and reduce our risk through preparation.  Fifth, teamwork is essential.  What are our weaknesses?  Build a team around our weaknesses so that their strengths complement our weaknesses.  Teams need balance.  Sixth, communicate.  Get your ideas into the hearts of others.  Give people realistic goals to reach.  A leader has to love people.  Statistics are important, but people are more important.  I really like that last sentence.  Companies focus too much on metrics and forget it’s people and quality behind those numbers that count.  Sometimes you can’t always measure that.

Colin Powell – Last to speak (for me at least, I believe there was one last speaker after him, but everyone was leaving) was Colin Powell.  He is also in my top 3.  He was very enjoyable, humorous at times, and kept my attention.  One key point I took from him is “It’s not where you start, it’s where you end up.  Always look forward, you can’t change the past.”  Our job as leaders is to put followers in the best possible path for the organization.  Give the followers a sense of purpose.  Successful leaders communicate a sense of passion.  We need to inspire, make people believe there is a purpose to their mission.  We need to let people know they are important.  People will follow you when they trust you.

Final Thoughts

I read an article in the Courant this morning and it really shows how reporters angle a story.  They completely blasted the religious angle but only lightly touched upon the sales-pitch angle.  Yes it had religious moments, and it was preachy and uncomfortable at times.  But do your homework, I knew that going into it.  I am more worried about people getting excited about the sales pitches and jumping in too fast without doing more research. Do your research, look before you leap.

The cast of speakers was fantastic.   Other people I wouldn’t mind seeing speak at the event are Seth Godin, John Wooden, Joe Torre, or Clark Howard.  I wasn’t able to hand in the survey at the end because I didn’t see where to drop it off, so hopefully they read this instead.  🙂

Get Motivated exceeded my expectations.  I had a mediocre feeling going in, and was worried they were going to sell us a lot of stuff and I wasn’t going to learn anything.  There were only two sales-pitch speakers and it wasn’t as one-sided (politically) as I had read.  It was definitely a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking to get motivated.

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