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Overcoming Anxiety

Some anxiety in the face of stress can be a good thing. It makes us work harder, prepare more thoroughly, and perform more intensely.  But people of different temperaments become anxious to varying degrees.

For me, the influx of emails, a growing to-do list, and the fear that I would let someone on my team down triggered anxiety attacks. I’m pretty sure my attacks were visible. I imagine I got this crazy-wide-eyed look. I know it was noticeable because it was actually a goal on my review form to “conquer my anxiety” for two years.

Let’s go high science for a second:

When a person is under chronic stress the structure of neurons can be altered. Neurons have bodies and branches used to communicate with other cells, and the more branches the neurons have, the better the communica­tion. Chronic stress causes a person to experience a loss of higher brain control over emotion. Stress reduces the number of branches in the prefrontal cortex, a regulatory part of the brain connected to memory and depression, which in turn causes den­drites, the branches that relay information between neurons, to shrink.

When we fret, especially when it becomes irrational or compul­sive, we fan the hot coal bed of anxiety until it bursts into flames. And so it follows that anxiety must be remedied over time as well, by learning to fret less.

I’ve learned to conquer my anxiety a few ways:

  • Yoga (or some other physical activity): Since working from home if I start to get worked up, I take a break. I walk, go for a run, complete a few flows. It helps me recenter myself.
  • Diagram: More than a to-do list, I think about how long each project will really take, and if one flows into another. I work out an actual process for completing the work.
  • Avoid reacting: We are surrounded by people who are just as anxious as we are. Instead of feeding it, and making it your own. Reassure and demonstrate that you have it handled.

It doesn’t always work and I still have my moments, but on my most recent review it was noted that I had conquered my anxiety. So, I’m feeling pretty good.

Traveling Sets Me Back

When I go to NYC for work, I usually chalk that week up to a wash on my healthy routines. I don’t sleep that well in the hotel room, I tend to miss exercising, and I eat pretty much every meal out.

After almost 10 months of making the bi-monthly commute I’ve been trying to make some adjustments.

  1. Planning: I started bringing in oatmeal to at least get me through breakfast so that I make smarter choices (and less likely to grab that bagel that I miss so much). Doing this has allowed me to make better choices for lunch and then if dinner becomes pad see ew or a giant smothered veggie burger I feel less guilty.
  2. Routine: I’ve identified “travel friendly” workouts, consisting of yoga and cardio DVDs that do not require much more than my body weight. Also, going back to the planning, I look at my meeting schedules and determine which days will be easier to get on the treadmill in the morning, even if it is just for 20 minutes.
  3. Prioritize and reorganize: One of the things I love about going to NYC is that I get to see my friends. So if I know that I am going to have dinner with them on Tuesday, that may be my rest day for the week. Or I walk to dinner to meet them.
  4. The killer session: Last week, I was bad. I ate better, but couldn’t get in my workouts. So  I messaged my trainer @LAQfitness that I was in desperate need of a hard workout. Having one predetermined long session gets me back in the groove and helps me restart my exercise routine

Other tips for making sure your healthy routine doesn’t bite the dust when you travel for work?

Overeating? You may be burned out at work

It was another crazy busy week at work. I always feel like when I am in the physical office there is more to do, or maybe I just feel less in control about when to do it.  I had a lot of need to happen moments this week between client meetings and presentations, and a few commitments after work.

While I pushed myself to get up and work out in the mornings, my portion controlled diet slipped. I was constantly hungry, and couldn’t stop myself from devouring the delicious hamentashen one of my colleagues got me.

Then a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a connection between work burnout and overeating and uncontrolled eating behaviors in women. This made me say “duh” because I know when stressed at work, I turn to sourpatch kids, goldfish and yogurt covered raisins as my saviors.

What did strike me were the comments on the study from outside experts. Dr. Melina Jampolis, physician and nutrition expert for CNNHealth.com noted that long-term stress can make it harder to make dietary and exercise changes. So while I was exercising because I knew it would make me feel better, I was eating massive cheesey veggie burgers and drinking down martinis because I like to soothe my stress with comfort food.

Dr. Jampolis also mentioned that short-term diet changes, like cutting out carbs, could also alter your brain chemistry making you feel even more down.  Pushing you to grab a handful of M&Ms when you don’t even like them! (I said that, not her)

The Mayo Clinic has a good description of job burnout and what to do to keep it at bay.  For me it is all about perspective. It has taken some time for me to learn the walk away skill, but I am getting better at it so that I can stop burnout in its tracks.






Tina Fey Improv Rules for Your Career

I just finished reading Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. While I picked it up as a good-humor, man she is so cool read I have to give her credit for tricking me into reading a self-help book for your career.

She's my new role model

From figuring out who to hire and how to act (or not) in an interview Fey offered a nice spin on how to make it in (show) business as a woman. One section in particular caught my attention and I am going to focus on it here…

Improv Rules And the Workplace

Rule #1–Agree

Always agree and SAY YES. In improv if you decide you are on a train, your partner doesn’t change it he or she goes with it. Respecting what your partner created helps innovation and ideas thrive.

Rule #2–Not Only Say Yes….Say Yes AND

You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. Contributing to the conversation and ideas helps solidify you as a team member and it helps you learn.

Rule #3–Make Statements

Basically, don’t ask questions all the time. You put pressure on your scene partner to come up with all the answers. Statements are about confidence. You want to be part of solution.

Rule #4–There Are No Mistakes…Only Opportunities

Improv is essentially going with the flow. If you stop to explain what is really happening you lose the momentum. Not every project is going to go as planned. Learning to adapt makes you better in the long run on the job and helps support a better working environment.

Can you be a leader and a manager?

Tomorrow I am attending a session sponsored by PRSSA-NCC on moving from PR Manager to PR Leader. I thought it would be interesting to provide my pre-workshop thoughts….

Management vs. leadership–it’s a distinction we all hear over and over these days. They are not the same, but must go hand in hand for a group to succeed. The question is can you do both?

Management focuses on getting work done on time, on budget, and on target. Management is in other words execution, while leadership focuses on change and innovation.

A few years ago management actually included leadership–along with motivating, planning. communicating, organizing– as one  of the many functions necessary to make groups of people productive.

One could argue that in the agency world you go through stages of being both a manager and a leader.

You can akin a manager to a very strong Senior Account Executive who works with the team to stay on track and deliver on the plan outlined. They are often asked for input and in some cases have the opportunity to develop the plan themselves.

As you move into the Account Supervisor role, you are still executing but at this point have given much of the tracking to more junior level staff and are heading toward the designing stage, the innovation. With the innovation and strategic vision becoming more important as you continue to move up.

Of course, in agency world EVERYONE is responsible for delivering the goods and doing it on time and within the budget. At some point everyone is still the manager. It really comes down to HOW you manage that determines whether you are a leader.

“No” is the New “Yes”

More than ever we are prisoners of the urgent. We react to what’s right in front of us, whether it truly matters or not.

Prioritizing requires reflection, reflection requires time. And, well you just don’t have the luxury of that now do you? We are so busy trying to keep up that we don’t stop to think about much of anything.

Too often we default to “yes.”  Saying yes to requests feels safer, avoids conflict and takes less time than pausing to decide whether or not the request is truly important.

Many of us have become addicted, unwittingly, to the speed of our lives — the adrenalin high of constant busyness. We mistake activity for productivity, more for better, and we ask ourselves “What’s next?” far more often than we do “Why this?” But as Gandhi put it, “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Here are a few tips, so that you can schedule time to figure out how to say no. 

1. Schedule in your calendar anything that feels important but not urgent. If it feels urgent, you’re likely going to get it done. If it’s something you can put off, you likely will — especially if it’s challenging.

2. As your final activity before leaving work set aside time (about 10-15 minutes) to outline your tasks for the next day.

3. When you get in the morning, do the most important thing on your list first. Focus completely on this for 90 minutes, turn your phone off, silence your email. The more focused you are, the more you will accomplish.

4. Take scheduled breaks throughout the day. Working from home I have had to institute this into my schedule even more. I actually started doing simple yoga routines during my breaks to renew myself.

Creative Mornings

Last week a Facebook friend posted the below video. It’s the full talk given by Ben Chestnut, CEO and co-founder of MailChimp.com, to a group at the Piedmont Park Conservancy in Atlanta. It’s a long video, but it was the slow weeks of December so I was able to watch the whole thing.

2011/12 Creative Mornings with Ben Chestnut from CreativeMornings/Atlanta on Vimeo.

Chestnut believes there is a great difference between “doing what you love” and “loving what you do.” His example: if you love to bake and you open a bakery eventually the business part of it is going to suck all the loving out of baking. (He said it more eloquently.)

“It’s not about doing what you love, but loving what you do. Love what you do, be really good at it, and success will find you.”

Instead of getting hung up on the “dream job,” sometimes you just have to look right in front of you and make the most of it. Create projects that drive you.

Ben sets up a work environment where this can happen. As a manager he has to embrace the chaos to get the best work out of his employees.

The culture of giving people “permission to be creative,” has been one of the keys to MailChimp’s success. In fact, the company often finds “Easter eggs” in its own website design because of this.  In the tech world, an Easter egg is a practical joke or a hidden bit of content that gets included in the finished product, and they are so named because users have to search for them.

Below is an excerpt from the Fast Company article, Chestnut’s 5 Rules for a Creative Culture

1. Avoid rules. Avoid order. Don’t just embrace chaos, but create a little bit of it. Constant change, from the top-down, keeps people nimble and flexible (and shows that you want constant change).

2. Give yourself and your team permission to be creative. Permission to try something new, permission to fail, permission to embarrass yourself, permission to have crazy ideas.

3. Hire weird people. Not just the tattoo’d and pierced-in-strange-places kind, but people from outside your industry who would approach problems in different ways than you and your normal competitors.

4. Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can avoid the conference room and meet people in the halls, the water cooler, or their desks. Make meetings less about delegation and task management and more about cross-pollination of ideas (especially the weird ideas). This is a lot harder than centralized, top-down meetings. But this is your job — deal with it.

5. Structure your company to be flexible. Creativity is often spontaneous, so the whole company needs to be able to pivot quickly and execute on them (see #1).

The Busy Season: Taking Control of Your To-Do List

Each December I am completely caught off guard by the mad dash to the finish line. I don’t know what it is about the Holidays that lull me into a false sense of calm. This year I am following the below outline to make it through without completely breaking down.

  • Write it all down. Put everything on one list. Determine which tasks are easy and which are more difficult.
  • Do some easy things. Spend 15 minutes doing the easy tasks. Focus on speed: make the quick phone calls, shoot off the brief emails. Cross as many tasks off the list as you can.
  • Turn to a bigger task. Turn off your phone, close all the open windows on your computer, and focus on one of the more challenging tasks. Do this for 35 minutes without distraction.
  • Take a break. After 35 minutes, take a 10-minute break. Then return to step two.

The closing of all the open windows is a challenge for me, as it is for any person completely tied to their email. Once I buckle down though to pump out those 2012 plans though I don’t think I will want ANYTHING else open.


Finally Answering the Feedback Question

One of the hallmarks of a millenial is that we don’t take feedback very well.  We roll our eyes, stare blankly at the person or just flat out don’t listen. And when someone asks how we would prefer to get feedback there is no response. Literally we can’t articulate what they want.

Over generalization? Yes, but think about it feedback or constructive criticism is judgement no matter the word choice. It is a threat to the way others see our value. Trying to answer that question may be easier if we think less about what is being said and more about how it is said.

Many managers see their success as a reflection of yours. This is great when you do something outstanding, but the same is felt when shortcomings are exposed. Anytime feedback is provided with the goal of getting someone to better meet a manager’s needs rather than being responsive to theirs, the outcomes will be less than desired. Managers are more likely to be reactive, insensitive and even hurtful.

Failing to hold the other person’s value makes it feel like an attack. The immediate response is then to defend, and not to absorb what you are hearing.

It makes more sense to think about offering feedback in an exploratory way–a honest inquiry and opportunity for learning for both people–with a careful eye to not be condescending.

Watch for things we do, and then comment “I noticed you did X, Y and Z to solve that problem and they worked really well”    Or, “I realize you are worrying about  X situation ,and I was thinking that if you tried  A, maybe it would work.”  In other words, confirm who we are when commenting specifically on good things, and don’t put suggestions in terms of something that we should do to correct a problem, but take the suggestion onto yourself (“I was thinking about”  instead of “you should do this”).  So when something is said, and it is in a couple of sentences, not a half hour lecture, you are more likely to absorb and learn!

Defying the Odds, Tim Tebow Style

So we all know I am a HUGE Tim Tebow fan. There is just no love lost once you meet him, shake his hand, and watch him take your university to two National Championships. A lot of what makes Tim such an impressive player is his determination. He knows he has weaknesses, but he works so hard to make up for those that people want to help him succeed.

Here’s the thing his determination is a start, but he is only part of the equation. The fact that his head coach and coaching staff have made adjustment in the game plane to take advantage of his strengths makes the success possible.

A recent blog post by Scott Eblin at The Next Level, discussed how this thinking can be applied to the workplace and I wanted to share.

Ignore Conventional Wisdom—the NFL says no one runs the spread option offense; but Denver is adjusting its offense to include it. Eblin recommends looking for the “we’ve always done it this ways” and then asking yourself what are we missing out on because of that conventional thinking?

Understand Your Tebow’s Strengths and Keep Adjusting—Tebow is not a classic NFL passer, great runner and a fast decision maker and an amazing leader. His coaches are making adjustments to play to his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. Eblin says you have to commit to paying attention to coach your Tebow through the adjustments.

Be Clear About What You’re Really Trying to Accomplish—Tim doesn’t win pretty, in fact it’s not until “Tebow Time” (the last few minutes of the game) that he even wins the game. Something that really struck home for me was this:

“It’s a lot of work and can be heartburn inducing to make the changes you need to make to accommodate a Tebow. Fox and Elway appear to have crossed that bridge. They’re in it to win the game too. When you’re thinking through how to get the most from your Tebows, don’t forget about what you’re really trying to accomplish. Connect their development with the bigger goal.”

Five weeks after getting his opportunity the Broncos are 5 and 5, 4 and 1 with Tebow at the helm.  One case study, but a heck of a way to demonstrate that you can get a whole lot if you are willing to adjust.