Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dis-orientingly Familiar

I have lived in many places in my life – sometimes you can pass through a place, even live there for a good chunk of time, without the place grabbing much of a hold on your memory and other places dig deep roots into your heart, even in a short stay.  And the place that prompted me to write is one that dug deep.  It was nice to get a chance to go back recently, even briefly, and check how the town and some of the people that I know are faring.

Living now in the Chicago area, there isn’t much contour to our prairie, but this area has plenty of hills and valleys.  Some of the state routes and other roads connecting towns used to be 2 lane back roads with character including twists and turns – but over time through government investment, need due to heavy use, and hard work of construction workers these routes and roads have become 4 lane highways and therefore been straightened out and lost character.  It is now faster to get from one place to another, and you don’t have fear what might be taking that next curve wide, but the scenery is blander.

more Jisco West

Progress seems to smooth out personality.

I’ve noticed that this seems true with clothing and buildings as well.  Look at items that were made painstakingly by hand in previous centuries and you will see intricate work that we don’t see in many of our modern items – straighter lines, more uniform.

I know this thing, if not clearly anymore, I know it viscerally.  This is where the old road went that way.  This is where the door used to be.  Even if you haven’t lived many places I bet you can identify – think about when you have visited some place and found that they have similar street names.  Which makes you think twice as hard to get from A to B – is it your usual A to B, or a different one that should not overlay existing information?  Names are the same, but contours and results are quite different.

We know it, but we don’t and it is disorienting.  Our brains stutter to gain certainty – this, no that, um.  Breathe, not panic.  Familiar, why?  What fits with what?  Set aside the unknown for a moment, focus on the known – even vague misty known.  And click.  Understanding starts, disorientation recedes.  I am here, now.  Whew.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


Tree Blight & Managing Information

The trees in the parkways for many blocks around my house seem to be affected by some awful blight and look quite bedraggled.  I love trees and find this terribly distressing.  Crews have come through some parts of the neighborhood and removed trees – leaving gaping emptiness where once there was shade, green beauty and a home for squirrels and birds.

In the past, my village has seen fit to mail out announcements about street work or tree trimming or various other activities that residents might worry over.  There is also a regular newsletter.  But not a peep about the state of our trees or the plan to improve the situation.  I feel neglected and confounded.  The activity so far doesn’t seem to have any logic applied.


I am sad for the whole neighborhood, which will have a very different character – but want to know particularly what is being planned for the 5 trees in the parkway right by my house.  I realize that this is a costly correction, but surely some sort of notice is warranted.

It often amazes me that communication somehow goes right as often as it does.  There are so many components to communication, and the person initiating it only has control over their own end.  What should be conveyed, what is the best method to convey it, who is the target recipient?  How much background should be provided?  How much of the solution’s detail should be included?

I don’t usually deal in wishful thinking when it comes to managing information – but my preferred outcome this time would be to turn back time and prevent the blight.  I am saddened at the plight of these trees and reminded of this every time I go along the streets of my neighborhood.

Would you share a moment of poor information management that you have witnessed?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Time Out Moment

Adults have been putting children in time out for decades, hundreds of years when you take the old Dunce chair into account.  Yet, somehow we don’t seem to realize when we should give ourselves a time out.  Everyone could use one now and again, regardless of how measured some people are overall.

The time out is intended to give the child time to get hold of their emotions – of course, particularly for a child, it should include vigorous exercise, not sitting still, to rid the body of that kinetic energy.  (Wherever do we think that energy is going to go?)  But that point is for another time.  We assume that through the various methods applied by our caregivers we have developed the skills needed to keep ourselves under control now as adults.

Too bad we can't have a time out spot like this nearby when we need it.

Too bad we can’t have a time out spot like this nearby when we need it.

But due to uncertainty, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, a chaotic event, illness, fear, want/need, or many other forces we don’t always have the control that we ought over our own responses.  We need to give ourselves a time out moment.  A step back, breathe, assess, consider, reconsider opportunity before we speak or act.

People who are more measured by nature are better able to build this need into their interactions.  Impulsive people, and all of the others in between measured and impulsive will have to practice awareness first – to identify that they are getting to a point where a time out is a good idea.  I have varying success with this recognition myself.  When I need it the most, I don’t seem to have the right access.

When I am just a bit stressed, but still aware I realize that I can rely upon my breathing to give me the best clue.  When it becomes shallow and tight, I stop whatever I am doing.  Then I get moving – this is always a good time for a restroom break – to change my blood flow, plus a change of scenery gives your mind a chance to re-channel thinking – and the physical activity will start to burn some of the psychic energy that is causing the need for a time out moment.  I focus on deeper breathing while moving.

We all have a lot on our mind, our plate – whatever – a time out moment now and then to reflect helps immensely.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Deciding to Deal with Decision Fatigue

Each person on a team needs to be able to show a willingness to make decisions, not just the leader.


The average adult makes well over 100 decisions each day, not all of them are made consciously because habit and avoidance or procrastination are decision types too.  You start your decisions for the day with the choice of how you respond to the alarm and go from there.  Of course there is research that shows our ability to make sound decisions can actually be eroded by the need to make a large number of decisions, a sort of decision weariness.  The official wording is decision fatigue.


Being the President would require the need for making a large number of decisions in any given day, here is his take on reducing the need for smaller, daily decisions:

“You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

~ Barack Obama


Thankfully you aren’t the President, but it is still a good thing to think about how you perform on a busy day when many different things are thrown at you – do you carefully consider each new request, or does your brain get more and more focused on how busy you are and actually consider the activities you are undertaking less and less?  Or, to counteract decision weariness, do you prioritize decisions and apply some simple concept to address routine decisions?


You need to take a look at the methods and tools that you are using to make decisions and take it another step.  Each of us, whether we realize it or not has a method, but we need to evaluate that method for effectiveness – you must establish your own criteria.


“Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work.”

~ Robert Genn


How do you make sure that you aren’t falling into a rut?  That you are saving your decision making energy for the helpful decisions and not expending it all on what to wear that day, what to have for lunch, what email to answer first?


Sometimes the best decision that you can make is to decide your own criteria for making good decisions.  And part of that is to make sure you conserve your decision making energy for the right decisions.


My original post was on 12/14/12 – Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Mental Reset Via Road Trip

My parents were raised in the same medium sized Midwestern city, but moved away to follow my dad’s job early in their marriage.  This meant that from a small age, I was used to getting in the car for a drive to see extended family.  Being in the car meant dad driving, always.  Mom variously would start games with us, get us to sing rounds, read or sleep.  There came to be a rhythm of family interaction and personal introspection that I found pleasant.

776 turn

Ever since being on my own, I have sought out a road trip or two each year because of this thought rhythm.  New sights outside the car window can be triggers for new thoughts and ideas.  (And blog posts.)


“Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

~ Isaac Asimov


Just like the country in general, my life has been churning a lot of change in the past year or so and a road trip was just what I needed to think, adjust and let the light in.  I am back from a very quick trip to an area that I called home for several years.  It is a small town, county seat, in a rural setting.  It gave me a chance to think while on the road, and to get a bit of green therapy in places that we used to go hiking.


Even if your life has been same old same old, it is helpful to figure out a way to scrub off your assumptions and there is nothing like a change of scenery to do it.


I have this conversation with myself during almost every road trip – this is the time that I will make a point to not be so stuck on getting to my destination, but stop at some of the local places that post signs along the road.  I know that it is important to expand my perception once in a while.  On the way home I did just this, and reminded myself that it was fun as I was grumbling about pulling into my garage so late at the end of the trip.


How do you give yourself a mental reset once in awhile?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Go For It and Carry a Hello Kitty™ Lunchbox

There is a constant yin-yang between wanting to fit in and expressing individuality.  We somehow think that we will leave this behind when we cross the threshold to adulthood and finally be comfortable, but find soon enough – drat it all – that this balance is a life-long pursuit in our personal and professional lives.  And balance is probably not the best word because how few of us ever feel that we have found just the right weighting of each element?  (Or even in those sweet moments that we do, how quickly something changes again.)


We progress through life attempting to figure out how to fit in within ourselves and also within various groups.  Do I?  Should I?  How was that?  Validation is sweet.  Small set-backs in one area can ripple through our impression of placement in other areas painfully and quickly.  Seismic moments of uncertainty can make us want to jump in bed, pull the covers up and figure out how to be a hermit.


I have been able to find my way through life, so far, in a manner that has allowed me to sample many geographic areas, various groups – formal and informal, and provided latitude to explore different ideas.  I have soared and I have stumbled, mostly plodded along at a fairly steady pace.  It has helped that my mom shared her infinite curiosity and my dad shared his determination.  These traits have served me well and stand in place of confidence and assuredness when necessary, plus make room for all sorts of adjustments here and there.


About that Hello Kitty™ lunchbox – I am drawn to her calm, serene thoroughly pleased countenance.  But I was too old when she first came into popularity because she was marketed to girls several years younger than me.  Purportedly then, I was much too old when she came back to prominence a few years ago.  But a funny thing had happened in the years between.  I got comfortable enough with my sense of self that I could indulge in the whimsy that Hello Kitty™ offered, despite my advanced age.


When I received said lunchbox as a gift my practical side said, this will be more useful and less wasteful than paper bags; and my creative self said, what a great thing to give me a smile every day.  I was firmly on the leadership track at work by then, but I have never believed that professionalism leaves no room for personal – even quirky – expression.   I am possibly in the minority in this belief.


People from senior management down to entry level didn’t quite know how to react to my new possession.  Even the person who gave it to me might have been surprised that I used it at work.  (I never asked and she never said.)  Some people tried to make me feel embarrassed about carrying such a ‘childish’ item into an office.  ‘About that lunchbox of yours’ they would start and I would jump in, ‘doesn’t she just brighten up your day?’.   They didn’t know where to go after that.


I carried that lunchbox for about 6ish years.  Until she was looking a bit worn and tired.  Another friend gave me a new bag, also with personality, but this time more ‘grown-up’.  The Hello Kitty™ lunchbox was retired.  But she is still in my heart, rooting for self-expression.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What Virtue in Acceptance?

Pick your battles, my mom used to say.  She was referencing child rearing, but it applies in other aspects of life just as well, certainly at work.  She was right about the child rearing part that is for sure; I wish that I had done a few early things differently.  But I learned, and I started to apply this thought to many things.


How do you decide what to welcome, or accept?

How do you decide what to welcome, or accept?

Virtue doesn’t seem to be a popular word or idea these days.  And yet there is virtue in having virtue since it is a good or admirable quality or property.


We have all heard of the Serenity Prayer, and there is definite power to accepting the things that we cannot change when including the wisdom for knowing what those things might be.  Then again, we should thank our lucky stars for the people who challenge conventional wisdom now and again about the things that we cannot change.  Sometimes we can, collectively, have a go at these things.  Tipping at windmills in groups has been known to affect change when it seemed acceptance was virtuous.  One person’s belief that they can affect change can spread.


Yet acceptance can be calming when applied to things that we cannot change, that are outside of our control.  The virtue comes in saving our energy for affecting change where we do have control.  In questioning the wisdom of everything, not accepting, we become malcontents.  Monday starts your work week and insists upon rolling around every week?  Acceptance of this inevitability is calming.  A rule no longer has basis in reality after the latest round of changes, tip at that windmill.


Do you see virtue in acceptance?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Education and Learning

Academie des Sciences c1671 (photo credit Wikipedia)

Academie des Sciences c1671 (photo credit Wikipedia)

There is a great deal in life to learn, to be taught.


“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”

~ Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”


Education can introduce us to previously unknown topics, and willingness to learn will be the key to gaining knowledge.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Formal Writing Habits

A friend called the other day to offer a suggestion for a blog post.  (I love it when they do.)  And we ended up in a bit of a debate.  Well, half of one anyway since we agreed that there is still a place for formal writing styles.  But disagreed whether the upcoming generations will consider this to be a truth.  Millennials now in the workplace, and those upcoming generations still in school. 


Cursive writing seems to be a dying art, saved now for posh invitations.  I’m ok with that, a lot of people say that they can’t read my writing anyway.  So too will it be for formal letter templates?  The salutation, indentation of a new paragraph – or my preferred extra carriage space – full sentences, grammar and punctuation?  (Do these younger people who’ve only known typing on a computer even know what I mean by carriage space?)

public domain image

public domain image


I am betting on the continuation of business letter formatting.  It is not a just because sort of thing, there is logic behind these rules.  Formal address is respectful and the format helps the eyes and the mind absorb the message where big blocks of unpunctuated text make the eyes and brain balk.


Everything old is new again – this has been rediscovered over and over as humans have evolved on this planet.  Formal styling in writing will see a resurgence.  The content of a message must be packaged carefully, in order to retain its meaning. 


Your turn – what say you?  Don’t let your younger self that struggled with all the little rules speak here; think about reading comprehension, eye strain, possibility of misunderstanding.  (Hey, if we could maintain this strict formatting using a typewriter doing it on computers is a breeze…  My friend isn’t here to push her side of the debate…)


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

In Our Circles

Growing up, The Carol Burnett Show was part of prime family time each week, bits and pieces of the skits becoming part of our family vocabulary and identifying points.  Madeline Kahn was a frequent guest on the show and one of her skits where she played a pretentious acting coach for Eunice was a favorite for us.  Something that Madeline says repeatedly in this skit, ‘in our circles, in our circles, in our circles’ became part of our family sayings.


Madeline Kahn publicity shot

Madeline Kahn publicity shot

Madeline Kahn was spoofing Method Acting concepts for great hilarity, but this phrase has come to represent both an effort to center myself and a way to be aware of my comfort zones.  Even when firmly in our comfort zones, we can still need to center ourselves at times.  And we really need to be aware of how to center ourselves when we are outside of our comfort zones.


Madeline Kahn had this wonderfully rich, theatrical voice and I can still see her now – head slightly tilted forward, eyes closed and hands circling around as she chanted, ‘in our circles, in our circles, in our circles’.  (Carol Burnett as Eunice lapping it all up and imitating every action.)  This is a great example of how humor can impact us well beyond the stress-relieving immediate laughter.


Remaining centered is a supreme act all in itself most of the time.  Things, events, people are all working quite hard, and seemingly deliberately, to push us off center.  Out of our circle.


Our comfort zones can hold us back from progress – at work, in relationships – because the next thing that we need is beyond the perimeter of comfort.  Out of our circle.


Some people have a fairly easy time adjusting to unfamiliar and making it part of their comfort zone and others really struggle.  Of course capability to adjust can be affected by how much the new thing is wanted, needed or liked – except for people that really can’t deal with change.


Full disclosure – I am actually writing this one for myself because my comfort zones are shifting and I needed to remind myself that it’s ok.  I thought it might be a message that would resonate for others as well, so I’m sharing.


In our circles, in our circles, in our growing shifting circles.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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