The Fake Smile

Only those who know you, recognize it. It is a disguise to protect you and mask your true reaction. It is frequently used when facing a loss; whether it is a job, a promotion, a loved one, your youthful appearance or even your hair.

Recently, I had a fake smile day. I found myself dreaming most of it and not getting much done. I am a "Doer" not a "Thinker", so checking off a list at the end of the day has always been important. This day, I allowed myself to dream. Dream of what could have been, should have been and what I still want to be. I allowed my dreams rather than my actions to be a better part of the day. It made me cherish existence a little more when I was able to snap back to reality.

I started my day with a fake smile and somewhere along the way. I felt the smile and allowed it to be real. I set this feeling free. It is a not a great day, but I challenge myself to make it a good day, because I realize that life is a gift and a dream can make it even better. If you can use the fake smile long enough, it may evolve into you actually feeling like smiling. And if you take some time to dream, you may find a reason to smile.

Is Your Smartphone Making Life Worse

I love my iPhone and my iPad. I use them to listen to music, play games, text with my friends and family – in fact, I can freely admit that I will choose to text someone rather than make a phone call. It's quick, it’s easy, and it doesn't distract me from something else. Recently, I realized that I checked my phone before I walked out to go down to my car and once I got into the drivers' seat, I checked it again.

Why? Did I really think I was going to miss something that was that important in a time span of three minutes? No, I didn't, but I’m addicted to checking my phone.

Recent studies suggest that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

We use these kinds of devices for everything. We keep our lives organized in the calendar applications, read all of our books on screens, and we share messages and videos with friends and family right from the palms of our hands. It's great to live in an age where being able to talk to my brother while he was deployed was as simple as an internet connection, but our reliance on technology is not all fun and games.

Smartphones have recently been proven to cause insomnia. Harvard researchers published results on how our dependency on technology has crept to the bedroom and is now throwing off our body's "light-dark cycle", which is spurning an increase in insomnia. Head researcher, Charles A. Czeisler, reports that as we expose ourselves to more artificial lights we "dramatically changed the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms."

Overexposure to devices that think for us have caused an interesting phenomenon dubbed by Psychology Today as "The Google Effect". Research from a 2011 study found that people are encouraged to think less as we have more access to search engines right in our hands. Have you ever watched a movie and thought "hey I know that guy" and then turned to Google to type in a long and vague question to see what pops up, rather than trying to recall his face in your memory bank? That is the Google Effect.

Your brain at rest can actually be one of your most creative and productive times. Research in the early 1990s showed that your brain never really stops, even when your body is at rest. A resting state allows your brain to entertain ideas that seem random in nature. In contrast, when you are focused on a detailed activity, your brain devotes most of its energy to the task at hand. I think that being constantly tired to a device limits the ability of our brains (at least my brain) to allow those random thoughts and ideas to flow.

It’s not just your brain and creativity that can suffer from overuse of your smartphone. An Auckland chiropractor reports a rise in cases of cervical kyphosis. The curvature of your spine at the neck is developed as baby during "tummy time" when you practice holding your head up. Cervical kyphosis is the straitening of the vertebrae at the base of your neck, and many medical professionals are cautioning cell phone users to the dangers of looking down all of the time.

That's not to say that smartphones don't do a lot of good for us and social networks. Studies have been conducted after disasters (like tornadoes) that give credit to social networks and text messages for helping to get messages to those in the paths of dangerous weather to seek shelter.

The development of applications for your phone range from games to technology that allows you to save money – like with the Nest learning thermostat or can even keep your medical information on hand in the event of something happening to you. Applications allow you to store your current medications, dosages, and even if you have an allergies. In the event of an emergency, EMTs or doctors can have quick access to your medical history so that they can best attend to you when you arrive at the emergency room.

Smartphones can enrich our lives but I think it's always important to remember that too much of a "good" thing can be bad. Change your habits by putting away your phone for thirty minutes to an hour when you get home and letting your brain "idle" or delete applications that you’re constantly checking.

Are you up to the challenge? (I don’t know if I am but I'm going to try.)

How Your Brain Drives Productivity and Focus

There comes a point in our day where we have a task to do and we simply cannot get our brains to cooperate. Maybe there’s a batch of emails you need to send out or there’s a meeting you just can’t get excited about. I've always just attributed it to just not being excited about the particular task at hand.

In marketing, we have to communicate with people – talk, email, think, conference, brainstorm, send smoke signals, or whatever. One of the things we don’t always think about is that we might be trying to do the wrong tasks at the wrong time. Research studies have shown that it’s not what you’re doing but when you’re choosing to take on a particular task.

Science may seem boring but if you understand what’s happening in your brain at any point in the day, you can get the most out of the chemicals buzzing across your brain.

Relationship building should be the focus of your first few hours at work. High levels of oxytocin make you feel connected and cuddly to the world. You can harness this hormones power by reaching out to clients, writing thank you notes, or engaging on social media. Oxytocin is a hormone that is more related to your personal relationships with family members or significant others, but you can take action while your levels are high and you’re at work.

Creative activities are the most effective in the mid-morning hours. Have you ever wondered why cleaning or crafting is a stress reliever? The hormone cortisol (the “stress hormone”) will help your brain focus on tasks and prime you for learning. Since cortisol is highest in the mid-morning hours, it’s the perfect time to plan out that presentation, do research for an upcoming infographic, or sit down to write that blog post that you just know is going to break the Internet.

Save difficult or complicated tasks for after lunch. The hours just before and after lunch time can be your most productive. The melatonin levels (the “sleep hormone”) will be on the decline at this time of day and you will have the mental focus and drive to take on the world. Melatonin levels can be affected by the kind of meal you have and how much you eat, so make good decisions at lunch time to keep the sharpness. This is the time to focus on those emails you send out, scheduling conference calls, or making pitches to your clients and bosses. This is the time of day where you are sharpest and ready for success.

Collaborate at the end of the day. By late afternoon, your brain is on a natural downswing which makes it the best time of day for laid-back activities like a brainstorming session. This is another good time to engage on social media because you’re feeling friendly and laid back. If you spent your morning re-tweeting or sending out links, this is a good time to talk directly to your followers.

Obeying your brains needs and desires at home is just as important as at work, because everything you do once you get home will have an effect on your next day at work. Start by getting a better night of rest.

  • Exercise before 6 PM so adrenaline levels will be down before you go to sleep.
  • Repetitive activities like doing puzzles will help you wind down for bed time.
  • Eating late at night will cause problems with your sleep schedule as your body metabolizes the food.
  • Practice darkness therapy to get better sleep. Put down the cell phone, turn off the television, and cover light emitting objects in your room with electrical tape. (I have done this and it’s worked great!) The light sources actually prevent your body from making melatonin at the times it needs to, which can prevent you from getting a good night of sleep.

To be more productive both at work and at home you must listen to your brain. It will tell you what you need. Do you base your tasks around the peaks of your brain power or do you just work down the list? Is it possible to get more out of your hours by letting your chemicals control you?

Most Shared Posts in 2013

Happy end of December everyone! We had a great time in 2013 trying new things and taking new approaches on the blog and in a lot of other areas. It was a great year for us here at AccuConference and in celebration of the New Year; here is a look back at some of our favorite posts, as well as the most shared.

5 Ways to Get Your Audience’s Attention

When was the last time you saw a speech or attended a conference call where it didn’t begin with "Good morning, my name is…."? Getting the attention of your audience during a presentation can be a challenge while you compete with all of the distractions like cell phones, tablets, and social media. This list is a great way to try a new and improved opening for your presentations to get your audience to sit up and tune in.

Active Listening Skills for Customer Service

Listening in customer service is the most important thing that you can learn. When someone is talking to you, you need to tune out everything else and actively participate in your conversation with your client.

Why Adults Learn Languages More Easily Than Children

Research has proven that children are better than adults at a lot of things (like honesty and imagination) but one thing that we’ve learned is that when it comes to something as complicated as learning a new language, the adults have one up on the kids out there.

Breaking Down the Technical Barriers to Customer Service

This is a technical industry that we work in and a lot of times, we get bogged down in our terminology. Things that make perfect sense to us don’t always translate to new or existing customers. What approaches can you take to help ease your customers through new words?

Learning New Things: How We Approach New Challenges

We took on some new challenges at AccuConference and one of the things we learned as writers is that sometimes, you have to take a risk in order to improve. We wrote a series of posts in the fall about how we learn new things and how we face the challenges that arise.

Those were our most popular posts in 2013. Stay tuned and keep reading in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Does It’s A Wonderful Life Really Need a Sequel?

One of my favorite holiday movies has always been It’s a Wonderful Life. I remember growing up and watching that movie every year. To me, it wasn’t Christmas unless we popped in our VHS tape and watched George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, go through life as if he had never been born. And every time a bell rings, I can’t help but wonder if an angel got their wings. The sentiment of the movie is classically heartwarming. It expresses the gift of being alive and how you impact other people; no matter how big or small.

Now, 60 years later, there’s talk about a sequel being made by Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions. The premise is the grandson of George Bailey, who is somewhat of a Scrooge, is visited by his own guardian angel, his Aunt Zuzu. Zuzu, who will be played by the original actress Karolyn Grimes, tells her nephew that the world would have been a better place if he had never been born. After reading the synopsis, I had mixed feelings. Does It’s a Wonderful Life really need a sequel? Would it have been better as a reboot? Or should it just be left alone?

These days it seems like every movie is getting "rebooted". Movies like Gremlins, Flight of the Navigator, and Robocop are all reported to be receiving Hollywood’s movie makeover. And while it might be cool to see how advancements in special effects will make these movies look (The Great Gatsby reboot was more visually enhanced than the original), it makes me wonder if every movie really needs to be rebooted. Annie, another movie that’s in the works to be redone, is probably one I would leave alone. If you’re not going to throw a bunch of money to make the special effects pop, there’s really no reason to hash out the same story unless you’re sure you can tell it better.

On the flip side, if film makers aren’t going to reboot a movie, then they’re probably going to make a sequel. In my opinion, it’s hard to make a sequel better than the first. If a movie is really good, then it’s going to have a strong following. And if you decide to make a sequel, you better do a really good job or you will be disappointing a lot of fans (Grease 2, Teen Wolf 2, pretty much anything that has a 2 at the end of the title). Besides, not every movie needs a sequel. And not everyone wants to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty excited to see Anchorman 2 when it’s released in theaters on December 18th, but I think that’s because Ron Burgundy is in his own league.

In my opinion, the sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life should be erased from the drawing board. The original is a heartwarming classic that I don’t think really needs a part 2 or a makeover. I think it’s perfect as is, and it’s familiarity can’t be replaced by Hollywood gimmicks. And apparently, Paramount agrees with me. Well, maybe not with my reasons but they do not support a sequel for the holiday classic. Paramount holds the license to It’s a Wonderful Life and they are willing to fight Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions to keep the sequel from going into production. Even Tom Capra, the son of Frank Capra who directed the movie, said that his father "would have called it ludicrous" if a sequel was made. The proposed date of release will be in 2015, so I guess we will see who will win the sequel battle. What reboots or sequels do you think should have been left alone?

Duck Theory

I have always tried to look at every situation with a resolution, rather than a problem. It is the “Duck Theory” that I adopted long ago from my sister, who has always been my best mentor.

The premise is that when you see a gaggle of ducks swimming, you see this beautiful motion of them gliding through the water effortlessly. But, if you were to turn the picture upside down, then you would see that the legs are quickly rotating and maneuvering to keep up, slow down, turn, trying to keep up with the group or get ahead. The mechanics to create the movement are two entirely different pictures.

It is the same in business, customers should only see above the water, the smooth action of a forward glide. They do not need (and normally do not want to know) the mechanics behind it. They just need to know that you understand they have a problem, and yo’ you’ll solve it.

So what if all problems do not have a solution? Some needs just can’t be met. I admire those that go above and beyond. The "Heroes" that we remember. Olympic competitors don’t just work out, they focus on what workout is best to enhance their skills and stay focused for four years to compete against the best. They don’t say the word "can’t" for 4 years or even longer. Survivors don’t quit, they are the ones with the remarkable stories about how their resilience got them through a tough situation. My answer is never say "never".

When the duck theory is applied, you supply the effort so customers are effortlessly rewarded.

Sweet Success: 12 Proven Habits of Winning Leaders

When you start a company and find yourself in a position of being a leader, you might wonder how you are going to accomplish the task of suddenly managing a handful (or a huge company full) of employees.

Here are twelve great habits of a winning leader.

Encourage Communication.
While you need to be speaking regularly to your team, you also need to encourage them to speak to each other. The sharing of ideas and thoughts among co-workers can shed light on where to improve, new approaches, or even changing them all.
Be Passionate.
Truly successful leaders aren't just present every day, but they believe in the value of their company and the products and services being offered. You have to love what you do, and feel connected on some level to what you're doing. It's not always as simple as "well, it was a small business I started on my own" - sometimes you have to work to find the passion.

Brainstorm.
Gather your team every few months to talk about how you can change or improve things. If you’re following habit number one, this should be easy because everyone will come to the table with ideas.

Embrace the Little Failures.
Don't be afraid to make small mistakes. You can learn a lot from the things you didn't do correctly, the ideas that weren't executed in the best way. Failures teach you how to succeed.

Ask for Help.
We like to think that we can do everything, but really, we don’t have super powers. We will never be in two places at once, we will never be able to do it all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remember That You Lay the Foundation.
Everyone else will build around you. Build something strong and sturdy that your team and rely on. You don’t want them to end up standing on something that will just crumble.

Read Everything.
Things change constantly, no matter what field you’re in. Stay up on blogs and changes in your industry. Read business books, speaking blogs, or informative articles that might even inspire conversation between you and your team.

Delegate. (Not abandon)
I think there are too many people who think that "delegating" a task means "passing it off". Delegation is key in showing trust in someone to complete a task, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't check in and make sure that they don’t need any clarification.

Create a Productive (yet enjoyable) Environment.
Happy employees are more productive employees. There is something to be said about "corporate culture" and its effect on your employee. Carry the fine balance between "work" and "fun".

Take Educated Risks.
If you never step outside of the comfort zone, you could miss huge opportunities to be on top of the "next big thing". Be smart about your risks and only take chances when you can assure that they can be "undone" if they fail.

Say "Thank you".
Send hand written notes to your clients. Occasionally treat your office to a coffee. Send out a company wide email thanking them all for working extra hours during a busy holiday rush. It doesn't matter how you do it - just show you’re appreciative of their hard work.

Develop Trust and Gain Respect.
I think that on some level we are all ingrained to "respect" the boss, but it’s completely different to be able to "trust" your boss. Cultivate the trust and watch an even higher level of respect appear.

The Assassination of JFK in a Digital Age

One of the things I really love about the Internet as an adult is the access to information. I spoke about it last week, how I’ve used the Internet to learn about weather. YouTube gets a lot of credit for funny animal videos but I want to take a moment to remind everyone that YouTube has become a historical video archive while we were all busy figuring out what the fox says.

I was always a geeky kid - interested in things like the weather and history. How many kids think Santa is the greatest because he brought you Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM? What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I got a minor in history in college, almost enough credits to double major.

As a child and I was learning things, it was the “big events” that fascinated me. None so much like the assassination of JFK. I often asked my dad to tell me about it. He doesn’t remember much, but he remembers sitting in his 3rd grade class, when one teacher came in crying. She whispered to my dad’s teacher, and then they both left the room crying. The same goes for his mother - he remembers going home from school and seeing her crying too. After September 11th, 2001, I came to this strange realization that my children would one day ask me to tell the story of “where I was” over and over again. As I started to compare the two events in terms of importance, I started to look at the reporting between the two events and noticed interesting differences about the journalism.

(Mostly) Zero Sensationalism

Listen to any of the live coverage you can find on YouTube for “as it happened” and the thing that lacks versus a “national” event of today is the sensationalism. A lot of that is due to the time it took for information to travel. If you’ve ever been to the Texas Book Depository Museum (do it!) you’ll see the AP wire that came across, announcing the death of JFK. With time between reports, there was time that these details could be confirmed, vetted. Today, social media is used to find “breaking” and “real time” reports and they are often reported as true.

It Was a Pioneering Day of Live Journalism

When the reports first broke into soap operas and commercials for laundry detergent, most “big” affiliates reported the the President has been shot and would return to regular programming. At WFAA here in Dallas, Texas they went live, read a bulletin, and never left the air. The WFAA broadcast offices are just a few blocks south of where the assassination happened. Jay Watson ran back to the studio and interrupted the regular program - still out of breath from his sprint as he delivered the news. (Watch the landmark footage - it’s absolute chaos in the most amazing and professional way.)

If you ever visit Dallas, I highly recommend the visitation to the Texas Book Depository. The infamous floor where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot is a a museum now, with lots of Kennedy artifacts. You can also go up to the top floor and look down to the street, giving you an almost exact view of what Oslwald would have seen. Just wandering around Dealey Plaza leaves a heavy feeling in your heart though, no matter how old you are.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the reporting would have been like on that day if social media had played a part? Do you think reporting would have been different or the same?