Salted Streets; Salted Fries

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Too much fun to NOT re-post!

Josh Orter over at Stupid Calculations asks (and answers) what we all want to know: How many orders of french fries could a salt truck salt?!

“Nutritional information on McDonalds.com reveals that a medium-sized fries contains 270 mg of sodium,” he writes. “At more than 907 million milligrams per ton, a 16-ton spreader carries up to 14.5 billion mg worth of salty potential; enough to season 53.7 million orders. Just one truck.”

Wow!

Want to know how many fries the New York Department of Sanitation could salt with its entire salt supply?! Click on the link.


Time-Shifting Time

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Funny how time has a way of playing games with us. Sometimes it goes too fast; sometimes too slow. Rarely it’s, as Goldilocks might say, “Ahhh, just right.”

Why is that? Perhaps Albert Einstein can explain it to us:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

That time is relative, and that it so often goes at the wrong speed, is a regular and recurring problem in the workplace. Consider:

  • A meeting that just…won’t…end.
  • A key deliverable deadline that’s too-fast approaching.
  • The things that need to be done before you can leave for the airport.
  • The way that the flights you want to be delayed rarely are.

This all begs the question, what can we do to “time-shift” time if it’s going at the wrong speed? Let’s take a look at that.

How to SPEED UP time

  • Interrupt and ask a question.
    If someone’s droning on and on it’s not rude to interrupt them to ask a question. It’s really not. “Excuse me for just a moment,” you might say, “I have a question about [“what you just said” or “something you referred to earlier” or “how, specifically, I might help you here”]. May I ask it?” Truth is, sometimes people keep talking because they get so engrossed in what they’re saying that they forget who they’re saying it to. Don’t let them decide for you how much information you need about something.
  • Initiate the right conversations.
    Sometimes the problem is the opposite of the one mentioned above – not that a person is talking too much; it’s that they’re not talking enough. Example: You’re waiting for some key information from your boss…and you’re still waiting. Rather than wait for too much longer, go ask. Go start a conversation about it. If your boss can’t (or won’t) answer you still, find out why. Discuss alternatives. Ask what you should say about the delay to those who are waiting for you to get and share the information. At least find out when you should re-ask and then calendar a reminder for yourself to follow-up…because your boss told you to.
  • Triage your priorities.
    Triage is a medical term describing “the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.” (Thank you Wikipedia.) It’s not about treating the patient, per se, it’s about assessing the severity and immediacy of the treatment needed. In business, we call that “prioritization.” (But saying “prioritize your priorities” seemed too obvious and redundant to use as a headline, so I went with “triage.”) So triage your priorities. Often. 

How to SLOW DOWN time

  • Stop. And breathe.
    It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and strain and hurry and bustle of the workplace. Too easy, sometimes. So stopping to take even one or two deep breaths can make a huge difference in your “frazzle-factor.” And what’s that take? Ten, maybe fifteen seconds?! So inhaling through your nose, fill up those lungs to the count of five and pause. Good. Now exhale, through your mouth, to the count of six. Nice. Repeat, put a smile on your face, and get back to work!
  • Schedule some One-on-None time.
    Too often our days are not our own. Meetings, phone calls, more meetings, emails, more meetings still, in-person interruptions…a seemingly limitless array of grabs for your attention. In a way that’s good – your presence matters. But to be at the top of your game, you probably need to “think through” the implications of what’s going on from day-to-day, meeting-to-meeting, conversation-to-conversation. Most people don’t. Or they try to squeeze it in between things, which doesn’t really work. So schedule some alone time – an hour if you can, 15 minutes is that’s all you can spare. Label it “strategic planning” or call it a “prep-time” – or “doctor’s appointment” – block it out on your calendar. It will help minimize the usual interruptions and distractions. Make it as much of a regular priority for yourself as you can.
  • Take micro-breaks.
    It’s a counter-intuitive notion, but taking a brief pause – especially before you need it – helps you be far more productive than slogging straight through. Consider: You could keep driving your car until you run out of gas OR you could stop before it hits empty and fill ‘er up. You’re going to have to stop one way or the other; the question is just whether it’s more or less convenient; more or less time-consuming. Dr. Joyce Brothers, an American psychologist, television personality and columnist, who wrote a daily newspaper advice column from 1960 to 2013 (thank you, again, Wikipedia) put it this way, “No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you’d be more productive.” You may not be able to break that frequently, but a few minutes every few hours? That might be more doable than you realize.

Are you a Leader…or a Martyr

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You don’t have to answer out loud, but you have to answer honestly: “Are you most comfortable when you’re feeling overwhelmed?”

If so, you may be what’s called, in the February 2014 issue of Inc. magazine, a Martyr-Leader.

Telltale signs of a Martyr-Leader

  1. You’re a bottleneck…and you secretly like it.
    Martyr-Leaders have un-fulfillable commitments, impossibly Herculean to-do lists, and triple-booked schedules – all for the purpose of generating the warm, comforting glow of indispensability.
  2. Your default mood is self-pity.
    Watch a martyr-leader as he goes about his daily business, and you will find two primary attitudes on display: poor me and head-shaking sigh.
  3. You exude learned helplessness.
    Martyr-Leaders live in a self-taught state of mind wherein nothing is ever truly fixable and everything is a mess – and expect the rest of us to feel the same.

And what if you are (or think you are) a Martyr-Leader?

If so, I recommend the following six steps:

  1. Pat yourself on the back.
    It’s not easy to face our shortcomings, but you just did.
  2. Don’t rush into action.
    As H. L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” And since your likely reaction is to jump right into the “busyness,” of this problem, slow down, take a breath, and relax a bit with a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
  3. Triangulate.
    While sipping your java, name 2 or 3 leaders who are decidedly not Leader-Martyrs. Consider what they do that you don’t; what they don’t, that you do. Now name 2 or 3 more leaders who are even more Leader-Martyr-ish than you and consider what they they do that you don’t; what they don’t, that you do.

  4. Push Away.
    Next, list out 2 or 3 simple, doable, steps you can take (or not take) that would push you away from being even more leader-martyr-ish. Implement them as soon as you get back to the office.

  5. Pull Toward.

    List out 2 or 3 additional steps you can take (or not take) that would pull you toward less leader-martyr-ism. Implement them as soon as you get back to the office, as well.

  6. Pat yourself on the back, again, and get back to work.
    It’s not easy to actually address our shortcomings, but you now are. Congratulations.

Feeling Undervalued

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My latest response to a question posed in the Mentor’s Guild their Ask an Expert forum:

Their Question: As a team of six managers, we form the core of the research department in an consumer products company. My boss is a long-serving, friendly and very competent head of the department. He is also an idealist. So much so that many of our initiatives are credited to other divisions (with greater political savvy) in the wider organization. We have brought this up in our meetings, but our manager believes “true merit” sooner or later rises to the top. Maybe so. Problem is, it leaves the rest of us feeling undervalued.

My Answer: As your boss suggests, “true merit” sooner or later DOES rise to the top — except, of course, when it does not!

Therein lies the rub.

Unmet needs — especially like “feeling undervalued” — can cause terrible distraction in the workplace. Even worse, it can negatively affect the work you do as you (inadvertently, but likely) shift your attention from doing exemplary work to getting more recognition regardless of the quality of work you do.

So know this: the workplace is NOT the place to try to get your unmet needs met. The point of one’s job is to do the job, not try to use it to fulfill a personal need for greater recognition, or some such. Pardon the harshness, but if you want to be adored, get a puppy!

Then consider this: What, specifically, do you want to hear from whom about the value you (and the other managers) are providing to the larger organization?

  • Is it a pat-on-the-back from the boss? A special recognition dinner hosted by your boss’ boss? Something in between? What?
  • Is it a note in your personnel file? A front-page story in the company’s newsletter extolling  your amazing contributions to the cause? Something in between? What?
  • Is it some extra comp time? A seat on a high-level/high-visibility task force? Something in between? What?

Get as specific and granular about it as you can — and then work to achieve that goal as creatively and diligently and professionally as you would any other issue you face.

But whatever you do, don’t get all needy and whiny about it! That’s just bad form. (Not that I’m saying you or the others ARE getting all needy and whiny about it, but IF you are, think: Puppies, ha-ha!)

Let me know if you’d like to talk through some of the follow-up questions you, no doubt, have.


Managing Older Employees

As a founding member of the Mentors Guild, I help individuals and businesses maximize their performance. Here’s my latest response to a question posed in their Ask an Expert forum:

Their Question: My leadership style is casual, friendly and collaborative. One big hurdle — I have to manage a SME (subject matter expert) senior engineer (nearing retirement age) who is also a likely contender to the position. It is an exciting and intimidating opportunity.  Appreciate your advice.

My Answer: I’ve faced similar circumstances in my own career. Great opportunities to test whether we’re as good as we think we are!

What worked for me was to adopt a full-on “servant leader” approach to my older-than-me direct reports, asking them:

  • “Tell me how you want to be managed?”
  • “What type of support do you want…or not want…from me?”
  • “Do you prefer me to ask you for updates or you to provide your updates to proactively?”

Based on what they say, negotiate, as needed:

  • “Sure, I can check in with you no more than once/month, but then you need to check in with me every Thursday at 2pm because if I don’t know what you’re working on I’m likely to make some pretty lousy decisions on your behalf.”
  • “Oh, Thursdays won’t work? Okay, then when before that would?”
  • “I understand you think you could do my job better than me, and quite possibly you can, but what I want to know is what would demonstrate otherwise to you? Let’s talk about what make me the best boss you’ve ever had and see if I can rise to the challenge?”

A lot of this has to do with your poise; your grace under fire, as it were. So keep in mind that your boss picked you, no doubt, because s/he thought you were capable enough to handle the challenge. Proving him/her right about that will serve you, your boss, and your direct reports well.

Let me know if you’d like to talk through some of the follow-up questions you, no doubt, have.