Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Jumbled Approach

I said that I would bring a treat in to work this morning.  I said it on Monday, so I had time to plan – sort of.  Other than being at work most of each day in between, sleep, eating, household chores and so on.  And it doesn’t help that I haven’t really been to the store in over a week so some supplies are short.  A few challenges.


On the plus side, I have been baking for a lot of years – since I worked on my Girl Scout cooking badge and realized that I liked to bake.  And I’ve been a parent for more than a few years, so I know how to make do in a pinch.  I do like structure, but I have learned how to take the structure I can find and make new connections to get where I want to be.


Butterscotch chocolate chip bars are the result.  Baking requires more precision than other kinds of cooking, true enough – but experience in combinations and an understanding of the different ingredients means that a recipe isn’t absolutely rigid.  A calculated risk or two can lead to success.


Substitutions need to have similar properties to account for consistency of the batter and the potential for flavor changes has to be considered as well.  After looking around the kitchen and thinking about recipes I actually had a couple of choices.  Since my energy level remains low thanks to the ongoing winter, I opted for a simple recipe even though I’ve never made it before.  (A word to non-bakers and cooks – it is almost never a good idea to try out a recipe for an audience the first time.)


The bars smelled fabulous while baking, but that isn’t necessarily a good indicator.  My son hovered ready to be my first taste tester, but he has inherited my sweet tooth so also not a good indicator of success.


I have had my share of spectacular failures as a baker.  Mainly due to an excess of hutzpah and a glaring lack of experience plus knowledge.  But I learned more from those flops than I would have if I had taken a more conservative route in my baking past.  I think this is true in most aspects of my life.


Now it remains to be seen what my team thinks of my approach.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


Favorite Ways to While Away a Winter Day

I think that my brain might be freezing up this long winter.  I’ve tried to start a few new posts and they are all now waiting for me to find a way to finish the ones that are worthy and dispose of the ones that aren’t.


So perhaps I can at least conjure up a list of pleasant things to while (or wile, if you prefer) away some hours rather than wishing them away for some better weather:

  • A good book, a mug of tea, and my cozy fleece throw (in a fine shade of green to remind me of seasons to come)
  • A marathon session of Sherlock on Netflix
  • A leisurely soup and sandwich lunch with a friend
  • Slowly and calmly putting a space to rights (and not thinking about how long it may stay that way)
  • Learning something new, or getting better at something
  • Perusing a map or atlas – to remember a trip, plan one or trace a historical event
  • A game with my sons and daughter-in-law, perhaps Settlers of Catan
  • A hot as I can stand it bath with great scents, some music and a good book or magazine
  • Normally, writing would fit on this list…
  • A look through old photo albums
Wikipedia snip-it of Sherlock

Wikipedia snip-it of Sherlock


I think that I need to add a new craft to this list perhaps, or revisit an old one.  Maybe getting some ideas from people in the blogosphere will help me out.  What would go on your list?  If you put any outdoor activity on the list, do give a compelling argument why, please.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

In the Grip of Winter Exhaustion

When I was about 12 and enamored with the idea of love, my mom told me about a book that she had enjoyed which had a love story but so much more.  The book was Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman and I still remember the depictions of isolation in winter.  That feeling struck me when I read the Little House series by Laura Ingles Wilder, too.


Most of us humans weren’t built for winter endurance – mentally or physically.  Oh, we smile about how pretty and sparkly the snow and ice is around Christmas because its new and fresh and we’ve had ages to forget that there will be months of the stuff to slog through.  And some people have a passion for skiing, skating, or snowboarding; perhaps sledding and a bit of snowman building that gives them reason to hope for the stuff.  Not to mention school-child wishes for snow days.


The majority of us just push through and try not to give in to winter exhaustion.  The simplest task – an errand to the store, say – becomes a greater chore and drains more energy than necessary after wrapping up in layers, scraping the car, fighting through all the other drivers who’ve forgotten how to navigate this white stuff, finding one of the few remaining parking spots that hasn’t become a snow mountain, only to find that the items that you need are among the new shipment that is stuck on a truck up some impassable mountain pass or other and due who-knows-when.


Quite a distance from that isolation that I read in those books, but still in our modern way greatly affected by the elements.  We control so much in our modern world, but nature rules in these months and we humans find our way through.  And we fight to keep our schedule the same regardless of the season or weather, where those earlier folk adjusted their activities to accommodate the calendar.


The objective of this Daily Prompt was to teach, but sometimes the most important aspect of teaching is to get us to stop and think.  Why do we do what we do?


This post is written in response to The Daily Prompt: Teaching.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Return to Doodling

I used to doodle.  Mindless scribbles in my school notebooks.  Once I hit the working world, I made myself stop because I didn’t want to be seen in a meeting with my doodles – I didn’t think that it would enhance any image of professionalism.  So I’ve taken to twirling my pen (and trying really hard not to click it repeatedly) in meetings instead.


Now seeing this news clip, CBS News Sunday Morning: The Higher Purpose of Doodling I might just go back to my doodling habits.  Perhaps this will keep my mind present in the room when a meeting goes on.  I have found that even when I am interested in the topic, or it is in some way pertinent to me I have a terrible time keeping my thoughts in the room after about 20 minutes or so – which bears out research that I’ve read about adult attention spans.

How will I balance this return to doodling experiment with perceptions of professional behaviors?  Hmm, not sure just at the moment.  Hunching over my paper so that no one can see doesn’t seem like a viable solution.  Why, exactly, any of us feels that we would have to explain our note taking habits in the work world is an entirely different blog post.  Regardless of any of my actions, I cannot direct, control, or shape someone else’s perceptions of me.

Perceptions of doodlers is a main theme in the hyperlinked video clip – and how we should reconsider them.  Why do we perceive doodling to be such a bad thing other than we can all probably recall a moment or two in our school days when a teacher called out someone for doodling instead of paying attention?  Engagement takes on many forms, as does disengagement.

The other main theme is the point that doodling serves a purpose beyond occupying your hand.  I find it very intriguing that researchers found better detail retention in the doodling group when playing a tedious voicemail.

How about you, do you doodle?

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

‘We Already Tried That’

I fear that these words have passed my lips at some point in the past and I imagine that they fell on the ears of the listener about the same way they fall on me when I hear them.  Shut down, denied, rejected.  Unintended enthusiasm killer.


I got together for brunch recently with some friends, we used to be co-workers, but now all work in other places.  This phrase came up and stuck with me because it is a common thing to hear in many offices.  New people mean new opportunities to examine old process and tasks in a new way.  New people could be new to the company or new to the team with prior experience at the company in a different role.


When I first heard ‘we already tried that’ in response to something that I said, I was rather crestfallen and rolled the rest of my comment back up, folded my hands and clammed up.  Now, I redouble my efforts to find a way to introduce the idea in a manner that will be palatable to the listener.  Or if I overhear someone else get shot down, I try to help them get an opening to complete their thought.


My thought isn’t so much that we should take action on the idea itself as much as it is about giving people the opportunity to speak up and participate in solutions.  Or the process for developing solutions.  Maybe we really did try exactly that and it didn’t work at that time, in that manner.  But that isn’t the point (plus this is a new time and maybe with a couple of tweaks the idea is valid again.)  Maybe it didn’t work the first time for some sub reason that would no longer affect the outcome.

Imagine if we hadn't allowed any new versions of Edison's inventions? (public domain image)

Imagine if we hadn’t allowed any new versions of Edison’s inventions? (public domain image)


The objective, purportedly, is to have engaged employees – ones who participate actively in creating solutions to the situations that invariably come up.  This phrase is high on the list of reasons why employees stop participating and just trudge along.  It is in my DNA to keep putting forth new suggestions, but this isn’t true for many people.  Who knows how hard someone had to screw up their courage to put forth an idea to be told ‘we already tried that’ before the whole idea was out of their mouth?


We already tried to shoot down ideas with ‘we already tried that’ and it failed miserably.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Trail of Dots

Remember those fun sheets that we would get in those early years at school?  Random numbered dots scattered on the page with the occasional squiggle or line or recognizable body part – and we would know what the picture represented after we connected the dots in numerical order.  I’m sitting here right now thinking that those exercises where just about the best training for work, and life, that we got in school.

public domain image

public domain image


This led to that, and sometimes you really had to search for that.  Not to mention if you accidentally got out of sequence it could be a slow and messy clean up to start again.  In the meantime you wouldn’t be able to tell what you had at all.  (If only tracking down things now resulted in a cute little picture that I could happily color.)


The one aspect of dependencies that was represented on the page – maintaining the right sequence – had to stand in for others such as waiting on other people or working within system or program limitations.  I suppose teachers were wise in keeping this one to themselves for a few more years.  We were still busy learning the get along with others and sharing part, no need to muddy that yet.


Now that I am thinking about how these Connect the Dots exercises were so much more important than they seemed at the time – I wonder about how one went about constructing them?  Obviously starting with the full picture, but the art, or science, was to determine the right points to keep so that the recipient couldn’t immediately guess the subject of the picture but would also not get confused.


Sometimes the designer made mistakes and left out parts or skipped a number and the puzzle couldn’t be completed as shown.  This left the child hanging, or gave the child the opportunity to use their own imagination.  Again, making this a great test for work and life – a low risk chance to practice what to do when instructions are wrong or incomplete for the task at hand.


Some days, by the end of the work day, my brain is only capable of the most rudimentary task.  Maybe I should go out and get myself a book of these Connect the Dots and see if that will help my brain unwind from the more complicated trail of dots in life.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Highly Developed Sense of Duty

I came home from work last night with a blog post idea floating around in my head.  This isn’t it, I hope to retrieve it later and have it show up on this site at some point.  No, I walked in thinking I would just start in on the computer but the dishes called out, and a load of laundry too.  Once those things were no longer disturbing my sensibilities, I didn’t have it in me to write that other post.


This post is about the sense of duty that drove me to work on the chores first.  Is it a gene, a cluster of brain cells, or something else entirely?  Why do some people have this sense practically oozing out of their pores and others wouldn’t recognize duty if their existence depended upon it?  And then there are the majority of people who have just enough to keep them from scampering off to Tahiti and instead make a life which includes a considerable dose of responsibility.


I believe that I’ve written about this before.  And I will certainly write about it again.  Dad was big on fulfilling duty first.  His words and actions showed us daily.  I wish that I had more of this trait when it comes to keeping my house in good shape, but I have plenty of ways that I relentlessly apply my energy to duty first.

"Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."  ~ Abraham Lincoln (public domain image)

“Let’s have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
(public domain image)


A sense of duty is a very helpful thing to develop and maintain – I am thankful to have it.  However, I have spent the last few years seeking to balance this duty with other important things too.  Time with people that mean something to me, opportunity to gain new experience, pleasant pastimes.


Now that duty has been met, I need to get my head back into the right frame for that other post.  First I will wish for you a nice balance of duty and leisure in your weekend.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Show Me the Way to Catch Up

Fourteen or so years ago I remember talking to someone and telling her that I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that I was forgetting something.  She helped me to talk through general things with my house, job, and kids so that we figured that there wasn’t anything glaring.  We were operating on the assumption that my feeling must be based on something concrete – an actually overdue or nearly due to-do.


This conversation sticks in my mind because it marks the start of my current stage when I have learned to live with this feeling as a constant companion.  Because I am forgetting things, those little things like all the personal, car, house maintenance that we should do to keep things tip top and running smoothly.  And all the little things at work that would make other things less reactive.


We imagine that past generations had it a bit easier – indeed they didn’t have things like 401k accounts to rebalance, or HSA accounts for that matter.  The types of insurance constituted a shorter list, and so lessened the bewildering amount of paperwork, rules and the like to track and decide upon.  Working on the car didn’t require specialized skills or tools – diagnostics was what the doctor did when he depressed your tongue.


Public domain image, Bay Bridge

Public domain image, Bay Bridge

No matter, I would just like to break this feeling of falling behind.  Knowing that I am not alone in this is some comfort, but not relief.  And hiring an assistant would be amazing, but not in my budget.  Friends and I often compare areas where we are ahead or behind each other – a little competition to spice up the endless race not to fall further behind.


(The title is hummed to the tune of “Show me the way to go home”… I’m tired and I want to go to bed…)


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Distractions of the Insidious Kind

There is a printer that has seen better days that sits about 30 feet from my desk and thankfully it is turned off most of the time.  Because when it is on those of us who sit near are driven to distraction by the scritching and scratching of its old rollers, the low squeal as its moving parts grind.  All other thoughts flee from my head to be replaced by ‘that is ridiculously annoying’.


Even though an office is full of all sorts of sounds on a regular basis – phones ringing, talking, people moving about – this sort of maddening sound is along the same lines as the smoke detector that decides to start chirping its low battery message in the quiet of a sleeping house at 2am.  Anything else that might have been in your head is immediately abandoned and this distraction takes over.

public domain image

public domain image


One person’s mind-centering soothing sounds are nails on a chalkboard to another.  And then there are the visual distractions as well that tease your eyes away from your screen or the person that you are talking to.  Evolution has taught us that we need to develop a healthy balance between intense focus and awareness of our surroundings.  But once I identify that annoying distraction, Evolution, why can’t I go back to my intense focus?  If someone is playing a song that I know and don’t like, why does it get stuck in my head for hours afterward?


Other times, once I get settled into a groove, I can work away at a thing in a busy and public place like a coffee shop without any difficulty.  Intense focus comes through for me.  Distractions are no match.  What’s the difference?  Hard to say.


I think that in part it comes down to what you can adjust to based on your experience.  Once you feel comfortable that you understand your surroundings, then focus can narrow safely.  Then again, some things just cut through that focus, regardless.


Here’s to a week free of those annoying little distractions for all of us.


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Cultivate Your Inner Two-Year-Old

I don’t think that this post will interest people who like to have a steady, few task oriented occupation.  I was thinking the other day that 2 year olds have it right to be so inquisitive.  The world is more interesting when you want to learn more about the things around you – how they work, why they are the way that they are.


Going farther back, I had a revelation about colic as I tried to soothe my sons when they were babies.  And suddenly I saw the world as they saw it and while my realization didn’t ease my own exhaustion and wish that they would just stop crying, it did give me empathy to continue my quest to bring them peace.  The revelation was just this – there is a tremendous amount of stimulation around us every waking moment of every day, lights, sounds, movement, touch and our senses are bombarded, we have learned how to process it all to the point that we are nearly unaware of how much stimulation is around.  But to a baby it is all new and disorienting.


By the age of 2, we can filter through the familiar stimuli and get drawn to anything new that tickles our senses.  We explore this new thing with delight and share this pleasure with anyone who might be around.  Who can’t help but be charmed?


Somewhere along the line, the curiosity and delight in new things dries up for many of us.  New things might start to mean more to do, or harder to understand, or any number of unpleasant associations.  Sadly.


I won’t deny that much of this reasoning can be true, but we miss out on new things that could be good by this wholesale shutting down.  I was thinking the other day about one of my least favorite responses to the cheerful good morning that I offer around the office, which is ‘what’s good about it?’.  I’ve gone to the effort to fire up my cheer and get a snarl in return?


Well, here is my hard-won answer to that question – the possibility.  I’m breezing through my own apprehensions and morning grumpy to cultivate my inner two-year-old.  There is possibility for something interesting, potentially delightful just ahead.  And I don’t want to miss it because I filtered it out.  If I channel this inner curiosity, I might just make more opportunities for myself at work by expanding my knowledge of the how and why of my work place.  What do you think?


© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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