Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are You a Good Communicator?

In our high speed, multi-tasking world where many people feel the need to frequently check e-mails and texts even when having weekend dinner or drinks with a friend, one might think communication would be easier, more efficient and clearer.

In fact, because of the haste with which e-communications are often read and sent, concern that your message wasn’t received if you don’t receive a timely reply, or replies that have an off-putting tone, using cell phones and computers to communicate can be frustrating, confusing or waste time.

Common challenges:

--Not supplying requested or required information or non-responsive responses. Example: You need to know what color the sky is and your client/friend/co-worker says “yes.”

--Responding to part but not all of an e-communication. Example: You can’t record a script until the pronunciations of 3 words are confirmed, but for some reason the client only gives you 2.

--Too many e-communications sent to resolve a simple issue.

--E-groups discussions for committees needing to complete complex tasks go in circles.

--Someone higher up the food chain sends a detailed revision e-mail but could have saved both of you time by making the changes on the document.


--Take the time to read and respond carefully so you can be accurate, thorough and reduce follow up.

--Endeavor to be consistent in response times.

--If you don’t have the information, or if you’re part of a group and your opinion has been requested, don’t not respond. Either say when you plan to supply the information or let the group know you don’t care which decision is made.

--Use out of office auto-replies to let people know when you’re not available.

--If you need information/confirmation before you can move forward, consider providing a deadline: “If I don’t hear from you by X on Y issue, I’ll go ahead and do Z.”

--Pick up the phone instead of creating a long e-mail chain.

--Follow up phone calls in writing. People are often multi-tasking (driving, checking e-mails) when on the phone and may be distracted or just not remember all details agreed to during a call.

--Double check that a revision you want someone to make is really needed or correct. I’ve been asked to change things I know are accurate because someone assumed they weren’t.

--Say what you mean.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Technology and the Gainfully Unemployed

Many people with day jobs have the benefit of access to an IT person or department. If something goes wrong with their PCs, they should be able to get help. At least they have co-workers to ask if they don’t know how to do a particular task in Excel, or figure out which Word command they need.

But the GU usually work alone (though perhaps those who work in coffee shops can ask fellow laptop users). Sometimes when we agree to take on an assignment, it turns out to be outside our technology comfort zone. So we can be in for some wasted time and frustration.

Two examples:

--I had to include 2 original graphics in each weekly program for a local production. I couldn’t get Photoshop to execute the ideas I saw in my head. I tried to figure it out on my own and managed to get a few features to cooperate, but got hung up on layers. Finding helpful online help was a challenge. After far too much time, I finally had the graphics I wanted. But by the next time I used Photoshop, I’d forgotten some of the things I’d learned.

--A friend hired me to file a document requiring certain attachments. She sent me one, but each page was a separate JPEG and I needed them all in a single PDF. I tried opening each JPEG, printing it, then using my scanner, but for whatever reason I still couldn’t get the pages into a single document. Fortunately in this case, another friend helped.

In addition to days of misery following my recent computer crash and hours reloading software and adjusting settings, I’m still dealing with some side effects.

The solution: find a computer/technology whiz and see if I can barter some editing or writing for assistance and customized training.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Busy is Too Busy?

The saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

Parents get asked to do just one more thing for their kids’ school. Those who volunteer for associations or charities are encouraged to take on yet another task for their committee. And often we-- who are interested in the new assignment, or want to be needed, want to be helpful or don’t want to disappoint others-- agree.

But when are you too busy? When I was in college, someone put a note on my door that said, “Your busy social life should be less busy and more social.” I don’t know who put it there. Did a sorority sister think I was involved in too many campus organizations/activities and so not going out enough? Hmm.

Sometimes we wind up over committing ourselves. When we accept, we think we’ll have time to complete everything on deadline.  Even for the efficient, productive Gainfully Unemployed, doing so can be a challenge when everything is due at once. This week, for example, I’m fortunate to have quite a lot on my plate.  I'm working on a massive voiceover job: recording and editing an e-learning course of 341 highly technical PowerPoint slides due “yesterday.” I also have a smaller VO job due Monday. In addition, I’ve promised to file a friend’s domain name dispute complaint, owe content to the co-author of a non-fiction project, had a bar association committee meeting, was required to do a bit of promotion for one improv show, have a rehearsal with that team, had a handful of auditions and a performance with my other improv team.

In order get all of these projects done, something had to go. But what? Should I have skipped out on social events like a baby shower (for which I’m expected to bring a salad—meaning I also need to go to the grocery store and chop.  Can I take a shortcut of buying bottled dressing, or make one from scratch as planned?) and a friend’s birthday celebration? Not crew for a cable TV shoot for another bar association committee, which fortunately I didn’t commit to but know they need help?

Or admit that this week I simply can’t do it all? Just writing that makes me cringe. There must be a compromise. I’ve been getting up earlier than usual so I can be at my computer by 6AM. I rescheduled a meeting in Milwaukee and bypassed the cable shoot, gaining 12 hours.

What are you willing to do to get everything done?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Time is Now

I’m one of the many people, Gainfully Unemployed or not, who often spend much of our days thinking and worrying about what we will be doing later or have done in the past. We don’t focus enough on or appreciate enough what we’re actually doing right now. At this very moment.

Wonder why you can’t remember if you left the iron on or if you locked the door? Because you were thinking about where you were going and operating on autopilot instead of paying attention to each task you completed. Even if we’re talking on the phone with a friend, my guess is that many of us aren’t giving complete focus to what the friend is saying in particular, or the conversation in general. We’re thinking, “Can’t forget to pick up Susie at school in an hour,” or we go so far as to surf the Web or check e-mail.

A friend of mine recommended the book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. One of his main suggestions is that each of us listen without judging to the ruminating voice in our heads. Once we can “be aware not only of the thought but yourself as a witness to the thought,” Tolle says “a new dimension of consciousness has come in” and “the thought loses its power over you and quickly subsides because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it.”

Supposedly we will be less stressed and more fulfilled if we are truly present. Many who promote living in the moment recommend actively noticing every detail of what is happening to you right now. What exactly are you doing, what sensations are you experiencing, what sounds do you hear?

Things I’m going to try to see if I can feel more present:
1) When I’m on the phone, just be on the phone so I can participate fully in the conversation. Not clean my condo or fold laundry, which is what I usually do.

2) Observe rather than dwell on ruminations, then let them go.

3) Focus on the specifics of what is happening right now.