Slumps…we all have them. They’re those little sections of life when things just don’t seem to be going right. Maybe you haven’t been to the gym in a month and no matter what you do just don’t feel like going. Maybe you’ve been behind at work lately and you just can’t seem to catch up. Or maybe it’s your mood; maybe no matter what is going on in your life right now you just feel kind of…blah. These are slumps, people, and once you’re in one it can be hard to snap out of it, but it’s definitely not impossible. Here are some of the best ways to get yourself back on track.

1.) Stop. More specifically, stop thinking. Stop thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, what you forgot to do today, how your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, how you’ve gained 6 pounds since June when you promised yourself you’d lose 10: just stop. Whatever you’ve been doing lately hasn’t been working (you are in fact, in a slump), right? Right, so stop and take a deep breath; you are about to change gears.

2.) Focus. Find a place where you can sit, with pen and paper, undisturbed for a few minutes and think clearly. That means you step away from any electronic distractions (the television, the computer, your cell phone, etc.) and go somewhere comfortable. And don’t let yourself make excuses; the world is not going to explode if dinner is 30 minutes later than it usually is for the love of God.

3.) Write it down. Our minds are constantly running (as you probably already know). Research has shown that when we write down what we are thinking about on paper (how upset we are with a loved one or what we need at the store, for example), our mind can relax a bit knowing it doesn’t need to keep thinking about that information. It’s the same thing that happens when someone gives you their phone number; you repeat it to yourself until you enter it in your phone or write it down. And as soon as you do, you stop thinking about it, right? Problems you are dwelling on work the same way. So take a second and write down what is bothering you.

4.) Refine. After you write down what is bothering you (don’t worry if it’s an insanely long list, chances are you’ve needed to get some things out), take a look at what you’ve written. Did you write “Dan won’t fix those shelves I’ve asked him to fix for 2 weeks” and “Dan didn’t pack the kids’ lunches” and “Dan made work plans on our anniversary night” the problem might not be all of those little things. Instead, the problem might be “Dan and I need to communicate better.”  

5.) Determine a resolution. If the problem is that you and Dan need to communicate better. Write down a time that the two of you need to talk, undisturbed. Not while both of you are running to your cars in the morning, not the second he gets home from work. Pick a time when you can both talk. The same goes for other issues. If the problem is that you’re completely overwhelmed at work, think of a way you can take off some of your workload. Is there a fellow employee that can help you out for a bit (they could be in charge of the phone lines for the day while you work, for example)? Can you speak to your boss about getting caught up on your current assignments before taking on any more projects? If you’ve been feeling unmotivated, think of a way to get motivated. Haven’t gone to the gym in a while? Maybe you need a new pair of running shoes.

6.) Move on. Once you’ve addressed these issues and understand what you need to do, move on. Get up, make the dinner you’ve been postponing for 30 minutes, and stop thinking about it. Enjoy your dinner, watch some television with Dan, and get some sleep. Tomorrow your slump ends

 
 
No matter what group of people you’re working with (your family, your coworkers, your intramural teammates, your church group), an open and effective line of communication is key. But that phrase, “effective communication”, tends to get thrown around a lot doesn’t it. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot to effective communication. There’s listening, using the appropriate tone and hand gestures, and various other things we do while talking. However, in most groups of people there are bound to be one or two shy folks, so how exactly do you get them talking? Well here you go; three ways to get someone engaged in a conversation:

1.) Say statements instead of questions. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Asking someone a question demands a response. And not just any response, but one that is on subject and within a socially acceptable time frame. You’re putting pressure on someone without even knowing it. Statements, on the other hand, demand no response, allowing the other person to answer when and if they feel comfortable or not. A question also provides you the opportunity to judge them depending on their answer, while a statement simply says something about yourself.

For example, say you sit down next to a co-worker during lunch break and they are eating something that looks very spicy. The question, “Wow, what is that? Is it really spicy?” can seem innocent, but it’s more difficult that you might think. The statement, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy!” is much easier to handle. The listener is required to do nothing, you were simply making a statement that their food looks spicy.

2.) Compliment them. Just as the above example indicates, the listener appeared to be “brave” when eating spicy food, not “crazy”. In addition, a compliment can open the door to letting them feel comfortable in their own skin. A simple, “Wow, you have beautiful handwriting!” can give someone that tiny boost of self-confidence they need to open up a bit more.

3.) Say something about yourself. People don’t, in general, willingly open up to strangers. Therefore, if you want someone to open up to you, you’ve got to make yourself seem a little less like a stranger, and a great way to do that is to say a little bit about yourself.

Take the above example in the break room. You can continue the conversation to say something like, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy! I never could eat spicy food, though I do keep trying!” In just one sentence, you have gone from “Stacy, the lady who sits at the west desk,” to “Stacy who wants to like spicy food.” It’s a small change, but a significant one

 
 
Morale tends to be one of those tricky words thrown around meetings. Every company wants good morale around the office but very few companies actually go through the trouble of determining how to achieve it.

But really quick, before we get into how to destroy morale (and why this would be a horrible thing to happen), what exactly is morale?

Morale can be loosely defined as the level of confidence or optimism felt by an individual or a group. It’s the feeling a person gets that they can make a difference in their environment; that they matter, and that they are valued. A high morale gives you employees that are committed and motivated to their task. Low morale gives you apathetic, uncaring employees that are probably searching for other jobs during their breaks. Which would you rather have? Exactly.

So if you’re looking to have the most productive environment possible, here are the top five things you should avoid:

1.) Embracing ignorance. The old phrase, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them” has no place in a workplace environment. Essentially, it means you’re rewarding poor communication and giving them an excuse for a low level of motivation. Don’t just explain the project to your employees, explain the reason for the project, allowing them to become invested in it as well.

2.) Assuming. How’s it go? Oh that’s right; assuming just makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. It all comes back to communication. How many movies have there been made based on a simple plot of miscommunication and assumption? Too many to count. Don’t let your workplace turn into a shenanigan-stuffed Hollywood comedy. 

3.) Fault-finding. There’s a difference between giving out constructive criticism and finding faults in every little thing. Believe it or not, sometimes someone just does a good job and they should be recognized and awarded appropriately. Everything does not need to be a learning experience.

4.) One-Upping. Everyone has been guilty of this at one point or another, and most of the time we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it. But when an employee comes to you describing a certain success they’ve had (maybe they finished that 12 page report in only three days), explaining how you once finished a 50 page report in only four days isn’t going to be an amusing story, it’s going to downplay their success.

5.) Not caring. As much as people want to keep work and personal life separate, the fact is the two tend to mix at least a little bit. Things are going to happen at home that affect a person’s performance at work (perhaps a loved one has just passed away) and things are going to happen at work that certainly affect a person’s home life. Plus, most people spend even more time at work than they do with their own families. Remembering little things, like birthdays, or asking how someone is doing after they have suffered a loss or tragedy can give a much needed boost to a low morale environment.
 
 
As much as we would all like it to, the concept of teamwork does not simply “happen.” Instead, it takes a great deal of time working through details to make sure a team works together effectively. But some businesses and families are one step ahead of the game; by creating a culture that facilitates teamwork, constantly, a groups’ members are already comfortable with the idea of working together. So how can you achieve this in your home or place of business? Read on!

1.) Reward and value efforts of teamwork. The lone employee has their place, but placing a large amount of reward on something an individual employee does on their own can often give the impression that an individual can be valued more than the group. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of personal recognition, of course, but try to keep larger rewards (bonuses, compensation, etc.) distributed to groups of people as a display of a team working together successfully.

2.) Build teams to solve issues. If you are constantly forming teams to resolve issues that arise, people are going to start doing it on their own. If you typically ask for a group of volunteers to solve a problem, the first time a problem comes up while you are out of town group members will follow the protocol; which is to form a team and work through the issue together.

3.) List a teamwork culture as an identifiable value. The concept of teamwork shouldn’t be inferred, it should be openly accepted. Make sure the idea of teamwork is added to employee handbooks or written agreements so group members understand that it is a priority.

4.) Bring up topics that were solved by teamwork. I used to work at Billings Clinic, and I remember when they were given a Magnet rating (the top rating for nursing in the country; very few hospitals have achieved this), credit was given to the committee that worked tirelessly to make sure the hospital met specific qualifications. No single individual was acknowledged; it was considered a group effort.

5.) Exemplify teamwork at the executive level as well. As parents, it’s tough to expect your family to run as a team if you and your spouse do not act as a team as well. The same goes with a business. If Mom is asked a question, saying “I’ll run that by your father” shows that teamwork happens at even the highest level. Make this a practice in your business as well. 

 
 
In a perfect world, all teams would work perfectly together; meetings would run smoothly, problems would be easily ironed out and everyone would be happy. However, as we all probably already know, we don’t live in a perfect world. And while one person may believe a team is functioning as well as it could be, another member may have a different opinion. The fact is, just as every other aspect of a business needs to be evaluated, and so does the collaboration process of the actual team.

So gather your team members together, provide a few snacks (a few cookies work wonders for cutting tension) and explain that a simple evaluation needs to be done. Make sure all evaluations are anonymous, and have each member rate the team against the following criteria:

1.) Clarity of team goals. Is it clear what the team is actually trying to accomplish? Is it clear who exactly is benefitting the most from the accomplishment of the team’s goals? If a member from one department feels accomplishing the stated goals only benefits members from another department, it could mean that some of the team’s goals are too narrow or that they aren’t being explained properly.

2.) Clarity of individual roles and responsibilities. A friend of mine works as a coach for a university softball team. When the university was hiring new athletic trainers, they informed her she had been nominated as the chair of the committee. However, no one explained her responsibilities. People would just call her office asking if she turned in “that review” or had completed her “recommendation rundown” and she had no idea what they were talking about. Encourage your team members to describe times they have felt like this.

3.) Efficiency of time and resources. Ever been to a meeting that was a complete waste of time? One that was simply a gathering of people so your supervisor could hear herself talk? Hopefully your team meetings aren’t like this, but if they are it’s an incredible waste of resources. Have team members list ideas to make meetings more efficient. Maybe a memo could be sent out before hand with a list of required paperwork or the itinerary could be emailed out letting people know exactly what part of the meeting will be relevant to them.

4.) Facilitation of ideas. Do your team members have a voice? If they suggest something, do you get defensive or hear their ideas? Are they constantly interrupted by other teammates? Is the environment conducive to a productive meeting or is it absolutely freezing and they can’t wait to get out of there (don’t scoff; a comfortable room temperature is actually very relevant to productivity)?

5.) Rewards and general concerns. While accomplishing a specific goal sounds like it should be enough, more often than not, it isn’t. Encourage team members to list possible incentives or ways productivity could be increased. In addition, have them list any general concerns they may have about how the meetings are run. This could be scheduling or even fairness. I worked nightshifts at a previous job, and until someone mentioned it all meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s great if you work day shift, but it’s an awful time for nightshift. Everyone was much happier when meetings were changed to 8:00 in the morning, right between shift changes. 

 
 
For many people, art is considered just a hobby. Painting is something you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon while drinking a delicious cup of espresso and calmly looking back on your workweek (which is almost a myth in itself, as very few people have ever had the time to do this). The fact is though, art is so much more than previously thought, and here are just a few examples why:

1.) Art facilitates communication. Art is not a math problem, meaning there is no right or wrong answer. No one argues with you if you prefer one painting to another. Sure, they may ask why, and then voice their own opinion, but yours is not discounted in the process. Because of this, people are naturally more apt to openly communicate in an artistic forum.

What’s more, the act of communicating itself is like a flood gate, meaning open communication about one thing often leads to open communication about another.

2.) Art facilitates self-expression. Ever heard the phrase, “A picture is worth 1,000 words,”? Of course you have, and for good reason. Some things are just too difficult to explain, but a picture can make it all seem clear. Here’s a great example:

If you’ve ever seen the music video for Foo Fighter’s song “Best of You”, you can see there is an incredible mashup of emotion. The video shows pictures and words symbolizing such emotions and concepts as fear, anger, hopelessness, sorrow, innocence, regret and beauty. What you might not know, however, is that the director, Mark Pellington, was allowed complete creative freedom by the band as a way of coping with his wife’s death. The resulting video is basically a blueprint of his grief, set to the soundtrack of the band’s song “Best of You.” It’s riveting, and you can see it here.

3.) Art encourages tolerance. It is impossible to judge in a roomful of art. You may not like a particular sculpture, but you have no idea as to who made it. A beautiful painting can be made by anyone, whether they are black, white, gay, straight, developmentally impaired, old, young, republican, or democrat. In the world of art, we are all equals.

4.) Art facilitates team building. Working on a group project at work can often be deceptive. If each member of the group breaks off into individual jobs, they may not actually feel like they are part of a collaborative effort. A group painting, however, is instantly collaborative. Just by looking at it, you can see the individual brush strokes, and if the people in the group had been changed, the brush strokes (and the entire painting itself) would be a different final result. Collaborative art projects team members to work together in an environment where their contribution is noticeable and immediate.  

5.) Art is fun. Not often enough are we able to do something that we actually enjoy, and especially something that is crucial to the development of specific skill sets. Add a little art in your life and see how it will most certainly change you for the better

 
 
Are you a procrastinator? Go ahead, you can answer honestly…

That’s what I thought.

The truth is, procrastinating is an extremely common habit. The stress of something easily makes it seem like putting it off until later is a good idea, but we all know how that ends up. So let’s examine a few ways to get rid of that procrastinating bug. Not forever, mind you, we are realists, after all. But these tips should get you going in the right direction when you desperately need to focus.

1.) Really prioritize. Believe it or not, we all have a limited supply of willpower that gradually drains throughout the day. That’s why you see so many more fast food advertisements at the end of the day than the beginning; because that’s when they’ve been found to be the most effective at convincing people to call the number at the bottom of the screen. Focusing on tasks that need to be completed is no different. Therefore, it’s important to start with the toughest stuff first, while your willpower is at its maximum.

Plus, then you get to enjoy the wash of relief you often feel after your most stressful task is completed, making the weight on your shoulders feel just a tad bit lighter.

2.) Get rid of distractions. Distractions are everywhere (as a writer that works from home on a computer hooked up to the internet 24/7, I whole-heartedly understand), but that doesn’t mean you have to give into them. Instead of checking your email every 10 minutes, vow to check it once every 2 hours. Turn your phone on silent, keep the television off and for the love of God stay off the internet.

If you have to be on the internet or your phone has to be on, you can still screen what you’re looking at. Facebook is not essential, it can wait, just like that text from your friend wondering if she should wear the black or the red pumps tonight. Those issues aren’t important right now; you have work to do.

3.) Find what motivates you. It doesn’t have to be much. For example, when I am writing an article and feel myself draining, I’ll suddenly notice that I’m a bit thirsty. Instead of getting up and getting a glass of water, I’ll tell myself I can have one after I write one more paragraph. It’s a tiny thing, but it always works.

4.) Time yourself. Looking at your workload and thinking, “This will take hours!” will not help you reach your goals. Instead, set a timer for only 10 minutes, and vow to work feverishly straight through those 10 minutes. No excuses whatsoever. Anyone can handle 10 minutes of work, and you’ll often be surprised at how much you can get done.

5.) Break apart your work. Tackling one giant task all at once is sure to make anyone shy away, so instead think about what you could realistically do in the next 10, 30, or 60 minutes, then start there. Breaking larger tasks into smaller ones is a clever little way to tricking to the brain into thinking the workload just got a whole lot lighter. 

 
 
When you are running a business, it’s perfectly natural to want to do everything on your own. You’re looking to cut as many costs as possible, so doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision.

Let’s read that again, this time with the correct emphasis.

Doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision. See where I’m going here? The fact is, you can’t do everything yourself, nor should you. Here is a list of people you should consider hiring if you want your business to have the best chance of success.

1.) Professional Accountant. Taxes are nothing to joke about. One slip-up could cost thousands of dollars in fees and wasted time, not to mention legal issues and a damaged company reputation. Get your taxes done right by someone how knows what they’re doing. 

2.) Lawyer. And speaking of legal issues, a decent lawyer is essential. Your company may be held liable for a number of things, and in the unfortunate instance that a problem should arise, every contract or written agreement is going to be gone over with the most intense of scrutiny. It would be wise to do this while drafting up the contracts. You’ll want to make sure any potential issues are discussed long before you find yourself in hot water. And if you do find yourself in hot water, you’re going to want a good business lawyer on your side, especially one that already knows your business inside and out.

3.) Professional Web Designer. If you don’t have a website, you’re already behind, plain and simple. Did you know over 64% of adults under 25 years old don’t even own a phonebook? And why would they, they can find everything they need on the internet! You need a website, but a site that is messy and difficult to navigate won’t do you any good. A professional web designer will give your business the web presence it needs to be successful.

4.) Social Media Expert. The phrase, “adapt or die” hasn’t been around for nothing, and in this day and age social media is an essential part of business. Not only does it provide free marketing to a constantly growing and evolving audience (it costs nothing to have your own Facebook page or Twitter account), but it also gives your customers additional ways of interacting with you. Hiring someone who is proficient in the ways of social media helps give your business the identity and presence you want it to have. 

 
 
Every new experience comes with a learning curve. The first time you bake an apple pie, you realize you needed a touch more cinnamon and make a mental note for next time. The first time you drive a new car you realize the brakes are a bit more sensitive, and adjust yourself accordingly. Basically, the first time you have ever taken on a new venture you have learned a few things for yourself.

But running your own business is different. It takes an immense amount of time and effort to open your business, and one mistake may cost you everything; your reputation, future clients and even your entire life savings. So to keep you a few steps ahead of the game, here is a list of the three most common regrets for first time business owners.

1.) Being unprepared for growth. Every owner hopes their business will be an immediate success, but very few are prepared for when it happens. Being prepared means you have the proper personnel needed to handle the increase in work (shipping and manufacturing, for example), the skills and equipment to keep everything organized and the ability to have effective communication and collaboration among your employees. Remember, getting new customers isn’t too tricky; keeping them is.

2.) Failing to keep a database from the start. Many people put the record keeping tasks to the back burner when they open a new business. After all, they only have six consistent customers, so why not just worry about the customers you have and deal with more as they come? No problem, right? Not quite. This might have been a fine business strategy when you were 12 and running a lemonade stand, but not anymore. You need to have an organized and up-to-date database from day one, including your list of customers, their contact information and purchase receipts.  

3.) Hiring friends and family. This tends to be one of the most common business mistakes of all time, so we’re going to reiterate its importance: don’t hire someone because you like them, hire someone because they are the best possible person for that job. When you hire someone based on their likeable personality alone, you are setting yourself up for two major issues: the job won’t be done with the quality you’re expecting and bridges could be burned in the process. Nothing ruins a friendship like having to fire your friend, and you don’t want to put yourself (or a loved one) in that situation.  

 
 
No one wants to end up in court on account of something someone overlooked, especially when that something could turn out to be illegal. No one is perfect though, and even the most innocent of owners will make a mistake now and then, so here are some guidelines to make sure whatever mistakes are made, none of them will land you in hot water with the judge.

1.) Have a No-Tolerance policy for illegal behavior. That means performing random drug tests and following all rules and regulations. Are you handling food? Get licensed. Are your workers working more than 40 hours a week? Pay them overtime. The law is the law for a reason, and you need to follow it. 

2.) Have an employee handbook. However, certain rules can be a bit gray, so before you go off expecting your staff to be mind-readers, make sure they all have a copy of all the companies policies; what is or isn’t a violation, what happens should a violation take place, etc. It’s also important to have each employee sign a form acknowledging they’ve read and understood the handbook, ensuring everyone is on the same page

3.) Pay your taxes and cooperate with government officials. If someone from the IRS stops by your place of business, don’t immediately become defensive. After all, they could just be here to clear up a few things, meaning you haven’t done anything wrong and you won’t be getting in trouble for anything. Just in case though…

4.) Keep records. Tax returns, receipts, signed forms and other paperwork is given to you for a reason; as a written record of your transactions and policies. If you need to prove your innocence, the easiest way to do that is having the paperwork backing it up.

5.) Do background checks. You need to know who you’re hiring, plain and simple. If you run a daycare, you need to be able to promise parents that their children won’t be coming into contact with any registered sexual offenders. If you run a delivery company, you’ll need to make sure your drivers have a clean driving record, which means 16 DUI’s is definitely going to be a deal-breaker. In order to trust your staff implicitly, you need to know who they are.

6.) Investigate complaints. There is no quicker way to find yourself in hot water than to have a list of complaints that you do nothing about. If you receive a complaint, whether it’s from an employee or a customer, it is absolutely essential that you look into the issue. And if it is a serious issue, like allegations of sexual harassment, you need to inform the correct authorities.