Archive for September, 2012

21 ways to be happier, healthier

Be social – Studies show that people who have strong network of friends tend to be happier and healthier.

Read – Books open up new worlds, and if nothing else, sitting with a good book temporarily slows down our non-stop pace.

Eat healthier – Food is our body’s fuel, and the better the octane, so to speak, the better we feel. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Stretch – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told an ache or pain was the result of not stretching regularly.

Do a good deed – Helping others is good for the spirit.

Watch a funny movie – what better way to spend a couple of hours?

Talk – With countless demands at work and home, when was the last time you sat down with a love one?

Save for a rainy day – Experts say we should tuck away enough funds to cover 3 – 6 months of living expenses in case of job loss or inability to work.

Find a long-lost friend – There’s nothing like reconnecting with an old pal.

Listen to music –Music can relax, rejuvenate, renew — pick your favorite, whether it’s Springsteen or Maria Callas.

Take it outside – Go for a walk, do some landscaping, or just sit on the deck. Fresh air beats indoor any day.

Limit television time – TV informs, entertains, and educates us, but it also takes away time that often can be better spent.

Keep the glass half-full – Negativity is an easy trap to fall into, but making an effort to be positive pays off.

Be thankful – For the most part, our lives are pretty good, especially when compared to previous generations, many who walked miles to and work each day, just to put food on the table.

Plan to retire – The sooner you begin to save for retirement, the more time your money has to grow.

Choose your friends wisely – Hang out with people of integrity and character. It makes you a better person.

Think long-term – Trying to get back  into shape? Make exercise a part of your life, not a means to a goal. Too often, people who set —and reach — aggressive goals can’t maintain their intense exercise schedule and slide back.

Remember to have fun – There’s an old saying that reminds us not to be so busy making a living that we forget to make a life.

Cut people slack – My mother always said if a person acts badly, there’s generally a reason why.

Take risks – If you don’t try, you’ll never know how great you can be.

Count sheep – Lack of sleep has been linked to ailments ranging from memory loss to weight gain.


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Apple gets it right, again and again

The much-anticipated iPhone 5 has arrived, sending a flurry of shoppers to stores, and those who preordered the upgrade are anxiously checking their mailbox.

It’s difficult to think of a product line that generates the buzz of Apple’s, and the company does it over and over again. iPhones, iPads, Macs — whatever the release, Apple has a very loyal and large following ready to scoop it up.

What’s Apple’s secret? Putting customers first. It’s an old cliché, but Apple does it better than anyone.

Clearly, the customer is at the center of any upgrade or redesign. Apple seems to know what we want before we do. It creates products that are innovative and cool, and we use them because they work, and they make us feel hip.

While some organizations will add a feature “to enhance the end user’s experience,” Apple seems to ask, “Wouldn’t it be cool if our phone could talk and respond to verbal commands, or if our tablet could take photos?”

I also suspect you don’t often hear “That can’t be done,” at Apple offices.

Imagine life if more companies had Apple’s laser-beam focus on customers. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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Lessons learned from a paintbrush

I’m a few days late with this week’s blog because I’ve been distracted with my latest project, staining my deck. September is the month I cram in all the summer projects that took a back seat to baseball and the beach.

I still have a bit of touching up left to do on the deck, but for the most part, the two coats of Cape Cod Gray have prepared it for winter and a few years beyond.

It’s funny how your mind wanders while doing repetitive chores, so I started thinking about the life lessons learned during this project.

Procrastination carries a price
I waited until this year, the deck’s third summer, to do the staining. That’s too late. This year’s wet summer led to some mildew, which had to be cleaned and scrubbed. Doing the work last year, or at the end of year one, would have been simpler and easier, a thought that ran through my head over and over.

Challenge yourself
I toyed with the idea of hiring something to do the work. Ultimately, I decided it was worth giving up a couple of weekends to save hundreds of dollars, and I liked the idea of taking on a good size project that would being some sweat equity to my home.

Do your homework
Before lifting a brush, I did some online research, and asked for advice from our painters at work, as well as the sales staff at the store. This gave me a pretty good idea what to expect, as well as alternative choices.

Pace yourself
For desk jockeys, doing 8 or 9 hours of physical labor can take its toll — regardless of your conditioning. The constant kneeling, squatting, twisting, and ladder climbing left me pretty sore for a couple of days. Next time, I’ll spread the work out over more days or weeks.

Quality matters
The stain I used was pretty pricy, but went on very well and looks terrific. Paying a little extra probably saves in the long run, as (hopefully) I won’t need to re-stain for years. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine just published an article that basically argues that the same holds true for clothing — buy fewer items, but choose better quality — and I suspect for most things.

Reward yourself
When you finish a tough project, do something nice for yourself. After all, you worked hard to meet your goal. As for me, I’m thinking of an iPad …..


The single best way to improve your communications

The most important tip to enhance your communications may be most obvious — and the most overlooked.

Put yourself in your audience’s place.  Who are they? What do they care about?  What do they want to hear? How does your news affect them?

If you’re merging with another organization, your employees’ first question isn’t about the stock price, it’s likely, Do I still have a job?

Make it easy for them
Too often well-meaning leaders send out dry, long-winded messages that miss the mark. People are continually bombarded with information from dozens of sources, ranging from television and radio to Twitter, text messages, and Facebook. You’re competing with all of these for their attention and have to adjust your communications accordingly.

Let me explain. Let’s say you plan to open a clothing store. Would you locate it in a remote, out-of-the way spot, or near a high-traffic area? In most cases, you’d locate near where customers are, instead of making them drive out of their way.

The same holds true for communications. Your messages should be easy to access, read, and understand. If you make people work too much, you’ll lose them.

Make your point quickly 
If your message fails to engage people immediately, you’re running the risk that they’ll move on before hearing the real news. And if the news is bad, it looks like you’re burying it.

Write TO people, not FROM the organization
This is critical. Use “you”, “your” and “we” often, and avoid referring to readers in the third person. Here are two examples that illustrate this point:

  • Employees who sign up for the Health Walk will be eligible for the $100 gift card raffle.
  • You could win a $100 gift card. Sign up for the Health Walk and you’ll be entered in our raffle.

Because the second is more conversational, and speaks to readers, not at them, it’s much more effective.

Be brief
Longer messages may impress the boss, but they’re less likely to be read. Social media, the web, and texting have trained us to be readers of blurbs, not chapters.

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Improve your photography by planning ahead

I worked as an assistant for a talented photographer who taught me a great deal about the craft. He generally had a vision of each shoot beforehand, and showed me that a little planning and imagination go a long way in capturing better photographs.

Novice photographers often arrive with good intentions but no plan of action. If you know the basics of photography and give some thought about potential photos ahead of time, you’ll see a difference in the quality of your work.

Let’s look at a few easy tips to help you on your photographic journey (BTW, click on an image to enlarge it).

Try something different
I took one of my favorite photos, above, while working at L.L. Bean. Our employee newsletter featured a profile of the manager of retail marketing, a woman who juggles many, many tasks. I wanted the photo to metaphorically show how much she did, and came up with the idea of having her juggle Bean boots in front of the company’s flagship store. Before shooting, I drew a sketch of my vision and then photographed a coworker juggling Bean Boots to see if the concept would work. Finally, I built a frame to hang some of the boots. It’s funny, people think this is Photoshop, but it’s not.

Arrive early for warm-ups
You’re going to a sporting event, but your seats are too far away for a memorable shot. Warm-ups often present some great opportunities for photos. In a previous blog, Take Better Photos with These 7 Tips, I wrote about shooting away from the action, and this is a somewhat similar concept.

Here, I snapped a photo of former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona walking back to the dugout during warm-ups. Yes, it’s not the same as getting a great action shot during the game, but when your seat is in the back row of the bleachers, this is a pretty good alternative. The same principle — shoot before the action starts — applies if you’re covering a corporate event or your kids’ soccer game.

Note how the color of Francona’s jersey makes the image pop a bit more. When I walk into a room looking for subjects, one of the first things I see are the colors of people’s clothes.

Have fun with your photos

During my tenure at L.L.Bean, the company opened several new retail stores, including one in Burlington, Massachusetts, just down the road from Lexington, where the Revolutionary War began.

A couple of weeks before the store opening, I grabbed a pair of Bean Boots, and headed to a reenactment of the war’s first battle. One of the actors agreed to pose for a shot wearing the boots, and we used the image on our employee website.

The caption we used suggested the Colonists won the war because Bean Boots had kept their feet warm and dry feet. But for the record, the first pair of Bean Boots came along about 140 years after the war.

Be open for other possibilities
I once read about an old-school photography exercise that directed students to walk for a predetermined time, then stop and take a photo from where they stopped. The exercise is said to sharpen your ability to find a subject, regardless of where you are.

And sometimes you look up, and a photo is waiting to be taken …

Each year, Maine maple syrup producers welcome the public to see the syrup-making process in person. After shooting some of the Maine Maple Sunday activities, I happened to look back at the barn, and saw this face peeking out.  Apparently the goat was intrigued by the activity. I went to photograph maple syrup, but came away with a goat photo. The paper I shot for put it on the cover.

Ask for help, especially with children

A kid on a tire swing is a photo waiting to be taken. Trouble is, kids don’t act natural around cameras.

I saw our young friend on the tire swing, and even with a 400mm lens, knew he’d see me taking his photos.

So, I enlisted his father to talk to him (okay, distract him) as I snapped away. The original, a slide, lost some color in its conversion to digital, but you get the point.

Some kids become hams when a camera appears, while others shy away, so having something or someone to hold their attention helps you capture a more natural moment.

Stake out your spot

Author Mitch Albom was speaking about his best-selling book Tuesdays with Morrie at a large conference I attended a few years ago. He’s a terrific speaker, and I wanted a photo. Unfortunately, because I flew to the conference, the only camera I packed was my small point-and-shoot camera.

So, I arrived really early, and took the best seat I could find: front row, a little off-center. An easy, but often overlooked way to get a better photo.

Hang around
I’d never seen Craigslist founder Craig Newmark until he spoke at a similar event I attended.

He’s a very bright guy, and an engaging speaker, and I thought there might be a good photo opportunity.

Unfortunately, the lighting onstage wasn’t enough for my little camera, so I decided to wait until he finished and the crowd began to disperse. He was on stage chatting, and I moved in close enough to use my flash and snapped a couple of quick photos.

Remember, the flash unit on most point-and-shoot cameras is good for about 10-12 feet.

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