Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pay Attention or Pay the Piper

Some people don't take the time to pay attention, and it can really cost them. Don't be one of those people, especially when it comes to social media and networking.

I feel genuinely fortunate to have had a long and varied career. Even more fortunate that I've now lived a long enough life to make it seem possible that I've done all the things that I have. And that I've gotten over worrying whether I seem 'scattered', but that's beside the point.

The point is, that with so much past life experience and a genuine desire to help people out, I regularly contribute to conversations about a wide variety of topics when I feel like I have something worthwhile to offer. In an era of social media as business development platform, this has yielded some interesting if, in my opinion, rather moronic, results.

Although it's been nearly 20 years since I last worked in television, where I used to be a reporter and a weather anchor, I figure my experience in the TV industry and my expertise as a career management coach is occasionally useful to people. When a recent college graduate wanted some ideas from other LinkedIn professionals for how to land her first TV gig, I joined in with some thoughts of my own.

Sadly, someone else in the group apparently uses it primarily to harvest contact information with little to no thought about whether the individuals attached to that information are in any way her target market. The fact that we're part of the group is apparently qualification enough.

Because of that, soon after my contribution to the job search discussion, I received an email that claimed not to be a pitch (then later allowed that it might indeed be that) and then went on to pitch me on some product or technology for which I have zero use or interest personally. Because I no longer work in television, and haven't for nearly 20 years.

What's really too bad about this, though, is that if she'd paid any attention at all, it needn't have been a waste of her time or mine. Although truthfully, my 90-second investment did lead to this post and it probably took all of 10 seconds for her to launch her automated pre-written email, so maybe that's why she doesn't care. Again, however, I digress.

The point is that had she taken a bit more time and approached me as an individual and customized her message to target me, not some generic me from 20 years ago who still would have felt slimed, I could perhaps have helped her out. Because I genuinely like helping people out and because I still have a number of contacts in the industry. And I probably could have given her some advice about how to better pitch her whateveritis (I immediate sent the message to the bit bucket, so I don't even know anymore what it was). Some of the advice might even have been useful.

But because of not paying attention and the fact that one of the things for which I have very little tolerance is acting stupider than you are, I don't really feel like helping her out anymore. Should she happen to discover this post and realize it's about her, the advice here should be at least as worthwhile as anything else I could have done. And look, the rest of you get it for free! You don't have to have made the mistake to learn from it!

Paying attention to where people are, what they really want, and looking to see whether and how you fit is important. Paying attention to your own mistakes (and others) and learning from them is important. If you don't pay attention, you'll pay the price.

If you're lucky, the Piper's fee will only be 30 lashes with a wet noodle. Sometimes, though, it's worse. Sometimes it's not just a pitch that didn't land; sometimes it's a whole host of missed opportunities - or more disastrously, several potential clients or markets entirely closed to you if you happen to annoy the wrong person. Just hope they don't mention you by name if they're going to go public with their annoyance!

If you've been slimed via social media, do share. If you want help figuring out how not to slime people but still get your point across, I might be able to help. Frankly, though, Havi (with her duck, Selma) and Pistachio can probably help you out even more. I highly recommend them.

What new things have you noticed lately?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Staying on Top of Tasks

I come off as hugely process-oriented at times, but really I'm not. I've simply learned that trying to work without any kind of structure yields very bad results. I can be pretty organized when I set my mind to it; it's when I fall off the wagon that the trouble starts.

Over the years, I've come across and experimented with a variety of tools, both for myself and for clients and I've learned a couple of very important things.

First, whatever tool you use simply must be a good fit for your individual personality, taking advantage of your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses. Just because it works for someone else doesn't mean it's the best tool or structure for you.

Second, find a tool that will survive having you abandon it from time to time and develop a strategy for getting back into the game of being organized. A structure you don't use isn't nearly as helpful as one that you do.

To that purpose, I actually use two different tools myself, concentrating on whichever works best for me at the time. Ordinarily, I prefer electronic management of my task list because it gives me the most flexibility in terms of availability and in adapting to the fluid nature of my life and work. My favorite electronic task management system is still LifeBalance by Llamagraphics.

Unfortunately, my handheld device and my Vista 64 laptop aren't terribly compatible at the moment, so no synchronization these days. That's where my second tool comes in.

I've discovered that in times of great stress (or non-synchronizing electronic tools), it really helps to be more tactile about managing my tasks. Good list hygiene is important to me - I can't find what still is yet to be done if all of the other nearby items are crossed out - and I like to be able to re-order tasks as priorities shift, so putting my tasks onto sticky notes and managing them in a partitioned folder works better for me than a standard list.

My strategy is to continue using a system for as long as I can, then when it gets difficult for me to keep up, I switch to the other system - sometimes just a change in scenery is all it takes to stay organized. If I fall off both systems and have trouble getting back into either one, then I give myself a short break of a week or two and hope that I don't miss anything too important. I practice being kind to myself when errors occur and use whatever problems arise as motivation to get me back into becoming process-driven again. What doesn't seem to work (for me, anyway), is guilt.

I find it also helps to work higher-priority tasks first, but have been known to shift to focus on easier tasks from time to time when I just need to get myself unstuck. Getting stuck, however, is more likely an indicator of tasks that are too big. What works then is to break the larger tasks down into smaller component tasks.

When I do abandon my systems or get hopelessly stuck, I look for reasons for why. More often I find it is the failure of a system to accommodate my needs than it is a general system failure or something I did wrong. If I can discover the source of the incompatibility, I work on addressing that for the next iteration and then I get back to using some (new and improved) system as soon as possible.

As with anything else, it's a mistake to believe that one will become 'organized' and then have nothing else to do to remain in that state. It's even a mistake to believe that one can become more organized and simply remain in that state even with a huge amount of effort.

The truth is that we capture the state of organization only periodically and then the pendulum swings through or back the the other way and we must start the process all over again of regaining a lock on organization. The best we can hope for is to stretch out the time we spend being 'organized' and reduce how wildly the pendulum swings away from it.

If you've experienced problems or successes with organizing your to-do list, I hope you'll share by making a comment. Perhaps we can help each other.

What keeps you on task?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Reasons to be on Twitter

I started to write up recommendations for how to make the most out of LinkedIn and other social media and then felt compelled first to start with Twitter - Twitter has had that effect on a lot of people the past several months. Every time I turn around, Twitter is causing us to rethink a lot of what we do and how we do it.

Let's just start though with a stab at answering the question - why should I be on Twitter? What can it do for me - especially what can it do for me that something else can't do as well or better?

Whether you're job hunting or building a business, consider the following advantages of Twitter. Many of them apply to other types of social media as well, so it's a two-fer that way.

  • Become known as a helpful resource
  • Develop relationships that may be or become mutually beneficial
  • Reach an audience you might not otherwise have
  • "Meet" people you might not otherwise meet
  • Lay the groundwork for future relationships
  • Keep up with your (personal or business) brand
    (what people are saying about you)
  • Keep up with your industry
    (what people are saying about the topics you care about)
  • Influence your brand perception
  • Educate and inform people in your area(s) of expertise
  • Let people know more about you as a person
    (increase your know/like/trust factor)
  • Build community around the topics important to you
  • Remind people you're there
I don't pretend to have a complete list of answers to those questions, but then no one else I've seen does either, which is why I felt so driven to put out a list of my own. Make a comment or tweet me @geekcoach and let me know if I've left anything out. I don't feel a need to have a lock on right but I do like finding 'right', however that happens.

Whether it's Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or any other social media, I have thoughts too about how to do it right and not put your digital foot into your online mouth. Some of those thoughts are likely to come out in an upcoming SHRM magazine article for which I was interviewed recently. I'll also write up something of my own to share with you here.

If you could choose anyone at all to discuss any topic - who and what would those be?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Advice for the Jobless

More news today about Microsoft job cuts so I figure it's a good time to remind everyone of some resources that might make facing job loss easier.

For anyone who's just lost a job, I've got a decent Top Ten list of how to successfully deal with a layoff.

If you're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, preparing for a layoff involves additional important skills and advice, aptly outlined by friend and colleague, Sylvia Taylor.

I have a different Top Ten list for what to do if you survive a layoff.

Many of the suggestions I offered about using LinkedIn for job hunting in a television interview earlier this year are just as applicable to Twitter and Facebook too so well worth reviewing and incorporating into your strategy.

And now there is also a website called Lay-Off Move On that helps support people getting back on their feet again post-layoff. Check it out and maybe you'll find some gems there to get you back into the work-force again and keep you sane till you get there.

If you have other tips, suggestions, or resources, post them here in a comment. The best way I know to deal with a layoff is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and find a way to keep putting one foot in front of another. If I can help with that process, I'm happy to do so.

What helps you keep your chin up when times get tough?