Slow days push me to be better

8 tips for what you can do to improve and grow your business when it is slow.

Sometimes when you own your business, slow days happen. These are the times to embrace and to push to be better. My business is hourly driven so when things are slow, I don’t get paid. On these days, I need to learn, to research, to contact, to engage. I fully admit, I have some idle days, but here is what I do to improve myself and make that time more valuable to my business:

  1. Take a course to improve a skill or learn a new one: One of my local chambers is offering a three-day retreat to hone photography skills. I am totally looking into that! LinkedIn Learning has a ton of courses and many certifications. Adapting/learning different skills of a trade is always good for business.
  2. Work on your website or social media presence: There are days where, because I help other people build their brands, I tend to let my own presence lag. This is the best time to freshen things up and put fresh work out there for people to discover.
  3. Join a network or work on the one you already have: Whether on LinkedIn or over Zoom or just an email to say hello, work on your network of clients and business partners. An old colleague told me once, “connect with one person a day, and you’ll do just fine.” They were right, it is about rapport and connection.
  4. Join local groups: This year I decided to look into some chambers and business councils. Just a warning though, look into what these groups stand for and believe in before you give them your money. Most try to be pro-business, but some lean certain ways when it comes to politics. To each their own, but you want to join groups that you feel comfortable associating your business with.
  5. Clean up your work space: If nothing else, I clean up my paper work, post-it notes, and random work supplies. Working in a clean space makes me feel like I have myself together and can do this business thing.
  6. Catch up on bookwork: I don’t know about you, but it is my least favorite thing about owning my own business. It is a necessary evil, and it must get done. I force myself to keep up with my bookwork because when the task gets bigger and bigger, the more I want to ignore it!
  7. Look into conferences: I know conferences can be expensive, but did you know some big conferences are FREE for their virtual events this year? Example: Adobe MAX is free this year!!
  8. Research what is trending in your trade: All professional services, trade services, retail services, etc. go through trends. What’s hot, what’s not. I try to find out what it is that people are looking for when it comes to what I offer. Maybe there is something I can do to start a trend or stay on front edge of what is out there?

These are just a few ways I try to keep myself busy when work isn’t constant. It is good to have some time to work on business strategy. For example: I used to blog all the time and then things got busy. The slow days help me hone my writing skills amongst many other things, and I just had enough time to blog for the first time in almost a year. Most weeks, I like to be busy and humming right along, but idle times help me improve my skills (writing for one), work on my own brand, research other ways to offer my services, and ultimately grow my business.

Don’t feel bad about the down times. Embrace them, they will make you better in business. It will help make your company grow.

Hit the pandemic wall? 6 Steps to keep you moving forward.

It has been a while since my last blog because honestly I don’t have anything to say about the state of things that hasn’t already been said. People are hitting the proverbial wall as we approach one year of this pandemic. Because of that, I want to take this time to throw a list together of some good articles and steps to help, even one person, keep moving forward.

Listen, I am no expert, but this list have been proven over and over again, to help.

  1. Sunshine – I cannot stress enough the importance of the sun to our human bodies. Even though, yes, we need to protect our skin from UV rays, there is some hugely important vitamins and nutrients we get from sunshine and light. If the pandemic is getting you down, go out and feel the warmth of the sun for at least 15 minutes. It will do you a world of good. Here’s a good article on why we need this in our lives: www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-sunlight-health-effects
  2. Exercise – Being a person who has struggled with anxiety, depression and OCD on a daily basis, I have run the gamut of antidepressants. The only thing that has helped me consistently over the years is EXERCISE. Hands down the best medicine for mental health stability. Read more here: www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
  3. Laughter – My oldest friends and I gathered in a garage at social distances in February with the door open. Crazy? Maybe. All bundled in our warmest jackets, five hours later after much laughter and talking, we all just felt a sense of relief. It had been a long time (over a year) and we all needed just a little bit of happy. As the Mayo Clinic says, this is no joke: www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
  4. Positive thought – One of those old friends literally reminded me today of the power of positive thinking. She is right. I used to be a negative nelly when I was younger, but it did not get me anywhere and actually made many aspects of my life worse. Everyday I notice the negative thoughts and talk that people are spewing. It does no good … for anyone. If I were to go back and do it over again, I would try very hard to try to stay positive in everything I do in life. Trust me, that is a hard one, but hugely beneficial to your wellbeing. There are so many articles (and books) about this, but here is a short one: www.uspm.com/practice-the-power-of-positive-thinking/ with some excellent advice.
  5. Diet/Nutrition – Listen, I love cheetos. We used to call them “Food of the Gods,” but honestly, if majority of your diet is carbohydrates, YOU WILL GET DEPRESSED. There is proof that diet and nutrition directly affect our moods. I am not going to get on any soapbox, but I will say that this is something you have to power to adjust in small ways to make yourself feel better. There have been so many studies and this one is completely up to you, but I would definitely take note of how you feel and what have you been eating: www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/external/2018/03/relationship-food-mood/
  6. Creativity – Any outlet that can pave a path towards creativity can give you a sense of self and accomplishment. All human brains are different (like snowflakes) and it is beautiful that we can all create in our own way. Having an outlet to create, build, sew, draw, paint, construct, play … all taps the need for being creative. When we create, we focus on the task at hand and everything else takes a backseat. Right now, in the world, I would like to ignore the backseat. Why do you think I am writing at the moment? Creating. nyctherapy.com/therapists-nyc-blog/creativity-is-your-secret-advantage-for-mental-health-and-well-being/#:~:text=Mental%20health%20benefits%20of%20creative%20activities&text=In%202015%2C%20psychologist%20and%20art,even%20improve%20immune%20system%20functioning.

Because I have struggled with depression, anxiety and OCD for the past 50 years, it does make me somewhat of an expert, for myself anyway lol. Everyone has to learn their own lessons about how to move forward right now, but these tips may help. One step at a time, and hopefully you can see the light at the end of the tunnel (😊).

Coffee cups – memories, happiness, friendship

I don’t know about you, but I have been consuming a lot of coffee! Because it has become a staple in my life (who am I kidding, it always has been), I started really noticing the cup I drink from … matters. I wondered, does it matter to everybody? Or is it just the vehicle for caffeine? I’ve been wanting to write this blog since the beginning of lockdown, and we are going to be here awhile so here it goes. This isn’t negative politics, fake news or pandemic woes. It is happy because it is about coffee … and cups.

In my world, my mug/cup matters. Why you ask? Well, I am here to tell you. My favorite coffee mugs have to be a certain weight, rim size, handle. They also need to give me, not only the warmth of a really good cup of coffee, but the warm fuzzy of my cup’s history. Where did I get it? Who did I get it from? Was the time significant? Is it pleasing to the eye? Are the memories it holds good or bad? Yes, the coffee cup can have all of these things. That is how important the vehicle for my caffeine has become.

My favorite mug used to be a coffee cup that was a present from an old friend. It had Snoopy on it and it read “Joe Cool.” The rim was way too fat, but the cup was rounded and had one of my favorite cartoon characters on it. I used to love this cup. It had ample amount of room for my favorite jolted beverage and it reminded me of good thoughts when I drank from its fat rim. Unfortunately the friendship petered-out like so many do, and the cup went to the back of the cupboard.

I have so many cups. Some were presents, some were … um … let’s say borrowed. They all give me different feelings. One reminds me of friends from across the big pond; one reminds me of my daughter when she is mad; one reminds me of a time my husband and I went on a little adventure; one reminds me of my mother when our relationship was better. My coffee cups are important. My youngest made me one that I don’t use anymore because it is fading. Others I don’t use anymore because they remind me of times I don’t want to go back to. Most remind me of good times, great travel and awesome friends. One of my favorites is one from my best friend and it says “we go together like drunk and disorderly.” Need I say more?

My favorite mug in 2020 has been my elephant cup. I bought this cup for myself. It has a nice color palette, a skinny rim, sits soundly on a table, and fits the perfect cup of coffee. It’s a favorite because elephants symbolize many things in many cultures; they symbolize good luck, prosperity, destroyer of evil, and remover of obstacles. This year we need a destroyer of evil and a remover of obstacles more than ever. This cup gives me strength. This was my favorite … until another cup literally showed up on my doorstep (I had mentioned I liked it 😊 in a zoom call). My new mug even has a label on the bottom – “friendship.” Definite warm fuzzies. This will be my favorite vehicle of black gold (yes, coffee) for the remainder of 2020.

I have expounded a lot about coffee cups this morning, and right now, coffee is very important. It has been something I have pondered for years, but especially this year. Why do you like a certain coffee cup? Is it its size, shape? Does it hold memories of a person, place or time? Have you thought about it? You should. Why, you ask? Because in 2020, the bad cups need to be put in the back of the cupboard. We need more good memories, happiness, friendship and the warmth of a good cup of coffee.

Your community matters. Please take caution.

I am not sure how we got here. There have been so many times in my life where I have thought to myself, “I never thought I would see this in my lifetime!” MANY TIMES. This is one of those times.

I am not sure why it surprises me anymore, but here we are again. I am a Wisconsinite and I am ashamed of what we have become. A state of wishy washy divided people who cannot come together for the sake of safety and health.

I have heard many talk about their “livelihood” and “affording to live.” Think about that for a second. Both of those statements have a version of the word “life.” I’m not sure if you are understanding what that means. Life, if you don’t have that, you don’t have to worry about the affordability.

I do understand that people have worked hard to get where they are, and they need to make money to survive, but first and foremost, you need life. Now that the stay-at-home order has been overturned, even though many of us were making do, making the new normal work, there are those select few that have decided to rip the band-aid off without thought of what that might do to our communities as a whole. I understand where you are coming from, but it is careless and selfish to not consider all involved and try to be cautious.

I also understand that we, as humans, need personal contact, touch, face-to-face. People are chomping at the bit to see each other, to interact, to gather, but none of this can happen if you no longer have life. We as humans need life first.

Please, I beg you, look at the guidelines and take precautions. Open your doors. Go ahead, but please, please, please do it with your community in mind. I’ve heard so many times, “we are all in this together.” To the people who immediately swung the doors open without even considering what it means to everyone, please reconsider how your open business looks. Are you taking precautions? Are you being safe? What will it do to your business, your community if you are not?

It should not look like it used to. It should be open, but different. There are regulations that should be followed or we will be in a world of hurt in a few short months. Life will be at stake, your business will close because believe or not, someone you know, you love, will be six feet under, and it will be your fault. Then do you think people will frequent your establishment? Think about how that will pan out? What will the monetary repercussions be then? Please, truly, think about it.

I am not here to pass judgment or play the blame game. I am here to ask politely. Can you please take some time to do a little research and open with your community in mind? Even though Wisconsin can’t seem to come together as a governing body, we as people, can.

Please think about what is best for us, your patrons, your customers, your community and ultimately you. Thank you.

Humans of the pandemic

Right now, things are weird. I have learned so many things about people in the last week and I feel that some of it needs to be put into writing. If not for documentation purposes in our current situation and how the COVID 19 pandemic is being handled, than for my own thoughts to gather up and understand.

Here are some of the truths about the human existence in this pandemic:

Fear fuels more fear

Fear can grow and with fear people tend to react. When you tell someone not to panic or to calm down, that makes it worse. This might be your own projections of what is happening which fertilizes more panic. There are so many frantic misinformed posts and slices of information about the pandemic that may or may not be true which also feeds fear. Please make sure all information is from a reputable source or maybe let people inform themselves. Our days of social media, false information and rumors are huge impediments to keeping people informed correctly. If you want to stay informed, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html or https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Sharing your opinion is not necessary or productive

All people are going to handle our current situation in their own way. Even though you may think people should take precautions like you are taking precautions, no matter what you say, they will make their own personal decisions. Weighing in on their protocol or how they are taking care of their village when you are not in their circumstance brings on personal anxiety for everyone.

Give everyone ample slack, we are all going through emotions

Whether you are putting out fires at work because of the pandemic or getting all of your events cancelled, emotions are high for everyone. All people are trying to get through this. Give people space (literally) and slack. Be kind and please, for everyone’s sake, try to understand that we are all in this together. Maybe allow yourself about 20 minutes everyday to feel the angry, scared, sad, frustrated and then … go clean something or do schoolwork, take a walk, workout, something positive and productive. It will help.

Maybe give social media and news a time-out?

A major piece of this puzzle I have learned for myself and one of the main ways I am keeping my thoughts, opinions, and actions in check is to trust myself and find the correct information to make an informed decision. The amount of incorrect news, rumors and social media posts that are out there will affect my emotions and make the anxiety spike to an all time high. I try to give myself some breathing room and not believe all of the information out there. Staying off platforms where people tend to rant, has helped.

Support your local economy if you can

Small businesses will suffer and our economy needs us to try to stay as healthy as possible while we weather this storm. If you can, buy local. A little support goes a long way.

Be honest about your own current health

This is paramount to the flattening of the curve. If you are sick, call your doctor, and get tested. Stay home.

This too, shall pass

I remember when President Ronald Reagan was shot. I was eight. The challenger explosion, they wheeled out the television cart in my high school commons. My wedding. The birth of both of my daughters, etched in my brain. Diana’s death. OJ Simpson in the white blazer. 9/11, My sister called me at work and we watched everything unfold and collapse over the phone. There are many instances that shape who we are. It is how we handle them that makes us human. We will get through this. We will learn from this. This too, shall pass, and we will survive it. Maybe changed for the better. Yes, changed forever.

We will remember

This one will be hard to forget. It will be one for the history books and will, on a positive note, bring about some unprecedented change to our health care, economic, alert, and travel systems. Most of all humans will prevail.

Midlife for Generation X is no joke.

A week from Saturday, I turn 49 years old. One kid is already off to college and the second is close behind. I did a major reset of my professional life and my husband will be spending much of this coming year traveling. So it is just me and my dog. Our big old house is quiet.

For the past few years, I have been pondering my life and what it is supposed to be about. For 20 years, it has been about family, children, teenagers, driver’s licenses, boyfriends/girlfriends, midterms, college applications, yada yada yada. And now the children are leaving, my parents are struggling with age and health (mental and physical) and I am here. Midlife. And for our generation (the forgotten one), midlife sucks. I often wonder what other people my age are feeling. More specifically, what women my age are feeling. About this spot in life. Do they feel this way?

So. Many. Questions. Is this lonely feeling, I have a lot of the time, normal? Do other women my age feel this way? Why is there a hole in my heart the size of Texas? Will I get through midlife? Why am I so tired? Why do I feel crazy? Why do I feel lonely? Why do I feel unfulfilled? Why do I feel resentment towards my husband? Do I still love him? What will we do once the children are gone? Should I miss the children this much? Do I need to be this involved in their lives? Should I be more involved? Why am I a helicopter mom? Do I really need to know where my husband and children are 24/7? Why don’t I have anything to look forward to? Maybe I need a hobby? Is there something I can do to get out of this funk? Maybe it is the time of year? Winter in Wisconsin? Why don’t I have any gumption or drive to do anything? Would it matter if I were no longer here?

The answer is midlife.

As I roam around facebook/instagram, I see people struggling with the strange milestones of midlife: trying to figure out how to raise decent humans, losing or struggling to care for elderly parents, sending kids off to college, getting divorced, the empty nest, quitting stable jobs, deciding they are gay, leaving a former life. Yet social media makes these major struggles feel two-dimensionally flat, nonchalant, or just a matter-of-fact. Strange, because anyone who is personally going through any of this, would describe it as anything, but nonchalant!

Midlife (crisis or no crisis) is not two-dimensional, it is not nonchalant. It is VERY difficult and it is here. And I’m not loving it. And we need to start talking about it (not on facebook).

For the past three years or so I have felt unsettled. Not myself. Lonely and sad. The weight of the world sits on my shoulders, as I sit here in my old empty house (needing repairs that I can’t afford). I think about the sleepless nights, unnecessary worries, my dysfunctional family, my job, the budget, retirement (that I won’t be able to afford), our adult children, our elderly parents, and … the hot flashes. Oh yes, the hot flashes.

Yep, menopause. I believe it IS god’s sick joke to put women in the midst of perimenopause/menopause just as midlife hits. No stress here … The Bermuda Triangle? Interesting plot twist? Check mate? One of those fantastically inevitable parts of midlife for women (plus or minus five – 10 years) – a major obstacle to navigate while trying to get through this time in our lives. And with menopause, every woman is different. I have friends 51 years old with no symptoms, and friends, five to eight years younger experiencing full-fledged menopause. We are all different, and I am sad to say, midlife is here, the children ARE leaving, the parents are dying, and somehow, we have to get through it, and to top it all off, as crazy, hormonally imbalanced aliens of menopause.

I’ve realized our generation of women were raised to not make it a big deal of these things. To pass it off and just accept it. Struggle in silence. Nope. Not me. I can’t, and I hope it helps you to know, you are not alone. I am struggling, too. Matter of fact, while I was talking to an old friend on the phone, I was telling her about my disposition these days, and she said something that finally made me feel normal: “I’m feeling this way, too,” she said. Could this be? Are other women my age feeling the same, hormonally imbalance, rollercoaster of emotions and obstacles in this stage of life? Questioning all of the things? Children, parents, marriage, location, what’s next? Who am I?

My friend and I talked about some of the things that could help us both (and maybe help you) get through these emotions and obstacles:

  • Rely on your friends
  • Admit to the struggles
  • Have an outing/plan a get-away
  • Don’t make any rash decisions
  • Meditate
  • Exercise
  • Eat right
  • Travel
  • Find a new hobby
  • Get fresh air
  • See a therapist
  • Be honest/real
  • Remember, this is normal and many are feeling it.

My friend also found a book that literally hits the nail on the head called Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun that blankets me with comfort (albeit cool … hot flash) while in this stage of life. If you are part of the forgotten generation of women in the throws of midlife questions, this might help. You are not forgotten. Your feelings are real. Others are feeling the same. We can get through this together.

The curse of the bright shiny object

Squirrel! If you haven’t seen the Disney movie UP, you may not know what I am referring to, but today we are going to talk about the perils of working from home, specifically the bright shiny objects.

What am I talking about? I am referring to the things that most people do at home when they are not at work, like dye their hair, do the dishes, or take the dog for a walk. I’m sure there are people out there that are saying “you poor thing” sarcastically because … well … I get to work from home, but the curse of the bright shiny object is real.

Having OCD, I tend to get extremely focused on projects to where if I sit down and start a project, I won’t get up for 8 or 9 hours. That is not good for this ever-aging body! So I set alarms to get up and move around and stand at my standing desk. I will go downstairs and get a cup of coffee. That is where the curse strikes me. Bright shiny objects everywhere!

When I stayed home with my kids many moons ago, my husband used to tease me about my day. He could know exactly what I did during a day by the shrapnel trail of bright shiny objects (the broom, a coffee cup, my shoes, a cleaning cloth, food, dishes, etc.). All of these objects would be like crumbs left by Hansel & Gretel, leading him to my final resting place. Again, the curse of the bright shiny object. If you give a mouse a cookie! Lol

Fast forward to now. I work from home, I have to get enough hours in a day to justify this whole gig, and I need to ignore the “squirrel” moments of the day to accomplish that. Here are my suggestions for people like me who get lured by the bright shiny objects:

  1. Do take breaks, but only the 15-minute kind, not the two-hour kind to do dishes and laundry.
  2. Prepare for a bit of tunnel vision. Don’t feel guilty about the dirt surrounding you. Ignore it, it will still be there. It does not hold a schedule, your work day does.
  3. Take a lunch break and maybe do some of the housework you would regularly do on a lunch break, but regulate that time to only one hour.
  4. If the distractions get you, get back to work. Stay on course. If you insist, hurry up, you have work to do. You will feel guilty either way so choose work.
  5. Keep a strict schedule. Stay on task.
  6. When the clock strikes five bells, go do whatever you want, I’ll be in the kitchen, having a glass of wine.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is my conscience talking. I have to practice what I preach. My company is going great and I have wonderful people that are great clients. I’m 110% in to making sure they get the best of me and my work. The bright shiny objects be damned. We will conquer you, you feisty little distractions.

If you work from home and have a tendency to fall pray to the distraction, this blog is for you. Sometimes you just have to … “squirrel!” Now get back to work!

You can be wrong

Have you ever lied to someone because you didn’t want to admit you were wrong? Do other people get to be scapegoats so that you don’t have to admit weakness? Have you ever broken a glass at home, and blamed the dog for being behind you? I have.

I believe there is a problem in our society today where instead of fessing up about being wrong, not knowing how to do something, or admitting a mistake, we blame other people and completely, flat out, lie so we don’t get caught. Most people think that being wrong or not having the knowledge is weakness. It is the proverbial “deer in the headlights” phenomenon. It is such a knee-jerk reaction to lie or to blame, a lot of people don’t even realize they are doing it anymore. It has become truly a habit.

I’m here to tell you, being wrong … is ok. Apologizing because of a mistake, should happen. Admitting that you don’t know how to do something is not a form of weakness. A stronger foundation of trust is built among people who admit when they are wrong. And the thing about mistakes or not having the knowledge, it is good for you. It helps you grow. People never learn if they don’t stumble a little bit. No one is perfect so stop trying to convince others you are. You are not and never will be so it is OK. Be honest. Make mistakes. Admit you are wrong.

The workplace is a huge cesspool of passing the buck. Because of our busy “get it done now” world, the whole “that is not my job” or “I didn’t do it” mentality is basically people not taking on the responsibility they should. Instead of taking the time or learning the things, they lie, blame and PASS THE BUCK.

Have you ever thought about why you might have reacted in a situation or who you threw under the bus? Reflecting on the reasons behind your reactions helps you stay true to yourself and insure you stay accountable especially when you make mistakes. Why did you blame someone else? Is it because you don’t know? Is it because you are wrong and don’t want to admit it because you believe people will think lesser of you? Did you make a mistake and don’t want to get into trouble? Trust me, lying or blaming, instead of taking responsibility makes everything a TON worse. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Not worth it.

You know what, the words “I don’t know,” are OK as long as they are followed by “but I can find out or find someone who does know.” Instead of saying “that’s not my job” or “she was supposed to do that” or “It’s their fault.” Admit when you are wrong. Tell people you don’t know. Say you are sorry, you made a mistake. It will be OK, and you will be a better person because of it. Try hard to take time to answer and think about what you will say before the knee-jerk reaction to throw someone to the curb and divert the problem away from yourself. You are tough and you are accountable. You are being real when the truth is told and people will trust you more for doing it.