Monday, January 15, 2018

Enjoying the Downtime



While remaining focused on our goals, it is equally important how we spend our downtime.  I have always been a fan of developing hobbies, something that we enjoy and do to relax, something we enjoy to stimulate our minds, and something that if we had more time, we could delve more into.  Developing appropriate goals and being focused on accomplishing them take time, effort, diligence and concentration.  If we spent all of our time within that bubble, we would miss everything else that goes on around us.  We do need a chance, as Darren Hardy uses the phrase, a time to rinse and recharge.  A chance to take some time away from our goals, creates some space for our mind, body and soul to refresh themselves. This downtime inevitable can lead to a fresh prospective on the tasks in front of us.

For me, that would mean something related to music.  I started playing music right before I turned 9.  I went for an introduction class to learn…the accordion!  I did not know any better at the time.  However, it was a great instrument to learn, and one I took lessons on through High School.  The instrument was portable and I could play any type of music.  It also provided a starting point to learn other instruments over the years.  With playing music, also comes listening to music.  Going to concerts is a chance to enjoy someone else creating, plying their craft and listening to learn what they are doing. 

Case in point – last night we went to see Billy Joel at his monthly gig at Madison Square Garden.  As a fan, it was great to hear all the songs (that we know) being played lived.  As a musician, it was great to see a musician on stage, still having the “chops” and enjoying himself.  I have been to concerts where some musicians do not enjoy themselves; because they get tired of playing the same “hits” over and over again (Mr. Joel was one of them many years ago).  Last night was a relaxed man, doing what he loves (“I have the best job”), and engaging the audience.  It was a late school night for us, but well worth it.  As the musicians that we grew up with are thinning out, it is important to still catch them while we can (case in point – Tom Petty).

While the old adage is work hard, play hard; the rest of the world does not stay in a state of suspended animation during our relaxation time.  While engaging in our downtime activities, there are still opportunities to learn, engage and better ourselves.  Some hobbies actually help to keep one’s mind active, develop skills and, potentially, provide insight to be used elsewhere.  Working hard and staying focused to achieve our goals is important, but it is equally important to value our downtime, spending the time with your family, doing things with your friends, and enjoying hobbies.  Together, they make for a balanced lifestyle and the opportunity to get to where you want to be.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Developing Laser-like Focus


As I sit with my goals for 2018 in front of me, there is one word that comes to mind that I need to keep front and center.  This word is not a goal, but without it, I know I will have difficulty attaining my 2018 goals.  This one word should help me to achieve what I hope for the year.  That word?  Focus. 

There is the old saying (when translated from Yiddish) that goes, “Man plans, but G-d laughs.”  In other words, no matter how hard we plan for something, there are always outside influences on our lives that can change our direction.  This could be from a planned project at work, where half way through management has a new immediate business requirement, to life events that cause our personal focus to change.  In the case of projects, it is important to recognize that the business need come first.  That being said, it becomes important to communicate the impact on the existing project, in terms of time lines, deliverables and costs.  As a manager, it is our responsibility for our projects; meaning, the success or failure of our projects lies on our shoulders, otherwise, we would not be adding value to the companies we work for (whether as a consultant or employee).  Even when priorities change, we still need to maintain some minimal focus on the projects that were deferred.  Same goes for outside the work office.

In 2017, there were plenty of things happening in my life that required my attention.  The ones that I had control over, did not change my attention, while the ones that I did not have control over, had the ability to alter my focus.  This is life, and it is either we recognize it and roll with the punches, or, waste valuable time fighting these things and achieve nothing.

As of January 1st, it is time to revisit our priorities, look forward over the next 12 months and re-focus our attention on where we need to be.  In my case, this not only means paying attention to how I need to accomplish my goals, but equally, what things in my life are distractions that call require my focus, that are not needed.  The latter can be more difficult, as some of the distractions that we collect over time seem to become part of the fabric of our lives.  While watching a recent football game with my brothers, we commented on the laser like focus of the quart backs – while being rushed by guys much larger than them, slipping on a slick field, or in the middle of a sack attempt, their eyes and minds are 100% focused on releasing the ball to an open man.  That is the focus we need to bring to our games; that is the focus that will help us on our way to success.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Importance of Setting the 2018 Goals



Hope that you had a great time ringing in the New Year!  Hope you had fun celebrating!  Hope that you enjoyed the annual tradition of staying up super later!  Hope you enjoyed the extra sleep this morning!

AND NOW THE WORK BEGINS!!

I know that you all have your written goals in hand and are ready to hit the ground running.

Wait?  What?  You do not have your goals written out yet?  Personal, nor, work?  Today is the beginning of the year.  What did you say?  You know what you want them to be and have not gotten around to writing them down?  I do not mean your BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – But, the goals that are a bit of a stretch, something you actually have to work toward and are achievable.

I know that we all have BHAGs.  If that is our focus, attainment of the BHAG by itself can seem daunting (it is).  This is where my background in Project Management can lend a hand.  When I am working on a project (similar to a BHAG), I create a plan for the team and myself that breaks down the components into smaller groupings made up of sub-groupings, which are made up of individual tasks.  As tasks are assigned and auctioned, it is easier to focus on the task than the overall project.  For example, a major software upgrade would include retrofits, development and testing.  Development could include analysis, interfaces to other systems, or general enhancements.  Below this could be the individual task, like a listing of the various enhancements, the programs involved, the timing and the resources. 

I have heard more than one thought leader compare BHAGs to a flight of stairs.  They point out that the flight of stairs is made up of individual steps.  As you set your goals, the objective is to have the goal be the step, not the flight of stairs, as it is easier to focus on a smaller, obtainable goal, rather than a large goal that might look unobtainable.  With each step successfully achieved, you become one step closer to your bigger goals.

The classic reason for writing down your goals was given by the young comedian that stood on a hill, with no money in his pocket and had written down on a piece of paper his multiple million dollar goal.  That young man was Jim Carrey.  I know someone that wrote down what he wanted his wife to be like, including a sketch of what she would look like – he ended up meeting and marrying someone that matched his description and picture.  Not that these people, or others, used magic paper and pens, because they did not.  The fact that they wrote down their goals and desires helped their minds to better focus on what they were after.  The old adage about what a man thinketh so he becomes, has some truth behind it. 

I have goals for work, I have goals for my personal life, and this year, as later in the year I become president of my synagogue, I have goals for that as well.  Granted, some of the goals cross over, and that is okay, too.

Here is to a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2018!  May all your goals be achieved and all of your dreams fulfilled!

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Year in Review – 2017


As we approach the end of 2017, it is time to look back and see how the year went.  I do not mean how politics progressed, the state of technology, nor the world arena.  This is the time to self reflect, evaluate how we did personally and did we meet the challenges that the last 12 months threw our way. It would be too easy to point my finger at different events and highlight external forces that stood in my way, or point to others that added to my hurdles and make all kinds of excuses.  If I did that, I would not be taking the time to see whether or not I have grown, I would not evaluate my handling of situations, and I would not gain any new lessons that the year had to offer.  As the holiday season wraps up, based on this year, I should be in a position to set realistic goals for next year and not treat the year in isolation.  Whatever experiences I had this year - positive and/or negative - have continued to define who I am and who I am becoming.

This year, there were two major events that had a huge impact: Gab graduating college and the loss of my sister-in-law.  The high point was the graduation.  A graduation from college is a milestone in anyone’s life, yet this was the first time I had the opportunity to experience this as an adult.  Proud? OMG, more than you can imagine!  Gab had a laser-like focus to finish on time with a degree in music education.  This meant she learned music and teaching, taking more courses per semester than I took when I majored in Accounting.  This was followed by looking for a job and helping her move out.  Milestone in her life?  How about the milestone in our life and the changes to our household?  This was a great experience (and a little sad).

The other major event was the loss of Magda.  When a family member is ill, we always rally together to help out.  Death is something that we picture in our minds as happening to someone older; that has lived a long life.  When you lose someone, the passing affects those that are close, and everyone’s lives that person touched.  We learn to face the next day and realize that tomorrow the sun will rise again.  The ability to rally together and come out the other end was a lesson about facing our worst moments, figuring out (together) what meaning we can gather, and, standing tall.  I am proud that as a family, we stayed tight, lived through extreme sadness, and faced our tomorrow together.

This year was filled with travel:  Debbie and I to Nashville and Memphis, Bec to Africa and all of us to Jamaica.  We saw the realization that our parents got a little older this year, yet we are blessed to have them still in our lives.  We replaced our falling apart kitchen.  I took up a new instrument.  We got a chance to buddy with an Israeli Vet.  While life is good and has many lessons to still learn, the year is drawing to a close.  I find it interesting that we, as humans, mark time in segments.  At least, this way, we can see how we have done, see how have (or have not) improved / developed during the year.  And, as is human nature, look forward to the wonders of tomorrow!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Do Unto Others…



“Do you want to help at the food pantry this year?” Debbie asked me.  The easy answer, of course, is no – but that comes from a place of laziness and selfishness. 

“You know you should, it would be good for you to help,” she followed up and was 100% percent correct (…again).

As I stood in my kitchen, I looked around.  Next to me was a refrigerator full of food, beside a stocked pantry.  I live in a nice town and I am thankful and blessed to be able live the life that I have.  Living in my own little bubble, my world is doing well (for me).  In a conversation recently with someone that I know, they talked about a recent trip to Cuba, highlighting how there is nothing new brought in and that they have to maintain whatever they have from the 1960s; they have veritable no income and no money, so they have to maintain what they had prior to “the Revolution.”  She said it made one appreciate what they have back in the US.
The place we would help at, The Center for Food Action, in 2016 provided the following locally (from their website cfanj.org):

  • Distributed 63,615 Emergency & Holiday Food Packages.   An emergency food package consists of seven days worth of food; the amount of food a household receives is based on family size.  On average, an emergency food package consists of 6 bags of groceries.
  • Provided Thanksgiving food packages to 3,162 households–9,453 people
  • Helped 1,174 households with other basic needs: rent-224 households, security deposits-283 households, utility & heating bills-665 households, miscellaneous assistance – 2.
  • Distributed more than 20,000-weekend snack packs to children in eight area elementary schools.

 “What do we have to do?” I asked.

“Help sort the food for distribution,” Debbie said.  “And you will be helping those less fortunate.”

“Yes, please sign me up…I want to participate.”

During this holiday season, while we can afford to give gifts to our families, remember to lend a hand to help other that are less fortunate than yourself.  Hope that you and your families have a joyful and meaningful holiday season!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Awesome Evening Activity - Baking Cookies



“I am participating in a cookie exchange.  Do you want to help bake with me?”

I like to cook, as there is a certain creative aspect to coming up with a rub, or a flavoring, or even a sauce.  However, I am not very adept at baking.  Generally, I would say that I have something else to occupy my time.  As I was thinking about possible answers, Debbie added, “I am going to bake Black and White Cookies.”

I did a double take…who does not like Black and White Cookies?!  She had my attention!

“I’m in!” I responded, probably a bit too quickly.

Together, we read over two different potential recipes.  Debbie had purchased the ingredients to make either one a success.  Baking, especially for me, is all about following the directions.  I kind of understand that certain ingredients combined together can have, as a whole, a different impact than separately.  We put the batter together, then we worked on creating the homemade icing (yup, both vanilla and chocolate).  Once the cookies were out of the oven, we ooo’d and ah’d over the way they had the shape of the cookie.  Next, we each took an icing and did our halves, making sure that the icing met neatly in the middle.

“Boy, it got quiet in here,” Debbie noticed.

“I have to concentrate while putting the icing on,” I responded.

I also got to thinking; part of the fun of this cookie is that it has the two parts.  Many times, I have eaten one side, then the other.  And, sometimes, I go right down the middle.  I realized, that like the cookie, Debbie and I were no different – we were working together to make something as one.  Yes, technically, I mean the cookie…but, symbolically, we work well together as a team.  After all this time together, while we are each individuals, we work well as a whole; in some cases, we are able to accomplish more together than as two separate beings.  The importance of the two halves took on new meaning…

Finally, the icing was applied to the last cookie.  The long moment we had been waiting for had arrived – did this awesome looking treat taste as good as they looked?  We both manned our own cookie and, true to past eating, tried one side, then the other.  Mmmm – that was great!  The time and effort together in the kitchen had yielded a most tasty treat.  Together, we baked; together, we had a fun night; together, we created magic…