Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hang Around for a Bit and Watch Me Lose My Mind

When I was a kid, my sisters and I used to make fun of my mother's habit of mangling names. For example, Bob Burke would be called "Bill Bark" by my mother.

"Bob Burke, Mom!" we would say, laughing and shaking our heads. "Bob Burke!"

What little smarty pants we were. She should have locked us in our rooms overnight with only bread and water until we learned more respect. I know now how disrespectful, how full of sass we were. I know that because my own children are now doing it to me.

And it's not funny being the one who mangles names. I have this uncanny ability to screw up people's names, no matter who they are. Now, when I look in the mirror not only do I see my mother, I now hear her voice. My biggest embarassment is that I often call some ordinary citizen by a celebrity name. So, I now refer to Jennifer Andrews as Julie Andrews. My children howl with laughter, shaking their heads.

They're this close to being locked in their rooms with bread and water.

I've been thinking a lot about why this is happening. Sure, some of it might be age. OK, a little itty, bitty, tiny part might be age. But I think the biggest culprit for me is the number of distractions and my perpetual multitasking.

I worry that this problem will affect the quality of my work. Mangling names in print is a definite no-no, but it's already happened.

I've been doing some research on how the brain functions, and what I can do to get a better handle on my name mangling and forgetfulness. The key is getting rid of a lot of bad habits and honestly, going back to doing some things the way I used to, especially when it comes to doing one thing before moving on to something else. (No more talking on the phone while printing something out and cleaning out my e-mail.)

According to Corinne Gediman and her book, "Brainfit," there are some things I can do every day to make my mind sharper and improve my memory. I'm only going to list five, because until my mind gets clearer, I won't remember to do more than that:

1. Work a jigsaw puzzle. I'm supposed to work it as quickly as possible and then write down how long it takes. In a week, I'll try it again and see if my time has improved.
2. Go to a movie, and then tell someone about it the next day. I'm supposed to provide names of the actors and the general plot. Maybe my bad habit will reverse itself and I'll start calling George Clooney by some average George's name.
3. Take a walk and really observe everything around me. When I get home, I'm going to write down something I had never noticed before, giving as much detail as possible.
4. Do errands without a list. Currently I have notes to myself on every flat surface of my home. I'm going to try to focus on just one shopping trip and remember everything without a list. I'm trying not to panic at the thought.
5. Read something I don't have an interest in. I read a lot already, but there are some things that don't get my interest: my son's car magazine; instructions to any appliance in my home; and a new age book that's very popular right now. I'm going to start reading stuff that I'm inclined to pass by.

Do you feel your memory is getting worse? What do you do to "troubleshoot" memory or concentration problems?


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Monday, April 7, 2008

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Work

It was a glorious weekend -- warm air and sunshine -- and no man or beast enjoyed it more than my Golden Retriever, Annie.

In fact, I spent a lot of time observing Annie this weekend, and I think I came away with some life lessons that would benefit anyone in the workplace today.

1. Take a nap. After chasing a couple of rabbits in the yard, barking at the neighbor's cat and thoroughly sniffing all open spaces, Annie looked a little pooped and headed for some shut eye on the sun-warmed deck. After about 30 minutes, she roused and and resumed chasing birds and barking at the neighbor's cat. The lack of sleep in this country is terrible, and it shows up in the workplace in terms of lost productivity and more accidents, both on the job and while commuting. Nearly 70 million of us are sleep deprived, and that's bad for our mental and physical health. When you're tired, don't check that last e-mail or put in that last load of laundry -- go to bed. Take a nap every day if you can. Annie sleeps when she's tired, and doesn't worry about whether the neighbor's cat will be there when she awakes.

2. Multitasking doesn't make sense. When Annie greets a member of the family, she always brings something to share like a tennis ball or a rawhide bone. Sometimes she'll try and bring a couple of tennis balls and the bone, which slows her down. In the time she spends searching and then trying to organize the items in her mouth, the person she was hoping to share her slobbery treasure with has moved on. She's learned that by grabbing only one thing, she does it quickly, efficiently and reaches her goal in time to enjoy the moment. Multitasking often backfires at work, so take a tip from Annie and do one thing well and enjoy the success of the moment before moving on to....well, barking at the neighbor's cat.

3. Appreciate the hand that feeds you. Every member of our family is greeted with love and lots of tail wagging by Annie, but I have to admit that Annie shows the love a bit more to me every morning because I'm the one who fills her food bowl. I get yips of joy when I pick up the bowl, and the tail wagging that accompanies her meal could generate enough energy to power a small city. Afterward, she always excitedly tracks me down, happily dancing in place as she conveys her gratitude for filling her belly. I think too often we forget that it's our jobs that allow us to feed ourselves and our loved ones, it's our jobs that allow us to pay bills and perhaps travel or buy that new iPhone. So, with job losses on the rise,remember to do an internal happy dance of your own and say "thanks" to those who give you a paycheck.


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Caution: Critical Thinking Ahead

Today is the last of my two-armed blogs for a while.

That may sound strange, but true. On Monday, I go under the knife (gasp) to have torn tendons fixed in my elbow. I'll be in a full cast for a couple of weeks, then face whatever comes after that. While I've planned ahead as much as possible (turning in work early, advising people I may be on drugs), there's still a knot in my stomach as I contemplate what's going to happen when I can't even do my own hair, and can't write (it's my right elbow and I'm right handed...of course).

But, being a Little Miss Organizer, I've already gotten a new wireless track mouse for my computer that will make it easier for me to use while in a cast. I've stocked the freezer with easy foods and even written out a day-by-day menu for my family. I've paid the bills early, made sure there's plenty of dog and cat food in the house and stocked the garage with enough toilet paper and paper towels that we won't run out until the next presidential election.

Still, I think what I'm the most leery about is what I'm going to do with my mind while I'm forced to recuperate. My doctor has issued strict instructions: rest, rest and rest. "Stay off that %$# computer!" he warned me. "And once your cast comes off, stay off that $%^ computer!"

Of course, he knows that's not going to happen, but I've been in enough pain for more than a year now that I'm not foolish enough to go back to work too soon and ruin all his hard work.

I remember a CEO of a Fortune 100 company I interviewed about 10 years ago who was retiring. He told me at the time that what he was most concerned about regarding the success of American businesses was not our ability to be productive, or our ability to compete on a day-to-day basis. What worried him, he said, was our lack of critical thinking skills that would really impact us in the coming years.

How many bosses, he asked me, would think it was OK to see an employee reading a book while on the job? How many managers, he said, wouldn't have a problem finding a worker staring out a window for an hour?

The CEO said that most managers would hit the roof if they saw an employee doing either of those activities. The reason, he said, was because workers were becoming so task-oriented that they were judged more on their busyness than their ability to think. And, without that, American companies would not have the creative and innovative solutions they needed to stay ahead of the curve, he said.

This conversation from 10 years ago is ringing very true with me lately. I know that I spend less time just thinking. I've become very task focused, and much less comfortable just sitting somewhere and contemplating life, or reading a book just because it will expand my mind, and not because it has something to do with my work.

I see employees every day grapple with how to stay ahead of e-mail and phone calls and meetings, with little or no incentive to just take time to think. Shoot -- people don't even want to take all their vacation time because it's too much hassle to get away, and even when they do go somewhere, they take e-mail and cell phones with them. They multitask like crazy, even though it's been shown that's a less productive strategy.

As I write this last two-armed blog, I know that the coming weeks will be interesting, unsettling, frustrating and filled with lots of bad hair days. At the same time, I know that I'm lucky in many ways because I'm going to do something I've needed to do for a while: think.

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