Monday Mornings with Madison

Monthly Archives:
February 2012

Keeping All the Plates Spinning

There is circus act in which a person starts a plate spinning on a stick. Then on the table next to it, he starts another plate spinning. And then another and another until the person has dozens of plates all spinning on sticks at the same time. Every so often, the person has to go back to the original plate and spin it some more as it loses momentum and starts to wobble before crashing to the ground. In order to keep all the plates spinning, the person must race back and forth amongst the plates, adding some velocity as each plate, in its turn, begins to slow down. The Guiness World Record for plate spinning was achieved in 1996 with 108 plates spinning simultaneously. Anyone who has ever watched plate spinning feels the anxiety build as plates on the opposite ends look like they are about to teeter off their sticks, but the plate spinner races back and forth just in time to give each another spin.

Even those who have never seen the plate spinning act can probably relate to it. For most people, life is a lot like a plate spinning act thanks to today’s fast-paced world. There is a constant pressure to race back and forth between tasks, responsibilities and chores to keep all the plates spinning. Work. Chores. Honey-do lists. Errands. Family demands. Children’s activities. Doctor visits. Dental checkups. Tax prep. With so much to do, there’s often a plate in the daily grind that is about to teeter off its stick and come crashing to the ground. We race to give that plate another spin just in time to keep it from falling. With so much to do, it is easy to lose track. Thanks to technology, though, there are increasingly better tools to help track and keep all our proverbial plates spinning…. especially at work. Continue reading

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They say patience is a virtue. Yet, in today’s fast-paced world, impatience may also be a virtue. Impatience has led to many innovations. Once upon a time, the U.S. Postal System was considered one of the most efficient in the world. First class mail could be sent across the country in just 2-3 days. But impatience led people to develop and adopt email as a much faster form of written communication. First class mail, now dubbed snail mail, was relegated to greeting cards and hard copies of official documents. This impatience to work faster has also led to other innovations such as the fax machine, document scanner and software that allow documents to be uploaded FTP sites. The entire industry of overnight package delivery is another child of impatience. And, with each step business takes to do things faster, society’s patience grows shorter and actually encourages even more impatience.

What about when it comes to people? If patience is a virtue, can impatience also be a virtue? Yes. Impatience is not only a force that drives advancement in science and business, but it can even improve certain social situations. The trick is to recognize when a situation would benefit from either impatience or patience, and apply the correct force accordingly. The goal is not to allow human nature to simply select one or the other at will or at random. When and how can impatience be harnessed and when is it best not to be impatient? Continue reading

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When Apple went shopping for chip makers years ago for their iPhones, Apple didn’t select Intel chips. Why? One of the primary reasons given by Jobs was that the Intel Corporation was “just really slow. They’re like a steamship, not very flexible.” What he meant is that the company was slow to change and adapt according to its customers’ needs. The comment reflects the importance, in today’s rapid-paced world, of being flexible and nimble. In business, inflexibility is viewed as the ultimate Achilles heel.
What about in people? Is inflexibility in people as much of a flaw as it is in companies? Generally, when a person is labeled as inflexible, it is meant as a criticism. Whether the reference is to a person’s physical flexibility or their intractable personality, inflexibility or rigidity is generally deemed as a negative. But it turns out that inflexibility can actually be beneficial, both physically and as a personality trait…. at times. To find out when it pays to be inflexible, Continue reading

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“No” Problem

Most overworked, overloaded and highly stressed people all share one fundamental characteristic (let’s just call it what it is… a flaw). They don’t know how to say “No.” They might be able to muster the chutzpah to say an unassertive “no” once in a while, but they either don’t stand their ground afterward, or they just don’t say “no” often enough. While a “Can Do” attitude or a “Never say No” disposition is generally considered by managers to be a desirable quality in staff, the truth is that those “always say yes” people often take on more than they can chew and that can be a problem both for the employee and the manager.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to please others and be helpful — in fact it is an essential part of any functioning workplace and all civilized and compassionate societies — the problem arises when the word “No” is never used. The problem is that there typically aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything everyone asks of the average “yes man” or “yes woman.” For those people with a “No” problem, it means that some requests either aren’t getting done, aren’t done in a timely manner or aren’t being done well. At work, that can be a problem for both employee and employer. Here are some strategies to make it a bit easier to say “No” assertively. Continue reading

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