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Always be a student, always keep learning

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One of the most rewarding things being human is learning. After going to post-secondary school for 10 years and now working for 10 years my interest in learning is even greater. Being a rock star information worker requires a never ending thirst to learn.

Nowadays more than ever there are a variety of opportunities for us to keep learning. Some of these opportunities have had barriers lowered by free or near free learning opportunities. Some of the key avenues for you to continue learning include:

  1. In-Person Classes: No matter if it is undergraduate or graduate coursework or continuing education that best fits your current needs and interests take the opportunity if it makes sense. Something to always ask when taking expensive formal college courses is the return on investment and what other avenues are there. Often times employers will help contribute to your continued learning if it will benefit your employer. There are many community colleges that are doing specialized training that once required attendance at a formal four-year college and you will get the benefit of reduced tuition. There are also more schools that offer certificate options which is often times a good and cost-effective option when looking to make a career change. There are even a new breed of “bootcamp” training where you go for 8 to 12 weeks generally and learn some marketable skills like programming, data science, and design.
  2. Certifications: Many different industries have certifications available through different associations. These certifications are often achieved by one or more courses, tests, and industry tenure. Certifications are often times beneficial and well worth the time and money and many employers will help you with both of these and encourage you towards this path. If you are newer to an industry then it is good to get the opinion of others on the benefit of one certification over another. One thing to be careful about is going certification happy and sometimes you will see people get so many certifications and really the knowledge between the certifications does not vary and really you are just paying for additional letters without the value of learning and the continued return of each certification usually is greatly diminished.
  3. Online Classes: There are tons of online classes today and this can be from MOOCs (massive open online courses) or it can be through free or minimal cost online go at your own pace training. These opportunities let you learn everything from programming to history to chemistry to whatever. This can be a good way to just take a course that you had always wanted to but never did or to learn a new programming language to enhance your marketability.
  4. Online Portals: Previously if you wanted to read about a topic you would generally have to pick up a book and then you may have gotten lucky and a magazine or two started writing on your item of interest. Nowadays there are so many other avenues including: blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, online forums, websites, and more. So pick your preference and engage. You will benefit most from these portals when you are a contributor along with a consumer. One line of advice here is to not drink from the fire hose and instead select a group of things where you can consume and from the higher quality sources. For example, there are dozens of blogs on nearly every topic so look at a variety of them and see what others say also and then pick a couple to read.
  5. User Groups/Professional Associations: User groups and professional associations are both good ways to not only continue your learning but also network which is also rewarding. When you are new to your career it is good to get input of others that you look up to and get advice on user groups and professional associations in your area that others find of value. Your goal should be to engage more highly in a couple of these groups or associations as this will allow you to build deeper connections with others in these groups and eventually take on leadership roles if that is of interest. At first try a number of these out until you settle on a couple associations or groups that fit your career or skill interests. Remember user groups and professional associations are also good avenue for those that are looking to make a career change.
  6. Conferences: There is nothing quite like a good conference to focus a lot of learning in a short period of time. There are a variety of conferences available and more than ever there are even free or near free conferences available for us to keep learning. Going to a conference and not just attending sessions but participating in other activities that may be available before or after normal conference sessions is also important as you are continuing your learning. Two of my favorite conferences are the BarCamp conferences and the Product Camp conferences and both of these occur in a number of cities across America and even the world.

In short, there are tons of opportunities for you to be a student and take advantage of this and your career and life will be more rewarding — an engaged mind is a happy mind.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

Links of Interest related to above:

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Coding Bootcamps: Really more than just coding for some of these bootcamps including things such as data science, user interface design, online marketing. http://www.skilledup.com/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-coding-bootcamps-the-exhaustive-list/
  2. Coursera: Coursera is a MOOC and is simply awesome. It provides a great way to take classes from some of the most prestigious professors across the country and learn some cool things whether it is gamification, irrational behavior, or probabilistic models — all courses I in fact took and were great. Coursera does a great job in breaking lectures into small very consumable chunks with questions to check understanding. You can audit classes for free all the way to very inexpensive formal certifications. https://www.coursera.org/
  3. edX: Similar to Coursera in that it is a MOOC where colleges like Harvard, MIT, and Berkley have a number of courses on nearly everything. There are hundreds of courses available currently. https://www.edx.org/
  4. Khan Academy: Khan Academy is a site geared at teaching people of all ages nearly everything in easy to digest chuncks of information. https://www.khanacademy.org/
  5. Udemy: Udemy is a platform where people put together courses on nearly anything. Key here is to know that nearly anyone can sell their course on Udemy so ensure that the course is rated well and a number of people have purchased. I have had good luck on a couple Udemy courses but did my research beforehand. https://www.udemy.com/
  6. Lynda.com: Lynda.com has thousands of online courses taught by experienced professionals on technology, business, design and many more. http://www.lynda.com/
  7. ProductCamp: ProductCamp is an unconference geared at product management, product development and product marketing professionals. http://www.productcamp.org/
  8. BarCamp: BarCamps are an unconference geared at anyone working in technology space. These conferences are generally free and people speak on nearly anything and everything related to technology. http://barcamp.org/
  9. Meetup.com: Meetup.com has thousands of different Meetups occurring all over the world. Anyone can start a Meetup and some are more engaged than others. It is a great avenue to see what types of groups are meeting in your area.  http://www.meetup.com/
  10. Eventbrite: Eventbrite similar to Meetup is a forum for groups to host and advertise events. Another good forum to learn what type of events that may be of interest to you in your area.  https://www.eventbrite.com/

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Good habits go a long way

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Good habits go a long way in moving your career and life forward. Those habits are not as hard to do as many people think and starting out with small things is the way to go. Important habits to ensure success include: 1) make lists; 2) start difficult; 3) don’t multitask; 4) prioritize; 5) get in early; and 6) never eat alone.

  1. Make Lists: Knowledge workers need to use lists because a lot of things are on our plate and lists help us organize things and free up mental space. Having a list of high priority items and low priority items is important. High priority items are items that either have high impact or have upcoming deadline. Low priority items are items that are everything else. Make sure you focus efforts on high priority items. Of course low priority items that take little effort are good to knock off the list. Review your lists at least weekly and if items should move from low priority to high priority or vice versa make sure to do so. Note your high priority lists should not have more than five things on it at a time and if it does so consistently then it is time to talk with your manager.
  2. Start Difficult: People start the day off with a full tank after a night’s rest and getting the difficult stuff done when you are on full just makes sense. Now there are some people that are rare where the best time for them to do difficult work is at night but this is rare. Key is no yourself and when your best mental time is and use this time to focus on the difficult tasks.
  3. Don’t Multitask: Difficult tasks deserve focus and should not be spent multitasking. This means when you are working on difficult tasks you might turn off instant messaging and block that time of day off on your calendar. Even logging out of your email is best and letting calls go to voicemail. Now of course how much of this you can do will depend a lot on your job but the general theme of not multitasking and putting focus on tough tasks is essential.
  4. Prioritize: Understand the priority of the work you are doing and focus on things with highest priority. This seems like an easy thing to do but many of us have so many different items on our plate that we lose sight of this and just do things that are convenient or we like to do at a given time when they do not have the highest priority. Further, if you are a manager make sure to clearly prioritize items for your team so that they can meet expectations.
  5. Get in Early: Getting in early is one of the things I consistently see of nearly all highly successful people. This goes in part to your tank is full discussion mentioned in (2) above and also not having others distracting you. Even if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, I recommend that you give a try for a month and see how you like it because I have seen people that never considered themselves morning people change their mind after they have given it a try.
  6. Never Eat Alone: Not only be successful in your day to day work but also making sure to build relationships with team members, colleagues, and others is important. The famous book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz is a great read and I certainly believe in the thought of having as many coffees, lunches, and happy hours as you can fit in with other obligations is a great way to spend time. Doing this not only helps you get away from your desk and frees up your mind but it also helps further relationships that not only are rewarding as a human being but also often proves beneficial when trying to get work done or looking for that next opportunity.

Putting these good habits into practice will not only help you be more successful at work but work will also be more enjoyable. Let me know how these habits work for you and other key habits you practice to move your career and life forward.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Customer first mentality is always the path to success

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It seems cliché that the customer is always right but having that mentality will lead to success. No matter what your job is you have a customer or likely many customers and they can be internal, external, or both. When you have the opportunity to engage with your customer take this opportunity to treat the customer first.

Many information workers of the past may not have thought about the customer and really society in general used to have a more take-it-or-leave-it attitude. However, today’s information workers need to have strong customer focus in order to achieve success and you need to be able to:

  1. Empathize with your customer: Understanding your customer and empathizing with their situation is the first step in providing high customer service. Your boss as a customer has the pressure of a big meeting coming up and understanding that providing her not just the slides she asked for but also giving her some talking points and supporting research will make her job easier and help reduce stress. Putting yourself in the shoes of the customer will help you provide better customer service. How many times do we get an Excel doc with bad formatting or are using a website where there is little help and it is confusing and we say if only we were in charge of this or that. Well we are all in charge of what we do and while we may not be able to dictate processes and procedures most of us have influence and using that influence to think from our customer’s point of view and problems they are solving is the difference between an average employee and a rock star employee.
  2. Get satisfaction from your customer’s satisfaction: No matter your role if you ensure your customer is happy then you will be more successful. The thing to remember is your customer can be nearly anyone. Sometimes it might be auditors and the natural tendency is to view them as an adversary but that is not the best approach. Instead how can you help serve your customer the auditor better – maybe that means coming up with an improved report that provides more clarity that would benefit your auditor or instead of just satisfying the allotted response time you can provide quicker turnaround on requests. The key to remember is the more you get satisfaction from having a happy customer the more you will be motivated to provide good customer service.
  3. Leave your ego at home: There are situations where you will try to provide good customer service but you may fall short or you may not and your customer may have unrealistic expectations. However, leave your ego at home and instead appreciate your customer and apologize even. This does not mean you need to admit fault if there is no fault but you can still feel bad if your customer feels bad and it does not hurt to say something like “I am sorry for your frustration”. Taking this extra step and ensuring that your customer understands your empathy and that you do not always have to be right is required for truly exceptional customer service.

Apply these three key steps when either directly or indirectly interacting with customers and you will not only make your customer feel better but your boss will feel better and you will feel better.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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“Yes and” your life

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Many of you may have seen shows like “Who’s Line is it Anyway” or gone to a local improv theater and we can all learn a lot from it. Rule number one of improv is “yes and”. “Yes and” means that whatever your fellow performer says — it is your reality. You don’t disagree, you don’t complain — you just take her reality and make it your own. So if she says: “the sky over there is white with black swirls” your response would not be: “no, it is red because it is raining blood” but instead something like “yes it is raining Dairy Queen twist ice cream and it is my favorite flavor”.

The power of “yes and” can help us all in our lives because often we are quick to disagree with people. Even when we know we are right it is best to be careful how you bring the truth forward. Bluntly disagreeing with people just creates a wall between you and them. Plus many times you may think you know something for sure but it is better to think how can you “yes and” this and trying to move things forward in direction you are seeking without shutting down other people.

Using the “yes and” philosophy is especially important when in meetings geared towards brainstorming. I insist that people do not use “no” in these meetings. Brainstorming does not have a wrong answer and the goal is to get ideas out there and move things forward. Not every idea is fantastic but ideas build off of other ideas. Soon eight ideas down you come to the game winner for your new software enhancement or process improvement.

Next time you feel that “no” coming along try the “yes and” and see how you help your family, colleagues, customers, and yourself.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

photo credit: Mark.Pilgrim via photopin cc

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