3 Ways to Start the New Year Right

Eleven days into January … this past week was the first full one for most back in the office after the Christmas and New Year holidays. Five days of work which, after maybe working a couple of days over the past few weeks, probably felt like a month.

This is the time when many start to snap back into reality – those wild, ambitious dreams you may have had when you were opening Christmas gifts and watching the ball drop a few days later may have melted away already. A work email inbox will do that to you.

I spent most of my holiday split between New York State and Connecticut. I wanted to keep as close to my regular routine as I could while still enjoying the holiday. While I don’t have weight loss goals anymore, I didn’t want to sit around and gain 10 pounds by enjoying all of the great holiday food my family makes. I wanted this holiday season to be different. Here are three ways you can start the New Year on the right note – and carry that momentum past January 2.

Make Goals

I’m a firm believer that a New Year isn’t the only time you should set goals. Any time you truly want to change – that’s the right time. It could be why so many people fail at the New Year’s Resolutions they set for themselves … they make “goals” because it seems like the right time, but they’re not really ready. That’s purely anecdotal and not scientific, but maybe I’m onto something.

Anyway… I had set high level goals after the Thanksgiving holiday for myself to begin in 2015. I had been thinking about the goals for awhile, so I had a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish. The key to actually achieving your goals, however, is having a plan that outlines how you will reach those goals. So I took the extra time I had over the holidays to think about each goal and the small steps, measurable, I was willing to take on a monthly/quarterly basis. This allowed me to get my mind right and my daily planner ready for putting these goals into action once the calendar turned to 2015.

I love paper planners, but if you’re a tech fiend, then make automatic alerts on your calendar or take advantage of the plethora of productivity apps out there. It’s most important to use whatever works best for you.

Instead of just sitting around watching Maury Povich all day – and hey, who doesn’t love doing that – I performed these goal setting and execution exercises between 9am and 5:30pm. This meant I was still engaging my brain to complete tasks – just different ones than what I handle on a daily basis at my job.

Clear your slate, clear your apartment, clear EVERYTHING

In my last blog post, I talked about how simplifying everything is key to my sanity. I only keep what I need, throw away what I don’t. I’m ruthless about it, except for greeting cards and other mementos that my family and friends give to me. I knew that I was going to be away from my apartment for awhile, and I knew that the week leading to the Christmas holiday was going to be very busy. I knew that I had about 50 action items to complete at work before I went on holiday.

I also knew, however, that the biggest productivity killer is coming home to a pigsty. The biggest vacation killer is thinking about all the things you probably should have done for your job before you left. You want to enjoy vacation, and you want to come back and hit the ground running. How can you do that?

Make it a point to clear and clean what you need to before you go. It takes commitment, but it’s totally worth it.

  1. Take all of the items on your to-do list at work and prioritize them. What absolutely has to get done before you leave, and what could wait without penalty until you come back? Really think about that – talk to your supervisor, talk to your team, and figure that out. Your list will probably shrink a little bit. Commit to finishing what is absolutely vital, and then turn on your out of office. Non-essentials can wait until you return. News flash, most people take holiday the last two weeks of the year as well. They’re not sitting around waiting for you. Clear your slate so you can enjoy your holidays uninhibited.
  2. Make sure your home is clean before you leave. It’s easier for me because I have a studio apartment, but it’ll be the last thing you want to do when you come back from holiday. It’ll throw you off of your game for how you wanted to start 2015, because it’s certainly not taking out the trash and spending 45 minutes cleaning all of the dishes in your sink. Set aside an hour to clean your space before you leave. That way, when you come back, all you have to do is unpack your stuff and get started on what you really wanted to do. Same goes for your cubicle or office.

Keep as close to your regular rhythm as possible

It’s easy to sleep in until noon and do nothing for a couple of weeks to “rest and recuperate” after working hard leading up to a vacation. And why you should certainly enjoy that – remember, it’s like that third piece of pie … everything in moderation.

The more you stray from your normal routine, the harder it will be for you to snap back into it once you’re finished with your vacation. I’m usually an early riser – wake up around 5-6am, go to the gym, read/write, go to work, see friends, go to sleep. While I wasn’t going to be heading to the office, I still wanted to go to a gym, keep up on current events, write, read, see friends and family, and sleep.

So I worked out in advance finding a gym near where I’d be staying for the holiday so I could have a place to go after I woke up in the morning. Then, once I came back, I’d do the same thing I always do post-gym, but then instead of going to work I’d work on my goal execution or read … something I would love to have more time to do but can’t always get it. I’d sneak in an episode of Maury, see friends, and sleep – but keeping this regular morning routine for me allowed me to actually rest and recuperate. I didn’t feel sluggish from not working out, didn’t feel guilty for eating more, and knew I wasn’t falling behind on anything I actually wanted to accomplish.

Studies find that those who sleep in on weekends, OK, sleep 2-3 hours later usually than they do during the week, are setting themselves up for feeling more tired than those who keep a relatively similar sleep schedule all week long.

Vacation is for resting and relaxing – no doubt about that. But rethink your traditional view of what rest and relaxation actually means. If you don’t, you might be defeating the purpose of your time off and not even know it.

5 Lessons I Learned in 2014

According to my credit card statement, the holiday season is upon us. During this time, when people are busy wrapping up their year and combing Groupon and other websites to get the best deals possible on gifts, don’t forget to plan for 2015. What are your top goals that you’d like to accomplish? How will you get there?

While how to do that may be for another blog post, before you do that it’s important to look back on your year and take a fresh look at your successes, failures, and lessons learned. With that in mind I’m looking back at the biggest lessons I learned this past year.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Like most people, I have a lot of stuff going on at any given time. I’m an employee, a supervisor, a son, sibling, boyfriend, friend, grandchild … the list goes on. Like most people, my mind tends to wander and think about the aforementioned stuff fairly often. Studies have shown that men aren’t particularly great multitaskers, so it’s become really important for me to break things down into their simplest parts and prioritize them.

How have I started to do that?

  • I’m ruthless now about throwing away most items I don’t use or think about after one year. This doesn’t include mementos. This does include clothes, electronics, books, appliances, and paperwork. I live in a studio apartment, so maximizing space is important – but the less things around to distract you, the less cluttered your mind becomes. I’ve done the same thing in my office as well.
  • I plan for the week ahead every Sunday. This includes work and personal life – any big items I know I need to accomplish or remember, I write it in a planner so I can keep tabs on it. Once I write it down, it becomes real to me. I also read this cool article that gives a way to reframe every week. Everyone plays multiple roles in their life – and if you want to keep balance among all of them, you need to plan for it. I started doing this a couple of months ago and it not only helps me stay on top of things, it also helps me keep perspective that I’m not just defined by one role in life that I play.
  • Each day when I get to work, before I check my email, our company’s Intranet, or internal social feed, I write down the major items I want to accomplish for the day and complete at least one before I open my email. Email and social media (yes, even work-sponsored ones) have a way of trying to take over your day’s agenda. Don’t fall into that trap. Give yourself flexibility to deal with the most urgent items that may come up, but make sure you are still driving toward major tasks you know you need to complete.
  • I’ve set ground rules for myself on what social media networks are for what purpose, and how often they need to be updated. For me, Facebook and Instagram are for personal purposes. Twitter and LinkedIn are more for professional purposes. My blog, which I’m terrible at updating, is a mix – but leans more toward professional purposes. Is this the same for everyone? Certainly not. But now I have allowed myself the freedom to know what needs to be updated when, and where.

Insurance and warranties are worth the money spent.

2014 is the year I officially became a car owner for the first time. 2014 is also the year where I popped a tire on the way to work, woke up to my car not even bothering to unlock, and getting turned away for necessary service at a car dealership.

Car ownership can be thrilling, but at the same time expensive and stressful should something happen to your car. While I don’t need it for my livelihood day in and day out, it’s a big investment. While I avoid protection plans on simple technology purchases like the plague, I don’t skimp on a $10,000+ investment.

AAA costs me $95/year, and they came within an hour and got my spare tire on so I could go on my merry way. My extended warranty on my car allowed me to work out with the dealership where I bought my car (not the closest one to where I live) getting priority service completed and a rental car for a week, free of charge. It just turned out to be loose wires (yes, really, that’s it) but knowing I was insured and backed by a warranty gave me peace of mind I needed in a moment completely devoid of it.

Listening to finance reporters every day is stressful and unnecessary.

I try to invest money when I can, whether it’s an IRA, 401(k), etc. I don’t pretend to be Warren Buffett, so I’m more of a passive index funds diversified across different asset classes kind of guy. With that said, if you watch finance news or read it on a day-to-day basis, riding the highs and lows of the manic market will drive you nuts. September and October alone (and now, the middle of December) would be enough to make your stomach churn, with the market going on a roller-coaster ride you’d sit in line for at Six Flags for hours.

I now refuse to read daily stock stories and only check my investments on a monthly/quarterly basis, since this is money I won’t need in the next five years. Stick with your guns and the market will give you a return in the long-term. I found that I can accept moderate risk, but not as aggressive as many advise those who are 30 years old like I am. Knowing that means I have to accept less long-term gains, but know that my stocks won’t all drop to nothing if the market crashes. Now that I understand my risk profile and have a clear plan for stock allocation, I can stick with that ruthlessly regardless of market conditions. When I do check my investments, then I can make a decision as to whether I should change index funds, rebalance, etc. Will it change when I get (much) older? Sure. But for now, this works and is one less thing for me to worry about.

Focus on the present, otherwise life will pass you by. (Read: Be grateful.)

I’ve always been very much focused on what I need to do next that I’ve often forgotten to enjoy what’s right in front of me. While I think it’s important to always look for the next opportunity and keep yourself focused on your ultimate goals, you need to take a step back and be grateful for what you have, right then, in that moment. And you should do it more than just at Thanksgiving. For those who celebrate this US holiday, going a full 11 months without thinking about how grateful you are for what has taken place that entire year means you’ve missed 11 months of positive energy.

You can do this in any number of ways, whether it’s through prayer, journaling, talking to friends, or setting aside a fixed period of time every day/week/month to simply focus on what you have. You’ll realize that you have more than you think – and even if you are going through legitimately tough times, it can help bring some positivity to what may be a very negative situation.

Do your best and everything else takes care of itself.

When I was in elementary school, I had a principal who used to tell us all the time, “Do your best and it’ll take care of the rest.” Being seven years old, I didn’t fully grasp or have any sort of perspective on what that could mean, but thankfully I never seemed to forget it. (I guess repetition really does work.)

What I’ve taken that to mean now in my personal and professional life is that you’re not always going to know exactly how to do something, but if you give it your honest, best effort, everything always works out the way it should. And 99% of the time, you’re better off because of it.

Does it mean everything you do will always be a success? Absolutely not. I’ve tried things many times and failed, but I’ve learned something valuable from most of those obstacles and become better as a result of them. Taking on additional responsibilities at the office this year, many times not have a lot of experience handling those tasks, helped me stretch myself in ways I never knew possible. Some things worked, some things didn’t – but I learned a lot each step of the way.

And ultimately, for Type A personalities like me, knowing I gave the best effort I could gives me peace at the conclusion of each task. Whether it works out or not, I won’t always know right away – but I can move onto the next thing knowing I did the best that I humanly could. I have faith that everything works out the way it needs to, good or bad.

As we have just a couple of short weeks until a New Year, my hope is that these lessons I’ve learned will carry me into the new year with a new perspective, ready to tackle the new challenges that come my way and goals I have set for myself.

3 Ways to Be an Employee Advocate by Sharing Content

When it comes to product launches and other major announcements from companies, generally a communications or marketing team sends out a bill of materials pointing to everything you can use and share with customers and prospects. It’s hard for everyone in a company to stay on top of what’s new, much less share it with others. However, it’s vital to start to take advantage of your company’s new, fresh content and share it even more regularly with customers, partners, industry influencers, and prospects.

Why?

1. 90% of B2B buyers are already using social media tools, often to research and execute purchases. (source: Forrester)
2. It can take up to 6 touches between prospect and supplier through the buy cycle before the prospect will consider a purchase. (source: B2B Marketing Conference, DMA)
3. Everyday employees are two times more trusted than a chief executive. (source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2013)
4. 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a product when they hear about it from someone they trust. (source: Nielsen 2013)
So, as a communications professional, how can you help empower your company to share even more great content across their personal social media networks? Here are three ways … in order from least resource intensive to most resource intensive:

Dlvr.itdlvr.it, literally meaning “deliver it”, is a free service that allows you to automatically share blog posts via an RSS feed on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Once you take the five minutes necessary to set it up, you never have to worry about it again. You’ll automatically be sharing all relevant company blog posts with your network and/or followers. This is great for those who are constantly on the go.

Update internal social media networks regularly – If you’re a Communications Manager, mandate your team to post all new blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, press releases, and news mentions on your company’s internal social media network, such as Yammer, if you have one. (If you’re a team of one – then definitely do this yourself!) If you don’t have something like Yammer, find a way to meet your fellow employees where they are – if it’s regular email newsletter updates, go for that. If it’s an Intranet, use that. Go to where you have the most captive audience. Then, update your coworkers on the material you just published. Tell them why it’s cool, and then give them a Tweetable (140 characters or less) update they can simply copy and paste into their own social networks. Make sure that you use a tracking code in that link so you can measure how effective your internal sharing campaign is, adjust, and make improvements as you go.

Encourage employees to follow company social media networks and share the updates – This is obviously the most resource intensive way, but there are ways to optimize your time and make this a regular habit.  At AvePoint, we regularly update our corporate Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ accounts with fresh content all the time. Constantly encourage employees to follow your own company’s social media channels and they’ll be able to quickly see all the content you’re putting out – and they can simply retweet or edit and share with their own followers. Get the response from your coworkers that they’re not paid to sit on social media networks all day like you? No worries – tell them that there are tons of social media platforms out there that allow you to aggregate updates from multiple networks and set up search streams according to specific terms. Personally, I use Hootsuite and I have a search set up for “AvePoint”. That way, I see all updates that either include the word AvePoint or come from our social accounts. Then, I can select which ones I want to retweet with a click of a button. Like this:Hootsuite Screenshot

 

Hootsuite and many others, including Buffer, allow you to schedule when you want your social media updates to be sent to your followers. AvePoint is a global company, so we have social media updates going out at all times of the day (and night) – but my Communications team works Eastern Standard Time hours. Scheduling is the key.

There are countless other methods to help compel employees to share company content, but these are just a few that have worked for us so far. It seems small, but it can go a long way in not only keeping your employees up to date on the latest and greatest coming from your company … but also paying customers and (hopefully paying soon) prospects.

 

 

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: Credit Cards and Millennials

Stack of Credit CardsRecent studies find that 63% of those 18-29 years old don’t own a credit card, with many interviewed stating that they have no interest in getting one. Reasons given were:

  1. Afraid of going into debt.
  2. Security issues – namely, the countless credit card breaches that have taken place in the past year or so.

In the short term, sure, it make sense to not want to go into debt (or more debt if you’re among the million still paying off student loans). And to be honest, the magnetic stripe is a 50-year old or so technology that in today’s day and age is sorely outdated. So much so that in many places in Europe, they’re just about fully on chip-and-pin technology for their credit cards. It’s also much harder today to get credit cards than it used to be, and with good reason. Before the Great Recession, it was pretty easy to get a credit card. You could lie on applications about your income and no one was really checking – you could be an 18-year-old making nothing, write down that you make $40,000 USD a year, and get a credit card with a $8,000 limit.

But in the grand scheme of things, you will need to have a history of responsibly using credit cards to have a good credit score – or at least be able to significantly alter it in a short period of time … if you want a new car, house, even a job. The article does a good job balancing millennial sense with what the facts actually are. Saying that you’re afraid of going into debt and therefore you should never have a credit card doesn’t solve your main issue – which is that you feel there’s no way you can spend within your means. That lack of control will harm you whether you use a credit card, debit card, checks, cash, bookies, or otherwise. You have to fix the root of the problem rather than just taking away the toys that enable it.

Plenty of millennials believe that their debit cards are safer, but that’s just simply not true. JPMorgan Chase, anyone? In most cases once money is taken out from your checking account, it’s gone and much harder to recover than if you simply have a fraudulent credit card charge. Plus rewards on credit cards if you spend and pay back responsibly are all the rage – whether it’s cash back or points for travel. I will admit that many debit cards now offer similar rewards.

The stat at the end of the article is the most disconcerting: Of those polled, only 40 percent of millennials who do have at least one credit card pay their balances in full, compared to 53 percent of adults who are 30 and older. Three percent miss payments entirely.

So basically those who do have credit cards habitually spend more than they can pay back, learning probably from the nearly half of those in the older generation who do the same. Are there times when there is a major emergency and you have to spend more than you can afford? Sure. But I’d wager that most of those not making full payments aren’t in that boat. A credit card is a tool, which can be used for good or it could blow up in your face. Simply avoiding them because you believe that you can’t be responsible is a poor short term choice to make that could have some terrible consequences for your future. Make a budget, find ways to live within your means, stick with it, and the peace of mind that you will gain with that is worth not dropping $670 on the new iPhone if you’re not up for a renewal.

When I was buying a car earlier this year and I had the full credit score and report Ford Credit pulled on me, I was thankful that I had avoided the big shiny objects when I was younger. It paid off in a great car loan rate. Five years ago buying a car was out of the question, but as I and many other millenials on the older end of the spectrum are quickly finding out … life changes pretty quickly.

Blogged on LinkedIn: Five Low-Tech Steps to Tame Your Email

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m a fan of technology. If it wasn’t for technology, I wouldn’t have a job. I’ve spent the last seven years of my career covering technology both as a journalist a marketer. With that said, technology is just a tool. It won’t magically make you any more or less productive.

In fact, there are studies that find people check email at least 30 times an hour, get anxiety over how much their inbox is clogged, and get distracted from doing their actual jobs … then it bleeds into their personal life and can cause burnout. There has to be a time you don’t check your email. Everyone has to shut it down at some point – it’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Not surprisingly, there is a market now for technology that claims to solve this problem. The problem with that? If you don’t watch it, you’ll get even more inundated with distractions.

Here’s how you do it (hint, you don’t need an app for it):

Read the rest of this post on LinkedIn

Blogged on LinkedIn: How to Survive a Conference

For those fortunate enough to have the chance to attend industry conferences on their company’s dime, it can be an interesting experience: On the one hand, you want to take advantage of the fact that you have time away from the office in a (hopefully) fun locale where you can take in the sights and take a mini-break. On the other hand, you are going for work, after all. So how can you make sure that even though you’re out of your routine you can ensure there are no flaming fires in the office you have to try to put out from hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away AND get something out of the conference you’re getting paid to attend?

Read the rest of this post on LinkedIn

An Open Letter to Banks from a Millennial

The Street published an article yesterday that didn’t mince words: “Banks Have No Idea How to Handle Millennials”. The article basically highlights key points of a study that show which facets of banking my generation loathes the most – lack of mobile features, fees, not understanding our situation, and so on. It’s an interesting read for those who either are Millennials themselves (also deemed Generation Y) or otherwise.

Since I’m on the earlier edge of the Millennial age group, I can speak to issues my generation has with banks today. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points in the study – I think it largely depends on the bank itself – it did get me wondering what I would tell a CEO of a major bank if I had the chance to speak with him (or her).

Dear Banking Industry,

I’m sure you’ve thrown millions of dollars at the problem of determining what it is, in fact, that my generation wants from you. What we ultimately want is for you not to try to take advantage of us. To think that we’re stupid. Sure, there’s plenty we need to learn about personal finance since we never learned it in schools, but trying to hide it behind having to speak with one of your “banking specialists” who are really only specialists of the products you are trying to shove down my throat makes me never want to walk into a bank. Ever. I will do everything in my power to use my bank’s mobile app, ATM machines, and website to not have to set foot inside. In fact, in the last year I’ve only gone in there to get a bank check for a car and exchange $10 bills for quarters to do laundry.

In an age where I can YouTube how to fix or do virtually anything, you have got to make finance simple again. Leave your egos and your products at the door, and show us the basics. Then let us connect the dots. Let’s be honest – this isn’t just a problem with my generation. This is a problem every generation has right now. No one understands the finance industry. One person thinks it’s just fine, the other thinks it’s a house of cards ready to fall down (again), and a third probably keeps all of her money hidden throughout her apartment because she doesn’t want to pay fees. Stop trying so hard to make a buck and think about the long-term potential we have as customers. We’re in our 20s and early 30s now – you could have us for at least four more decades if you do it right. There’s a lot of things that we may be naïve about, but one thing we know for sure is that you’re in the business of making money – not just protecting mine.

Speaking of four decades from now – I am tired of seeing how much money I should save in order to have a “good” retirement. Do you know what I want for retirement? Do I even know what I think retirement will look like for me? Not really. I’m busy trying to either start my career or pay my bills. Stop trying to shove a magic number down my throat when, quite honestly, I don’t know what it is I want to do four decades from now yet. Do I know I should be saving money? Sure. So show me the best way to spread what little money I have to save across investments that will help my money grow faster than the pitiful .119% savings account rate for accounts with $2,500 and even worse CD rate average of  .113% (for a three-month CD). When you try to tell me how I should live my retirement, it makes me think about what that would actually be. And when I don’t have the answer to it, it makes me not want to save for retirement. Paralysis by analysis. What ultimately happens is that I don’t start saving for that because it’s something way off in the future I don’t have a plan for. Now I’m missing out on compounding interest.

Most likely, I’m probably not setting aside money for an emergency fund either because I think that nothing bad will ever happen to me. We all think that we’re invincible. We all think that we’re too big to fail. We also have a lot of money in student loans to pay off – and with that amidst a world that tells us we need to buy a house and a car, have a family, have babies, so on and so forth, again … paralysis by analysis. Show me how I can start to ease the pain right now, then the building blocks for what I could do in the future. Does it really make sense to plow money into something that gains less than two-tenths of a percent of interest when I can pay off loans that are charging me 6% of interest, if not more? Riddle me that, and maybe I’ll trust you enough to help me in the future.

There are too many variables in life, but that’s what makes it life. We’re not one-dimensional, and neither is the world we live in. We don’t expect you to know our situation intimately unless we tell you, so don’t pretend you know brass tacks what’s best for us. Give us clear information we can easily digest, don’t pressure us into making a decision, and stop assuming we’re derelicts. Every generation has thought the one ahead of theirs was going to ruin the world. You didn’t, despite your best efforts, and we won’t either. Get over it. Realize that you will want our business for the next 40 years, if not longer. Start to nurture that now, so that when we do have more money to diversify into different products, we’ll come to you first instead of sticking it under a mattress, keeping it in safes, or spending it to “keep our economy alive”.

Best regards,
Chris