2008 - First Quarter

"Are You Listening?"

We are beginning to think of the New Year that is upon us, and with that thought comes hope — hope of fresh starts, of new resolutions that this year we will actually succeed at, and, hope of new ideas, possibilities and opportunities for ourselves, our team and our business.

As we looked forward, it occurred to all of us at TBD that we may not have room for all this great new stuff. What I mean is, unless we take stock of where we are right now, both mentally and physically, and start to "make room", so to speak, we are in danger of losing that hope and all the newness that comes with it.

With that in mind, we have dubbed December our "culling" month. That's right — out, out, out with the old that we have held on to for too long; out with the boring and dull, and out with the behaviors that continue not to serve us. We are clearing the clutter — both literally and figuratively.

The TBD team had an all hands on deck week in the middle of December to do an "extreme makeover" of our office. We cleaned out our offices (which included all our files and filing cabinets), painted the walls and all the while, took the time to re-group as a team. Like a garden, all living things need tending; without the culling, there is no room for growth. Be sure to check out the photos inside of the results of our team's hard work during the TBD Extreme Makeover week!

In the spirit of out, out, out with the old, we are dedicating this issue of The Inquisitor to ideas that you all can use for your own potential culling process. You will read articles in this issue that will look at your prioritization and time management habits. Or, is it your language that needs culling? Our article on revamping the power of your language, by getting rid of words like should and try, is a great read.

And, as a side note, to piggy-back on this same theme, re-read the article in our last issue of The Inquisitor on assertive behavior and language. It's a good reminder to shed your passive or aggressive approach and be far more effective as an assertive communicator.

Lastly, when was the last time you reviewed your office technology system or your office supply vendor? Well, we have some tips for making sure you are not wasting valuable time or money with outdated technology and pricey vendors.

So, join us on the journey of ridding ourselves of the things that are not adding value to our business or to our lives. You will be surprised at how much room you will gain, both physically, and mentally in your head, so that you are ready to have cool, new stuff enter in the new year. With paint brushes poised and minds open, we here at TBD are ready. How about you?

Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous new year!
~ Grace

Extreme Makeover: Office Edition

I'm sure many of you have seen ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Each episode of Extreme Makeover focuses on one highly deserving family and the makeover of their home, which involves a team of designers, contractors and several hundred workers who have just seven days to totally rebuild an entire house. The results are amazing and the families are beyond thrilled...the transformation brings joy, happiness and a whole host of other positive emotions to the families, as well as more modernized, clean, organized and useful living space.

At TBD we decided to take the concept of this show to our offices (minus the team of designers, contractors and hundreds of workers, of course!). Nevertheless, we were looking for similar results: a space that looked and felt more clean, organized, modern and useful.

Studies have actually identified that art, ergonomics, plants, color, light, organization and cleanliness enhance creativity, morale and productivity.

In the end, we decided this project was valuable and that we had to figure out how to accomplish it, within our limited budget and timeframe. However, like many of you, we found ourselves tightly scheduled, moving in and out of the office without having a lot of time to spend with each other, let alone paint, rearrange and redecorate.

Then, we took a step back and realized that we could accomplish this project by taking some time for ourselves as team (which we hadn't done in a while) and make the project into a teambuilding opportunity as well.

We set aside 3.5 days during the week before Christmas, which is typically a less hectic time for us. The goals were simple: we were going to spend the time organizing, purging and painting, as well as talking about the year gone by in an informal setting, so that we could get caught up on each others' lives outside work. And, of course, we would be sharing meals together. (It's really about the food with us!)

Jeff lead the initiative and, as our general contractor, he created a schedule which organized "the crew" and what needed to be accomplished each day. We picked our paint colors, purchased our supplies and, on Monday morning, got started on the office re-make!

We are both thrilled and proud of our results. Some highlights include: (i) newly painted offices that offer a more clean and open feel, (ii) purged and organized files, book shelves and storage areas that make it easier to find what you are looking for, (iii) organized computer equipment and wiring, and finally (iv) more physical space in each office due to reorganization and de-cluttering. We have also ordered new area rugs and are on the look out for some art work for the walls.

As an aside, we came across the following pointers that we found useful. We hope you do, too!

Create a Feature or Accent Wall. Paint is an inexpensive way to add color and interest to a room. Try creating a feature or accent wall by painting it a strong or vibrant color. We choose to make the small kitchen space a brighter color. Additionally, inexpensive artwork can add life to dull walls and workspaces.

Focus on De-cluttering. Clutter can make a small room look even smaller. Spend time purging and if possible, sell or store office equipment and furniture you don't use. We were able to move out an unused desks and bookshelves to make more room and the extra space we gained makes our office look larger.

Arrange or Cover Up Open Shelving. If your office has many open book cases with clutter and mess, focus on rearranging the items you use most and exposing only supplies that can be organized neatly (i.e., books or printer paper). We were able to store some videos and materials that we don't use often in a closet and then focused on arranging the books and training resources on the selves in an organized and useful manner. You could also cover the shelves with an inexpensive blind, curtain or fabric, to add color to your space.

Purge Your Files. Filing systems get outdated quickly and then become jam-packed or unusable. Revise your system for efficiency. Create new folders and proper labels for the ones in use. Then actually file those piles of paper you've been meaning to file! If your space is limited, you can also consider keeping active client files (those from the past year or two) in the file cabinets and boxing the rest for storage (with proper labels, of course). This is the approach we took and it freed up substantial space in our cabinets and allowed us to organize those files we need to have most readily accessible.

Control Your Computer Wires. Unorganized wires can be an eyesore and a danger. Use twist ties and multiple extension power cords to help keep electrical wires organized and prevent any headaches later. It was amazing how much neater several spaces in our office looked when we took these steps.

Maintain Order at Your Desk. Purchase desk-organizing units to keep your pens, paper clips, and sticky notes in one place. Keeping pre-moistened cleaning wipes in your drawer can make keeping the surface clean easier. Our office purchased a bulletin board for each person's desk so they had a place to hang notes, calendars, phone lists, and other personal items. This helped to clean up each person's individual space as well as add a uniform look and feel to the office space.

Now, we won't lie, this was hard work and there were some sore muscles and burnt out painters at the week's end. However, the experience was well worth it in our eyes.

We recommend using a typically mundane activity (i.e., cleaning the office) and turning it into a teambuilding or come-together event. As you can see, the results can be amazing!

Not only will you have the opportunity to enhance your team's communication and relationships, but your work environment will be reinvigorated and refreshed as well, making it more organized, creative and productive. Take the challenge in the new year and do a Extreme Makeover of your office space!

The Time Has Come! Be Done With Should and Try

As I think of "out with the old", I think of shedding old clothes, old stuff around the house, old habits, and old language. The last one is what I'd like to call your attention to. I can think of nothing better to shed than language that no longer serves me. Language is a powerful tool and is more than just speech; it is a direct reflection of attitudes and feelings.

As I think about language that can directly affect me in a not-so-positive way, I know the very two words I want to shed immediately. They are should and try. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with these words. Should means obligation, duty, conditionality, and it is also used to moderate directness. If I can start the New Year by shedding obligations, imagine how much lighter I will feel. It isn't that I want to stop doing for others, it's that I want to choose service to others, rather than feeling obligated. It is important to recognize that the spirit of my service to others is completely different when I choose it (a positive connotation), rather than feeling obligated to it (a negative connotation). As I further contemplate the word should and its definition of conditionality, to me that implies giving up of my own personal power (i.e., doing something because conditions dictate it, rather than do things because I want to).

The second word that I need to shed is try. Try means to attempt or to put forth effort. There is nothing wrong with effort. I love to see on my children's report cards that they put forth effort. But effort cannot be an end in itself. The goal is to accomplish something, not try at it. If at the end of the day I am still trying, that means I did not accomplish. So from now on, I will set forth to accomplish my goals, and passions in life, not set forth to try. I will not answer requests from others by saying "I'll try" but rather "I will". They will have more confidence in me and I will have more confidence in myself.

And, lastly, by shedding try and should from my vocabulary, I will meet my goal of being more direct in the New Year. Directness, given with a caring attitude is a gift to others. Isn't it great to always have clear communication that leaves no question as to where we stand? So it's settled. I have convinced myself to give up should and replace it with choice, power and directness and to give up try and replace it with a direct and confident I will.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Are Your Old Office Systems Wasting You Time and Money?

It is that time of year when companies are finalizing their budgets for next year and when departments are being asked to see where they can improve on spending. We have found that there are two areas of office operations that often get overlooked or glossed over when it comes to budgeting — one area we often overspend in is office supplies and another area we don't budget enough money for is technology upgrades. Well, what better time than the present to examine if it's time to be done with these old ways.

One area that can be improved upon in most any office, is the spending that takes place on office supplies. First, take a look around your office and see what supplies you use most and order in bulk, as this is an easy way to save money. Second, comparison shop. If you make a master list of supplies that you are using most — paper, toner, ink, etc., and compare pricing, you just may be surprised at how much you could be saving by switching vendors. We suggest assigning someone in your office to do research and find the best prices from competing vendors; it only takes a few hours and once it's done you have it for the remainder of the year. We recently did an office audit and discovered that just on our cases of copy paper alone, we could save $13.00 a case by switching vendors!

Other ways of making sure that you are maximizing your office operations is to look at your technology and the systems you have in place to make sure everything is working as it should. We suggest having routine maintenance done on your computers, printers and copiers.

There could be several new updates for your systems programming that would help decrease the time spent working on projects and help increase the quality output. For example, our office just went though a check of all laptops and computers. From this check, we made some investments in our hardware that will increase the speed of our Coordinator's desktop and all computers got an upgrade in software that is making the users' lives easier (and saving time). When was the last time you did a technology check-up?

Ridding Yourself of Your Time Management Trap

Effective time management has been the topic of business gurus since the early 70's. In recent years, we have seen the success of First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, The Time Trap by R. Alec MacKenzie and most recently, 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count by Robert W. Bly. For me personally, the seminal book on time management, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein, says it all in a succinct, realistic fashion; his tenets are as true today as they were in 1960. His basic premise is that we need to practice effective, rather than efficient time management.

The objective of effective time management is to set goals for yourself that have meaning and purpose and then prioritize them. Read on to learn more about Lakein's approach, how to spot if you are in a time management trap and what to do about it.

Lakein's approach says: The following are his top five time management guidelines:

  • List your goals
  • Set priorities
  • Make a daily "to-do" list
  • Start with A's, not with C's
  • Remember to ask this focused question: "What is the best use of my time right now?"

Lakein is a believer in setting A, B and C goals. Once you have determined your A1 goal, then you must create the action steps that will help you achieve that goal. These steps should end up on your daily to-do list. So whether you are using a manual to-do list or utilizing the tasks folder in Outlook , the process is the same. You need to prioritize your to-do's with the ABC method. Then start with the A items, not the C's.

Are you in a time trap?
In general, the A's on your list will be more time-consuming than the C's, and we end up in the trap of checking all those C's off our lists (this makes us feel more productive). In the big picture however, 15 minutes of quiet time spent on an A1 goal is much more significant than accomplishing 3 C items. So, if you are crossing off a lot of small to-do's from your list, but finding yourself behind on your big, priority projects and tasks, then you are stuck in a bad time management trap and it is time to shift your time management philosophy.

What you can do.
It's time to get rid of your old time management system, but first you must change your mindset about your to-do list (just because you've crossed a lot of thing off the list, doesn't mean that you were as productive as you could have been). Next, you need to get in the habit of setting weekly priorities (A's, B's and C's) and updating your to-do list daily with tasks that will meet these goals. Lastly, you need to focus your time on the A items, then B items and finally C items on your list. In doing so, you will discover that you are achieving your goals, feeling more productive and more in control of your time — these are the outcomes of practicing effective time management. It's as easy as ABC...

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