Friday, February 27, 2009

Light A Candle

When I was last in Sweden, I was re-inspired to light candles. Everywhere I went, people were lighting candles. Taper candles, tea candles, scented candles, and every other candle you can imagine. My new philosophy is that candles are not just for special occasions, but should be lit as often as possible. For example, eating by candlelight should not be reserved for your anniversary dinner.

One morning last week, I could sense that Rebecka was having a horrible, terrible, very bad, no good day. As she stomped off to take Sophie for her morning walk, I decided I would cook her a nice breakfast and light the tea candles in our Ittala candle holders on the kitchen table. When she returned from the walk and saw the prepared table, her sprits lifted and suddenly, life wasn't so bad.

Lighting a candle before bedtime creates a calm that's required to help everybody wind down after a busy day. I like to light a scented candle on our bar in the kitchen and turn out the lights after dinner to help soothe the mood and get ourselves centered for sleep.

Sometimes, I light a candle in the bathroom and take my shower in its flickering light. It's a pretty serene experience.

And the best part is that you can create insanely cozy moments with very little investment in time and money.

All you have to do is light a candle!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Royal News Flash

My dad informed me yesterday that the Swedish Crown Princess, Victoria, is engaged to be married to Daniel Westling in 2010. Click here for more info and the announcement video on YouTube (yes, Sweden is progressive...). Congratulations to the happy couple!

This may be surprising, but I definitely have a soft spot for the whole monarchy concept. Being from a country with an active and popular royal family makes life just a bit more fairytale-like.

I understand the concerns around the expense that is the royal family with their castles and gowns and expensive educations. Indeed, their lifestyle doesn't exactly gel with the voluntary simplicity philosophy to which I strive to adhere. At the same time, there is something to be said for history, tradition, and national pride. If a royal family stems from a line of respected leaders, helps us carry on rich traditions and make the people feel proud and happy, then it may just be worth the expense.

Long live the King!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Chocolate A Day

Do you sometimes (or always) feel like eating something sweet after a meal? I do! In order to satisfy this craving, I would often eat a full-fledged desert (which I still do on occasion, btw) or head down to the snack machine for some peanut m&ms. Not healthy!

My new trick is to eat one piece of chocolate after meals - especially after lunch. And it has to be good chocolate. Godiva and Lindt are examples of good chocolate. There are also some excellent organic varieties. This little nibble of goodness takes care of the craving and doesn't add hundreds of calories to my daily intake.
It's a win-win situation!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pace Yourself!

As I was driving the 4+ hours from Decorah, IA to Milwaukee, WI yesterday, I decided embark on a little experiment. I had brought a granola bar from Todd's snack stash for my mid-morning snack. In the spirit of enjoying everything down to its essence, I challenged myself to make the granola bar last for 20 minutes. I took a small bite, chewed until there was nothing more to chew, waited for a minute, took another small bite, carefully chewed, and so on. I have never experienced a granola bar this way before. It was as if I became intimately familiar with each little oat and nut as I slowly crushed them into swalloable fuel.

In fact, it was so much fun that I tried it a couple of hours later when Rebecka and I decided to share a banana to hold us over until we got home and could eat lunch. Yep - I made half of a banana last for 20 minutes. I wonder if a banana has ever been savored in this manner (at least in the US).

This little food experiment made me think about how the concept of "pace yourself" really is always a good idea. Think about it:
  • Pace yourself at work: Nobody wins when good employees burn out.
  • Pace yourself when you run: You don't want to have to quit the race before you reach the finish line.
  • Pace yourself when you eat: You will enjoy your food more, you will know when you've had enough, and your stomach and intestines will thank you.
  • Pace yourself in life: Take a day off every week, don't try to do everything at once, focus on one goal at a time per Leo's advice.
  • Pace yourself when you brush your teeth: Three minute rule!

I spent 20 minutes eating dinner tonight - and enjoyed every bite.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nature Gym Fun

I am in the process of enjoying the book The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs. One of the chapters is called Health and Exercise. The most interesting concept in this chapter is that of the Nature Gym. This is where you get a new attitude toward chores like mowing the lawn or mopping the floors by realizing the health benefits of physical activity. Or said a different way, the gym does not have monopoly on calorie-burning opportunities.

I had an opportunity to visit the Nature Gym today. Decorah, Iowa experienced a fair amount of snow fall last night (which I drove through and almost slid off the road at one point...) and we woke up to a winter wonderland (once again!). Todd took the first shoveling shift to get us out of the driveway and to the gym (pretty ironic, right...?). However, when we got back, the plow truck had dumped a bunch of snow back onto the lower part of the driveway. Inspired by the Nature Gym concept, I volunteered to take care of it. It was an awesome workout. I'm pretty sure I'll be sore tomorrow in muscles I didn't know I had. And it was fun and refreshing at the same time!

OK, I'm not giving up going to the gym (especially since it currently comes "for free" with our apartment), but it is good to keep in mind that there are other ways to stay in shape and get work done at the same time.

I work out, therefore I am.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Going Green Tips for Various Industries

When I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Toronto Hilton was definitely taking steps to "Go Green." I fact, I was so impressed, I took a couple of pictures:

Notice the recycling bin under the desk?

Anyway, it got me thinking about the fact that there is a lot that can be done right now, this very minute, immediately to conserve energy. We don't have to wait for a stimulous package (although that is very exciting), a smart grid, or general adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Here are some ideas for different industries:

Hotels: Aside from the items described pictorally above, hotels can also provide an option to guests to keep using their towels and sheets if they spend multiple days. I have also seen shampoo/soap dispensers in European hotels. Think about all the plastic that could be saved if hotels didn't carry all those little bottles...

Schools: Don't offer pre-packaged food and require students to sort their trash. I went to school in Sweden and never once ate food that was packaged. Rather, the food was served out of large pans and we poured milk into reusable cups from a milk dispenser. At Rebecka's elementary school, Granbery, the lunch room supervisor was a real tree-hugger and required complete sorting of trash. It can be done!

Retail: OK, I'll call out the obvious here... Charge for bags! And charge a lot. This will teach people to bring their own. Also, if you must continue with plastic bags, make sure they're the quickly decomposing kind.

Offices: This is the one that bugs me the most, because it's so easy. Turn off the lights at night! How often do you drive through a downtown or business park at night and see at least half the lights turned on? It's crazy! At our offices, we have motion sensors which turn the lights off and on. This way, if you're not in the room, the light knows to turn itself off. It's so easy and saves so much energy. Another fun idea is also to set the default print mode to print double-sided. Pretty easy.

You get the point...
The're so much that can be done right now.
Let's do it!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cherish Downtime

You know about downtime, right? Those pockets of time when there isn't much going on and you may not even be in a position to do anything productive. Some examples are...
  • Waiting at the doctor's office
  • Using public transportation
  • Saturday afternoon in Decorah, IA (my "retreat home")
  • Sitting in the car pool line
  • Waiting for someone to get ready for an outing

If you are like me (that would be Type A), downtime can be stressful. I remember when I was in college and happened to mistake the starting time of a class. I had to wait for about 20 minutes for the class to start without having any materials to read or study. At first, I started to freak out, because I was "wasting time" doing nothing. Then I decided to pull myself together and just closed my eyes and let my thoughts wander. It was fun and relaxing!

Every Tuesday, I take Rebecka to her theater class at a nearby cultural center. I could drop her off and attempt to run errands during this time. However, I have chosen to take this time to sit in the comfy chairs in the lobby and do some recreational reading or just sit and reflect. It is so relaxing. I think I look forward to theater class more than Rebecka does!

How can you be creative and come up with great ideas if you don't take time to sit and think? How will you know yourself? Next time you find yourself in a downtime situation, take advantage of it.

Chillax! (as Rebecka would say...)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You Want to Get Work Done? Try a Productivity Day.

One of my top productivity tips is taking one day a week to work off-site (ideally disconnected). I have been doing this for several months now on most Tuesdays (doesn't quite work when I'm traveling). There are several reasons to do this:
  • Getting into the groove of writing something like a requirements document or a proposal or a presentations takes time. In general, it takes more undisturbed time than most people have. So we never get started.
  • If you are lucky enough to get in the groove, you need at least 1-2 hours of good, focused time to accomplish your goal. This is not going to happen at an office with an open door policy, phones ringing, and Outlook notifications popping up on the screen.
  • If you really take advantage of your off-site day, you can make a big dent in your personal "todo" list and be readily available to serve everybody else for the rest of the week.
  • It's good for you to know that the world will not end if you are not in the office for one day.

This practice was reinforced at the Pragmatic Marketing seminar I attended last month. Our instructor, Steve Johnson, emphasized the importance of this habit, especially as it relates to product management professionals. He has declared Thursday as National Product Management Productivity Day. Obviously, it is a good idea for any job where you have to spend significant time focusing and your reality does not allow for this.

So how do you do it?

  • First you should ask your supervisor. If he or she is hesitant, suggest a trial period followed by an evaluation. With all the awesome work you'll be getting done, it will be a no-brainer.
  • Second, book the entire day in your calendar for the rest of your life so as to discourage scheduling of important meetings on this day.
  • Third, say no to any invites (unless you deem the meeting a life or death matter - not likely) that still come through threatening to ruin your productivity day.
  • And last but not least, find a good, quiet place where you can get some serious work done. I like to work part of the day at home and part of the day at a coffee shop. The library and book stores are other excellent options.

Happy Productivity Day!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Email Processing Habit - Week 1

One week down and a lifetime to go in my new habit of processing email only three times per day. It is awesome! You will not believe how much work you get done unless you try it for yourself. No pesky email notifications to zap your concentration, no tactical tasks spread out over the course of the day to distract you from higher priority work. Give it a try!

Follow my progress on The Power Of Less forum: click here...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charity of the Month: The Foreman Fund

Today, I'm going to tell you the story about how I went to college for free...

I actually went to four different colleges. The first one was Birmingham-Southern College. That's where I met Todd. I had tuition covered here thanks to a scholarship from the Swedish organization "The Sweden-America Foundation." They selected 40 students each year for studies abroad. My scholarship lasted for a year, so I returned to Sweden after a year with Todd in tow. :)

The second college I went to was Linköpings Universitet in Sweden, so that was free by default (isn't socialism cool...?). After a semester studying religion, I decided to drop out so I could work and save up money for our wedding and upcoming move back to the US.

When we moved to Waco, TX (post baby), I decided to go back to school. There was a community college called McLennan Community College (MCC) that seemed like a good starting point. It was cheap, but we had no money. That is when our fabulous church, First Presbyterian Church of Waco, TX, came to the rescue. I applied to The Foreman Fund (run by the church) and received a scholarship that covered the MCC tuition. I went to school two days a week while Rebecka was at Mother's Day Out and attended an evening class or two. MCC was awesome. The teachers loved me because I studied. I learned a lot, especially in History, Social Studies, and English.

However, I couldn't go to school forever at MCC. The only four-year college in town was Baylor University. It was expensive. Really expensive. We were not that hopeful that we could make it work financially, but I applied anyway. One day in the spring of my last semester at MCC, I received an unforgettable phone call. It was the US Ambassador to Sweden, Lyndon Olson Jr. I had met the ambassador on a few occasions since we had common friends (he was from Waco). However, I never imagined that he would call my house. He explained that he had just given a talk at Baylor (he's an alumnus) and that he wanted to give his stipend (around $3,000) toward my education. He continued to say that he would talk to his friend in the development department and see what else he could do. I was speechless and had to fight to hold back my tears. We were not ready to leave Waco and this would hopefully allow us to stay for at least two more years.

When I received my financial aid package from Baylor, I had to do a retake. Full tuition! No, that can't be right. But it was. I was going to Baylor! I ended up with a degree in Computer Science with a 4.0 GPA. I received a comp sci scholarship after my first year at Baylor, which helped with miscellaneous expenses.

The Foreman Fund continued to support me through the Baylor years allowing me to pay for fees and books. I even had enough money to eat lunch at school one day a week! (This was a treat.) It is such an honor to be able to give back to the fund that really changed my life and the life of our entire family.

Thank you First Pres and Ambassador Olson!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jesus and the Beatles

Today, my parents sent me a very lovely Valentine's eCard which read:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

The context is John's Gospel and Jesus is giving his disciples final instructions before his death. This is shortly after Jesus washed the feet of the disciples as an example of how they should serve one another.

I think this is a fantastic reminder that we are called to love and to serve. In fact, if everybody in the world took this approach, imagine the possibilities. No wars, no extreme poverty, no gunfights, no domestic violence.... the list goes on.

Like the Beatles sing: "All you need is love."

Think of one way that you can show love toward your neighbor or serve someone today. It will have a beautiful ripple effect that hopefully, one day, will make this world a better place.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Essential Notebook

I love notebooks. I go to Barnes & Noble and Borders to browse the notebook section and discover what new models are available. (Way cheaper than going to car dealerships, btw...) Whenever I'm in a new city and walk past a store that looks like it might have cool notebooks, I have to stop in. I love to open up a brand-new notebook and think about all the notes that will one day fill the pages. Will it be idea notes, reminder notes, hate notes, love notes, journal notes...?

I love the act of writing notes in my notebooks. The feel of a smooth pen against the paper. Words forming under my touch. Page after page filled with notes that I have composed. Combinations of words that have never before been written. Just for me.

I have an ecojot notebook for work. Here I note down summaries of conversations, reminders, ideas, outlines and drafts for documents, agendas, etc. I also have a smaller notebook that fits in my purse. This is for personal reminders, on-the-go ideas, songs to download, and everything else.

Recently, I added a third notebook to my arsenal. I realized that I have so many great ideas while I run. However, if I want to remember them, I then have to repeat them over and over in my head until I'm back home and can write them down. This clutters up my brain and prevents further exploration for the rest of the workout. Most of the time, I just forget half the ideas by the time I have a chance to write them down. So, I decided to bring a little notebook to the gym. It fits in the cupholder on the treadmill for easy access. When a fabulous idea enters my head, I simply take a quick walking break and jot it down.

Notebooks are essential if you want to use your brain at its full capacity. The reason is that your capability to think creatively is drastically hampered when there's a lot of stuff to remember cluttering your brain. If you force your brain to remember to get the dry cleaning, write the rent check, make an appointment with the CPA, schedule a grooming appointment for your dog, etc, there is not much room left for strategic thinking, creative composition, focused research or whatever brings you closer to your overall life goals.

Fashion experts talk about the essential little black dress...
I'm all about my essential little black notebook.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Above All, Exercise

I know that exercise doesn't technically fit into the "essentials" of life like water, sleep, food, and air. However, I firmly believe that if you or someone you care about is depressed, sick, unhealthily overweight, or otherwise not enjoying life, the first habit to change is to start exercising on a regular basis.

Think about it... Numerous studies show that exercise is good for the phyche. A 30 minute walk each day can be the salvation for someone suffering from depression. Personally, I know my mood is affected after a few days of not working out. People around me know when I haven't been running. I even read a story once about a psychologist who takes his clients for runs. And it works!

Everybody knows that exercising is good for physical health, but many people still do not exercise because of various reasons. But there is no good reason not to exercise. It's OK start small with just 10 minutes of walking. The beauty of exercise is that it will lead into better sleeping and eating habits, which also contribute to better health. When you exercise, you feel like eating food that is good fuel for your body. When you exercise, you have an easier time sleeping and you crave sleep.

If I encounter anybody with problems or who has a loved one with problems, the first thing I ask is: "Are they exercising?" If not, that is the place to start.

Everything else will follow...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smart Grid 101

Click here for the PDF...

Listen To Your Body

I have a secret...

My body talks to me. It really does. Not with human words, per se, but it definitely has very effective means of communication. Let me give you some examples:

I have a specific amount of food (and types of food) that I should eat each day to feel good. When I don't eat enough, my body tells me with a very growly sound. When I eat too much or the wrong kind of food, my intestines say: "Please stop!" Just last night, I could tell I had eaten just a tad too much by how my body was communicating with me. It was no surprise when I stepped on the scale this morning and weighed 2 two pounds more than the weight I generally maintain. So I evaluated what I ate the previous day and determined that I probably shouldn't have had that hot cocoa at Caribou Coffee. Next time, I'll go for the hot tea (except I always forget!).

When I'm in a bad mood (or Rebecka greets me with a "Is somebody having a bad day?"), I stop and try to determine the cause. Is it that time of the month? No... Did something frustrating happen at work? No... Then I'm probably overtraining. Time to take a day off or modify the training plan a bit. My knees will also let me know when it's time to take a break or get new shoes.

My head is hurting. Hmmm... It normally doesn't hurt. Oh, I probably haven't been getting enough sleep. Think back... Yep, 7 hours here, 6 1/2 hours there. That's not enough. Time to be more diligent about getting to bed on time.

Lack of sleep is also not good for running... This morning, my body was telling me: "I'm feeling pretty tired. Could we take some walking breaks during the run today?" So I modified my workout to include a 1/20 mile walk break every half mile. It helped me do all five miles.

Last week, my body was telling me that something was not quite right. "I'm feeling a little hot and tired. I may be coming down with something. You should take a day off and nip it in the bud." I stayed home for a day and felt much better.

You may already be an expert listener to your body. That's awesome. However, if you tend to ignore the communications from your body, make a habit of listening and you'll be able to live in harmony with yourself and the rest of the world.

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."
-Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Doing the Unknown

You may find this hard to believe, but I actually dread doing the unknown. This coming from the person who permanently moved to a different country at the tender age of 21 and decided to major in computer science without knowing anything about computers other than Juno email and Microsoft Word. But when it comes to everyday life, I generally shy away from new activities if I think there is a chance that I will mess up.

Back in college, It took me months to work up the courage to step on a treadmill when I first started going to the gym. It looked fun and all the really fit girls were on the treadmills, but there were just too many possibilities for me to mess up. After too many workouts on the elliptical machine, I finally decided to try this unknown contraption. I didn't fall off. In fact, I never have.

The other week, Todd and I went to Whole Foods in Milwaukee. It's a fantastic store with an underground parking garage (which is especially awesome in the dead of winter!). When we were done shopping, we needed a way to get our cart down to the lower level. I started walking toward the elevator (I know how to operate an elevator), but Todd suggested we put our cart on the newfangled cart escalator and ride down next to it. My first instinct was not to do it. What if I did it wrong and the cart tipped over?? What if somebody saw me doing it wrong??? Todd convinced me to try it and the cart made it down safe and sound (as did we).

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in the "doing the unknown" department. I had just reached the workout room and was about to fill up my Klean Kanteen bottle at the water cooler when trickle, trickle, trickle, gone! Here's the kicker: I have never replaced the water jug in a water cooler. I have encountered many empty water coolers at work, hotels, gyms, etc. But I have never replaced one, because I don't know how they work and I might spill water all over the place. This time (since there were no witnesses), I decided I would give it a try. I removed the empty jug. No problem. I removed the cover on one of the jugs sitting on the floor. Aha, I was starting to get it now… when I placed the jug onto the water cooler, the tip on the water cooler would punch a hole in the top of the jug and water would start to flow. Ingenious. Five gallons of water is pretty heavy, but I managed to hoist it up there and soon I had fresh water from Mountain, WI pouring into my water bottle. What a success!

Fortunately, my struggle with doing with the unknown seems to apply mostly to small, everyday activities rather than big, life-impacting endeavors. However, imagine if this applied to all aspects of your life. How limiting it would be. It may tie you to the same job forever or to a city that you hate. An interesting "take-charge-of-your-life" book that I just read, Career Renegade, speaks to this topic and indicates that fear of the unknown is often a factor that prevents people from realizing their dreams and doing what they love. Leo at zenhabits wrote a similar post today talking about facing your fears. It's so liberating.

Now that I am aware of this limitation, however small, I am going to be a lot more cognizant of my attitude toward doing the unknown. It will be an interesting journey with some "mess-ups" along the way.

Wonder what I'll try tomorrow…

Monday, February 09, 2009

New Habit: Email Processing

Today, I started my first 30 Day Power of Less Challenge via zenhabits. My goal is to check work email only three times per day. This is to improve focus and concentration as well as save time by processing email in batch. I don't have a limit as to how many emails I read/respond to/etc. I think getting it down to just three times a day is a big enough challenge to start with. My schedule is as follows:

9:00 AM
1:00 PM
4:30 PM

I have blocked my calendar during these times so I can make sure to stick with the regular schedule. In between these times, I keep Outlook on the "Offline" setting. I can already tell that I am being more productive and using alternate (and better) means of communication such as picking up the phone or walking down the hall to resolve simple issues or ask a question.

More time for me...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pajama Day (aka Remember the Sabbath)

Yesterday, I read a chapter in The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs called "Time." The main theme of this chapter was "reclaiming your time," discussing everything from "Do One Thing at a Time" to "Leave Your Job at Work." It was a lot of information I already knew, but you know how you learn things and then stuff it into a few cells somewhere in the back of the brain and then forget? Reading these types of books and articles are good reminders.
The most important reminder for me was "Religious or Not, Rest One Day a Week." God wasn't kidding when God gave this commandment to Moses way back when. It is a really good idea. In fact, humans need the break. I'm not a fan of the Little House in the Big Woods style "sabbath," where you have to sit on a chair all day and read the Bible. I am, however, a believer in the "go with the flow and do only relaxing activities" style sabbath. But I had forgotten.
I used to think my parents were crazy for not wanting to go shopping on Sundays. I mean, wouldn't that be the perfect after-church activity? Now, I totally get it. I have a friend who refuses to cook on Sundays. Instead, she takes her family out for Sunday lunch every week. Others may go for a walk around the lake or make sure they don't mow the lawn on their day of rest.
I decided to remember the Sabbath today. Rebecka and I had a "stay in your pajamas" day and did exactly what we felt like doing. I worked out, enjoyed a leisurly breakfast with Becka, read, took a nap, cooked salmon, and watched the coolest movie of 2008 - Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. I do have to admit that I also did two loads of laundry, but only because I felt like it and I knew it would prevent stress in the days to come. It was a good Sabbath.
Coincidentally, while I was still composing this post in my head, Rebecka created a new blog and wrote her first post. Guess what it was called...
Pajama Day
I think she enjoyed it too...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Great Saturday Morning

As soon as I woke up, I knew something was different. As I gained consciousness, I realized what it was. First, I wasn't exhausted and second, I wasn't freezing. I literally jumped out of bed, got dressed in my workout clothes and went to release Sophie from her captivity in the bathroom.

I decided a walk with the dog was in order. I bundled up as usual and stepped outside. It was amazing. For the first time in months, I didn't feel cold outside. In fact, it felt just right. Sophie and I jogged merrily down streets wet from the melting snow. I took some deep breaths and marveled about being able to inhale without coughing from the cold.

Next, it was time for the pre-workout snack of bumpers, banana, and milk. I enjoyed reading a few chapters of Power of Less by Leo Babauta, the author of the zenhabits blog. Once the food was at least somewhat digested, I headed over to the workout room. It was empty (that's the way (aha aha), I like it (aha aha)). I enjoyed a leisurely workout accompanied by VH1 (love the song Lucky - Rebecka is downloading it for me):
  • 10 minute warm-up on treadmill
  • abs
  • 10 minute run on treadmill
  • preventive physical therapy for my finicky knees
  • 10 minute cool-down on treadmill
  • 2 x upper body weight circuit
  • stretch


When I got back to the apartment, I fixed breakfast and ate it while finishing a chapter called "Time" in The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs. More on that tomorrow. By this time, Rebecka had crawled out of bed and it seemed like a good time for a "15 minute tidy." It's amazing how much you can get done very quickly if you give yourself a time limit. I ended going over the time by a few minutes, but within 30 minutes our entire apartment was decluttered and clean. I love living in a small space more than I can express.

The shower was waiting for me, so I lit a candle, turned off the overhead light and took a soothing shower. Aaaaaahhhhh... (again) At this point, it was time for more food, so I made smoothies for me and Rebecka. Smoothies are such a good power food, because they fill you up, taste great, and are good for you. How's that for a great Saturday morning?

If only Todd were here, this would be a perfect morning.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Charity of the Month: Fair Trade

OK, so this is really January's charity, but I'm a big believer in the "better late than never" methodology.

When we lived in Nashville, one of my favorite stores was the Ten Thousand Villages in Green Hills. Their vision is as follows:

One day all artisans in the developing countries will earn a fair wage, be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live a life of quality.

The way it works is that Ten Thousand Villages markets products made by artisans in developing countries in North America and pays these manufacturers a fair wage in return. It's such an awesome idea.

When we moved up north, I was thrilled to learn that there was a similar store nearby called Plowshare Center. For our January charity, we joined this non-profit with a family membership. In addition, I have a goal this year to buy as many gifts as possible at this store. They have something for everybody! Here is my favorite personal purchase:

Of course, the RFPD (Rebecka Fashion Police Department) will not be seen in public with me wearing this hat, but I enjoy it. I also very much enjoy fair trade chocolate.

For more information on fair trade go to the Fair Trade Federation's website.

Shopping never felt so good...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Smart Grid Dream

Our current "grid" is not smart. At least, that's what GE indicated during their recent Super Bowl ad. Others agree. The organization, Repower America, indicates that our grid is "...old, balkanized and too limited in its reach." They are right. It doesn't encourage use of renewable energy sources and doesn't know how to store energy for use at peak energy consumption times.

The good news is that there are a lot of smart people out there working on fixing this problem. The solution is a modern network that can efficiently and quickly transport electricity all over the country. It is a smart grid that can store energy when there is an abundance and use it elsewhere. It is a smart grid where consumers can control their usage levels and sell energy back to the electricity company. Sounds like a win-win situation.

It is excititng to see big and well-established companies like GE taking large steps toward solving this problem. They have an excellent and fun website where you can learn more about what they are doing to help create the smart grid: Eco Imagination

Another cool company working on the consumer and utility company side of things is GridPoint. Their mission is "to make the Smart Grid a reality by aligning the interests of electric utilities, consumers and the environment." Pretty awesome.

Obviously, this will also require some help from Washington D.C. We need regulations that encourage investors to pour money into renewable energy and the smart grid. This is where you can help. Go to this site to learn more and raise your voice for clean energy.

Additional resources:
Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

Dream, be smart, and save the planet.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Product Management Habits

Leo over at zenhabits wrote a good post yesterday about "Groundhog Day Resolutions." His point is that New Year's Day does not have monopoly on being the day to start new habits and generally engage in life-improving activities.

Along these lines, I have laid out a plan for my team to make a monthly resolution to embrace a new Product Management habit. Some of these "tasks" we already do, but perhaps not on a regular basis or not as well as we could if we tried really hard.

Here are some of the habits on our list for 2009:
  • Weekly customer/potential interviews
  • Surveys to quantify feedback obtained in interviews
  • Win/Loss analysis
  • Validation process (ties in with surveys)
  • Create a positioning document for each product/persona/industry
  • Competitive Analysis (do it and store it all in one easy-to-reference location)
  • Work offsite one day per week

The trick with habits is that you can't create a bunch of habits at once. Leo would say that you should do one at a time. It is so true. The good news is that once you've got a habit down, it becomes second nature and you can start focusing on the next habit without losing the habits you gained previously.

One step at a time...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Practical Product Management

Product Management is an interesting field. It is a profession that people generally end up in by accident and then figure it out on the job (or not...). I don't know many children who say: "I want to be a product manager when I grow up."

I definitely belong to the category of accidental product managers. I was introduced to product management almost five years ago when I went to our then SVP of Engineering to ask for a software engineering job. He talked to me for a little while and then said: "What I really need right now is a product analyst. You seem to have people skills. I think you would be great at it!" I didn't know at all what a product analyst was or did, but I decided to go for it. I learned a lot along the way (and even taught some people about product management along the way), but I also felt that there was still more to learn (isn't there always?).

In order to make sure that I immersed myself into the most current thought-leadership as it relates to product management (and didn't miss anything), I decided to attend a Pragmatic Marketing(R) seminar called "Practical Product Management." I was lucky enough to have as my instructor Steve Johnson, a "recognized thought-leader on the strategic role of product management." He was extremely funny in a very sarcastic way and definitely understood the plights of your average product manager.

Steve introduced the group to the "Pragmatic Marketing Framework" which systematically walks through 37 aspects of product management from the strategic, to the "geeky," to the "fluffy." I won't get into the details here, because if you're interested, you should attend the seminar. However, I will give you the highlights of my experience:
  • Determine and focus on distinctive competence.
  • Make sure to ask the question: "Who are we not?"
  • Product managers should be experts on the market, not the product.
  • You have to understand the "day in the life" of your customers and potential buyers/users.
  • Nothing Interesting Happens In The Office (NIHITO).

As a fanatic of productivity tips and practice, I also appreciated that Steve provided some techniques around email management and my favorite tip: "Thursday is National Product Management Productivity Day." For me it's Tuesday, but the important point is that product managers need time away from the office to get their product management work done every week. More than any role, we get pulled in a million directions every minute of the day and need the block of focused time to work on white papers, market research, or any number of other activities which require space and time for thought.

I highly recommend this seminar to anyone who is in product management or product marketing. There are other seminars available on the Pragmatic Marketing website as well.

"Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant..."
Pragmatic Marketing