Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stages in Effective Dialogues - A la EXTCD

Just sharing something on effective communication from work.

Focus on other(s)
Use body language effectively
Use silence/pauses effectively
Reflect and verbalize feelings
Summarize content

Use on e question at a time
Use silence/pauses effectively
Reflect and verbalize feelings
Summarize content

Describe problem (not person)
Explain consequences (not threats)
Give clear and specific message
Focus on actionable behavior
Seek commitment
Agree on next steps

Friday, November 21, 2008

In Celebration of the Hamster; The Stufessional’s Ancestor

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Excerpt from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Prior to our plugged in, maxed out, over-achiever mindset existence there was the hamster, likely the Stufessional’s ancestor evolving by natural selection. Nearing the end of my rope one day, I retreated into the recesses of my mind to ponder our ancestor and marvel at how we broke off from that lineage to form performance-oriented type-A superhuman.

Rooted in pragmatism and loathing inefficiency, I simply dismissed the hamster as an idiot when I was younger. Until I began to feel more and more like the idiot hamster recently, I assumed the fruitless running on his wheel each night was born out of a desire to get somewhere, anywhere, but my brother’s smelly pre-pubescent room.

What cracked open an entry into hamster enlightenment was the realization that hamsters don’t have emotions. That’s right—they only have instinct. Instinct seemed like a viable reason to go back and re-think the value of the hamster wheel.

I wasn’t there the day my mom bought the hamster for my brother. I don’t know if the wheel was optional for exercise, but I also don’t know of any hamster that doesn’t have a wheel. They just go together. The funny scene from Chevy Chase’s European Vacation “look kids, there’s Big Ben” overtakes my mind when thinking about any repetitious task. The hamster never seemed to mind repetition though, even when he went nowhere. It was like Big Ben was brand new each night.

What drives this small animal to never miss a night on his wheel? What keeps him in a perfect disciplined routine in the absence of movement?

He has promises to keep to himself that only he knows about. He enjoys the journey, rather than the destination. He defines achievement by his perseverance. He is self-driven. He won’t sleep until he is done.

The hamster went further on his wheel each night than I realized. He also showed me the way to go on from here.

--Lynn Johnson
Stufessional and admirer of the hamster

Facetime with Facebook

Another long sigh coming from my voicemail....
Another person who wants to get together....
Another friend I don’t have time to catch up with....

Don’t they know that everyone is going digital now?

Pressing for face-to-face “get togethers” from a Stufessional is as ridiculous as the woman on Brett Michaels' Rock of Love TV show last season who screamed she wanted “facetime” with Brett, when about a dozen other women of ill-repute were fighting for his attention. It just seems a little silly.

When you care enough to send a poke but don’t have time to put in a call, Facebook is the answer. This virtual social scene works on your schedule. For instance, I can log-on at any time of the day and respond in an organized rapid fashion to everyone who has poked me, sent an email, posted a comment or sent a gift to me. In record speed, I can respond to all social overtures toward me in a fashion that only the commitment-phobic, or people who simply do not have time to socialize, would love.

Facebook also makes a Stufessional, who has little time for friends, feel loved and needed. It satisfies the basic human need for attention. For instance, who knew I had nearly 200 friends? I mean, does anybody have 200 friends in real life? It can satisfy even the most curious voyer by offering opportunities to rifle through other friends’ pictures, notes, bios and other personal information that maybe none of us should be putting on the Internet in the first place.

The most important feature Facebook offers a Stufessional is a tracking system for birthdays. Oh, the relief of never forgetting another friend’s birthday! All you have to do is check your homepage.... and upcoming birthdays are listed right there. If you are really savvy, you can find a free gift to post on their wall to make their day special!

Facebook---it’s the preferred social outlet for the Stufessional who otherwise would live a life of total solitude.

--Lynn Johnson
Stufessional and Facebook user


While exercising at the gym, I feel this strange urge come over me to check my Blackberry....about every five minutes. The urge really seems more like a sensation of missing something. It’s kind of like that feeling of still rocking on waves in a boat after already making the transfer back to land. As I look around, I see about a fourth of the people exercising with a cell phone or other PDA near them. Some even answer their phones and try to talk while running on a treadmill, and yet others make calls between sets when lifting weights. They are the ones that make me feel better about my Blackberry habit. At least I am not one of them, I reason. At least I do not have Crackberry syndrome. Although the urge to have it at my side at all times is there, I cannot really be suffering from Crackberry, because I am able to set limits. I do not use it in the bathroom (yes, I know people who do), and I do not use it while exercising in the gym.

Being organized and efficient is not a standard to aspire to when pursuing stufessionalism; it is a requirement. My Blackberry 8830 keeps my life in order. In one place, I can utilize my five different email accounts, send text messages, make and receive phone calls, keep a master calendar with alarms and reminders, create to-do lists, use the Internet, access a GPS navigation system, store all my personal contacts including emails, phone numbers and addresses....the list of tools to empower me in my pursuit to shove as much into my life at one time is endless. I think if I ever lost my Crackberry....oh wait, I mean my Blackberry.... I might need a grief counselor. Without it, I could never multi-task at the pace of Generation Y while hiding the fact that I am really Generation X.

So today’s blog message is-- if you feel like you have ADD but you know you don’t, run right out and get yourself one of these little miracles. You will never forget anything, or be late for anything ever again—-unless you just want to.

--Lynn Johnson
Stufessional and advid Blackberry user

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Work Time Work Out

What relieves stress? Aside from chucking it all, cashing out your retirement plan and heading to a tropical isle, experts agree that the best stress reliever is exercise. “[Exercise] affects the biology in the brain in the same way that anti-depressant drugs do,” says Andrea Dunn, exercise psychologist at the Cooper Institute. As we jog, bike or lift weights the stress hormone cortisol decreases and endorphins increase. VoilĂ , we feel better.

How does a stufessional squeeze in an exercise routine while studying, writing papers, reading, excelling at work, keeping up with friends, fulfilling family obligations, running errands and eating well? If hitting the gym before, after or during work is not feasible, consider chair exercising.

Chair exercising may not be as intense as an hour at the gym, but any exercise is better than none, and the positive effects are cumulative. Here are a few of the best chair exercises:
  • Sitting in your chair, lift one leg off the seat, extend it out straight, hold for 2 seconds; then lower your foot (stop short of the floor) and hold for several seconds. Switch; do each leg 15 times.

  • Place a small pillow between your feet. Try to lift the item off the ground and squeeze your legs together at the same time. You can also place the pillow or other soft object between your knees and squeeze. Repeat 15 times.

  • While seated, pump both arms over your head for 30 seconds, then rapidly tap your feet on the floor, football-drill style, for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

  • Isometric contractions are easily performed in a seated position. Squeezing your muscle, hold the contraction for a few seconds, then release. Repeat each muscle 15 times.

Make every minute count. "Stand rather than sit. Walk rather than stand," says Joan Price, author of "The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book." Make the trek to a colleague's office instead of instant messaging. When you take the stairs, give your legs a workout by consciously employing every muscle. Park in the furthest space and enjoy a brisk walk. Take every opportunity you can to decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and de-stress.


WebMD's "Exercise at Your Desk"
eHow's "How to Exercise at Your Office"
Associated Content's "Top 10 Ways to Relieve Stress"
Mayo Clinic's "Exercise: Rev Up Your Routine to Reduce Stress"
The Cooper Institute

The information provided on this site is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any exercise program.

Monday, November 17, 2008

To do, or not to do: that is the question…

To do, or not to do: that is the question
Whether it is more expedient to worry about
The countless "to do’s" that one has to do
The work-work, the homework, the housework, the patchwork
Or, procrastinate another day and let time pass away

To enjoy love and life
To consider, remember, and deliver despite
The time, the obstacles, the missing pieces and more
To rest one’s eyes after all the day’s chores

To sacrifice
To direct
The attention
Of one’s life

To move
In a vain
That has no purpose
Or light

The stress in a mess with no happy ending
To offer a ghost solution with no beginning

No more
Not today
This, too, shall past

I will write the list
Do the last task
And, toast the glass

The pangs, the churn, the buzz, the drive
The mountain, the calamity, the river, the tide
The shuffle, the bustle, the hustle, the toil
The spoil, the boil, the coil, the royal
Piece of happiness that is the reason for it all.

Is it the journey, the practice or the rise and the fall?
The up and the down
And, the up that stays up?
Or, is it the “to do” that we “did” because we never gave up?


Use The Force Wisely, Young Jedi

Visual aids enhance stufessional presentations. A stufessional in a business meeting may employ PowerPoint presentations to swing executive favor, while in the classroom, a stufessional can add zest static slides with photography and even audio.

Perhaps this is no surprise. Stufessionals are savvy after all. Yet merely selecting a image to spice up drab bullet points is not the answer. Visual aids are not a quick fix. They require forethought and care. Consider reading the U.S. Department of Labor's article, "Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids."

Let's isolate the Microsoft PowerPoint visual aid for this discussion. In a typical work-flow, the stufessional labors over the content -- the written content. Text is written and rewritten to be clear, concise, and attractive. During the presentation, the stufessional speaker most likely references the PowerPoint in the background. The speaker is the focus, while the projection is wallpaper.

I argue that the same attention to grammar ought to be applied to visual content. One is not dependent on the other. The presentation is a package where each element must be strong. A weakened corner of a box will most likely cause the contents inside to spill.

Presentation Helper
, an online resource for sharing ideas with respect to professional presentations posits "Seven Deadly Sins" of visual presentations:
1. Still using bullet points?

While bullet points are fast and easy to use, they are a poor way of getting your message across. According to research at carried out at UCLA a visual presentation is five times more likely to be remembered after three days than a presentation using just bullet points.

2. Corny images.

Visual images obtained from the royalty free photo database often have actors showing emotions such as surprise or happiness. The difficulty is that they can look very corny, and if the photos are a few years old, the fashions can look very dated. As with most things in life, taking a little extra time to select that right visual appearance will make all of the difference.

3. Using Clip Art.

Clip Art used to be a great way of making a presentation visual. The problem is that clip art now looks very dated compared to a color photograph.

4. Grainy pictures.

A lot of visual presentations are let down by the use of grainy images. It could be a picture or it could be a logo. Generally these images are taken from a web page and increased in size. The problem is that since they were saved as small files to make them load quickly, they do not enlarge well.

5. Copyright theft.

You must obtain the permission of the copyright owner before you can use any image. Often this is obtained simply by sending an email to the web master. If you don’t, you could easily end up with legal proceedings against you. How will they ever know? Well you never know who might be in your audience, and if the presentation gets distributed electronically you may find that the image that you have taken has an invisible digital water mark hidden in it. A grainy image (see above) is perhaps the biggest sign that it has been taken off a web site.

6. Images purely for decoration.

A picture is worth a thousand words. So why would you slap down any old image just to fill up a bit of space? The image should help to tell your story. One technology company had a slide entitled “Our stable of products.” Instead of an image showing how their products could suit a wide range of businesses, their graphic design agency had added in a picture of a horse! Relevance is everything.

7. Video clips that are too long.

It is very tempting to add in a video clip into a visual presentation. The difficulty is that an audience’s attention span when watching a video is very short. On the other hand the standard company video is often between three and ten minutes long. The audience will typically start to get twitchy after around 60 seconds and start to switch off after two minutes. If you are going to show a video, get it cut down into bite size chunks.

Stufessionals looking to add flavor and edge to professional or student presentations may benefit from visiting Slide Share, an online database providing inspiring PowerPoint designs and secrets.

Stufessionals looking to branch out to DVD video, online video, and doctored photographs may benefit from visiting the digital media labs at their university. At American University, the New Media Center provides online tutorials for software programs like iMovie.

- Jared

"The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates."
- Oscar Wilde