King Cake

On Intention and Productivity

September 29, 2014

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a Cadre lunch, during which Derek Coburn discussed intention and productivity. And if you know me, you know productivity is something that fascinates me. While I will not be able to do justice to everything he talked about, here are some highlights and some of the resources he recommended.

On Being Busy

-       Being busy and bring productive are not the same thing.

-       Try not saying “I am busy” for a week (I commit to doing this this week).

-       “Being busy is often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” Tim Ferriss

-       Try saying “I am not doing anything today” and sticking to it once in a while (not surprisingly, this is one recommendation I have challenges    with…).

-       “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Warren Buffet

On Reclaiming Time

-       Time is our most scarce and sacred resource, and as such Derek recommends seriously pondering how to can reclaim time.

-       Part of reclaiming time involves outsourcing. “Outsource everything possible, in particular what you are neither good nor passionate about,” says Derek.

-       One of the tools he uses is RescueTime. This program helps track your most productive times and how much time you are spending on certain programs (and also lets you block certain websites that may be distracting). I just signed up for this and am excited to see what I can learn!

-       Derek raves about virtual assistants and automation tools. While I have never used this type of service, I am intrigued. Derek recommends Elance and Task Rabbit as two great resources.

-       Use scheduling tools such as Vcita. Indeed, as Derek reminded us, it takes an average of 7 emails to schedule a single meeting.

On Managing Meetings Overload

-       Derek urged us to never take a meeting unless there is a clear agenda.

-       He also mentioned no longer taking “coffee or lunch meetings” but instead scheduling a phone conversation – especially when this is a first meeting. A coffee or lunch meeting can always come as a second step.

On Managing Email Overload

-       I am an emailer. I use my inbox (both of them actually!) as a to-do list. I flag emails, file emails, sometimes I drown in emails. Once per week I usually take my inbox and start at the bottom and go through every email to make sure I have not forgotten something (this takes about 2-3 hours). Yet sometimes things fall through the cracks…

-       Derek recommends Sanebox to help minimize and summarize emails. I have not yet brought myself to try this…

On Managing Phone Calls and Voicemails

-       I hate voicemails. I don’t know why… but I do. I always delay listening to them, which is neither productive nor polite. I wish my phone didn’t allow voicemails, but I can’t quite take that step.

-       I also hate the phone, which I find intrusive. It still surprises me when people call to have a long conversation without having scheduled a phone meeting – although I do the same… And when a call comes in, I have a very hard time not answering. Even from an “unknown number.” Hence I laugh when Derek suggests that answering a phonecall from an “unknown caller” is telling the universe that anyone and anything can interrupt you anytime.

-       Per Derek’s recommendation, I signed up for PhoneTag after this lunch and I love getting voicemails via texts!

On Decision-Making Overload

-       I read once that President Obama wears the same shirt every day (not the same one, but identical-looking ones) in order to remove one decision from all of the decisions he has to make daily. Also, remember how Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit to meetings (jeans, sneakers, a black turtleneck)? Derek mentions this and reminds us that “Cognitive resources are scarce, limited, quickly and easily depleted.”

-       Removing the need to make certain decisions helps to alleviate decision-making fatigue. Try to take decisions off the table every day, remove decisions that are not essential so you can make better decisions on the more important things.

On Starting Your Week One Day Early

-       Derek starts his week on Saturday because family is most important to him. By starting his week on Saturday he puts time in with family and kids early on in the week and does not feel guilty the rest of the week (week goes Saturday to Friday instead of Monday to Sunday).

-       Start your day the night before; take a look at the priorities for the next day the previous evening and do one or two of the things that are absolute musts that previous evening.

A Few Other Tips

-       It takes you 20 minutes to refocus on the task at hand when you get un-focused because of an interruption.

-       Morning rituals are key in terms of setting your day up for success. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod is a great book that investigates just that.

-       Create your “Superhero music soundtrack,” songs that inspire you and get you going and motivate you to do your best work.

-       Derek listens to podcasts and books on tape, and talked about adjusting the speed of what he listens to – kind of like the auditory equivalent of speed-reading.

-       When Derek leaves for vacation, he sets his out of office automatic email response showing the departure day one day early, and the return day one day after he is actually back in the office, in order to manage the expectations of people emailing him in terms of his response time.

Most importantly perhaps, Derek ends by urging us to put intention in everything we do. To him, success is “being able to say yes to what he wants to do, and no to what he does not want to do.” In the end, all of these productivity tips and tools are ways to get us there …

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Chateau Coutet

September 16, 2014

After a wedding weekend in Bordeaux where my youngest sister Roxane was married on Saturday, I come home to Geneva to my sister’s apartment and what is on TV but a documentary about Saint-Émilion, this amazing piece of land in the Southwest of France.

The documentary opens with an interview of the owner of Angelus, one of the most amazing wineries in the area. My sister’s partner has promised my husband and I that we would get to open a bottle at Christmas time … And I just learned that there was significant product placement of this wine in Casino Royale … quite the coup!

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

Angelus is also near and dear to my heart because that is where we met on Friday for a visit to Roxane’s favorite vineyard. Not Angelus, but a small, family-owned (still) chateau called Chateau Coutet. There is no sign (that is part of the fun), except to meet across from Chateau Angelus and take the small dirt road immediately to the left. Very mysterious.

Mysterious, on purpose. The first thing that Adrien tells us is that his chateau is “non-classe” on purpose – it used to be, but it is easier to stay under the radar by note being “classe.” This enables his family to keep the value of the land under control – which in turn enables them to keep the vineyard in the family. Indeed, his pride shows through that Coutet is family owned, and has been for 400 years, aka 14 centuries. Unlike most of the other properties in the area, who have sold to large corporate investors, mostly foreign ones (he cites Asians). Why? Partly because the inheritance taxes when the father passes on to the next generation are so prohibitive (even more so when the land is officially “classe” and thus higher in value). And partly because the prices offered are so high it would be almost irresponsible to refuse to sell.

(Photo by: Ada Polla)

In any case, in the three hours we spend at Chateau Coutet, I learn a few things about Saint-Émilion / Bordeaux wines, and the Coutet label more specifically.

First, the wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the three main ones being Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%).

Second, most vines of Saint-Émilion (probably most wines actually) are highly treated with pesticides and insecticides. However, at Chateau Coutet, no pesticides or insecticides have been used since the beginning. They are fully organic, and in turn fully dependent on the weather. And hence, their productions are quite small and niche. They don’t sell their wine ahead of having it actually made.

Third, Americans are the largest consumers of the wines of the Saint-Emilion region. Go figure …

Fourth, most vineyards in Saint-Émilion specialize in producing a single type of wine. Not here my Napa experiences of trying three red and three whites. We try red – from various years. The same blend, different weather conditions.

Finally, no rosé is made in Bordeaux (it’s kind of like Champagne… and appellation restriction). Instead, they make Claret (or Clairet). It is redder than a rosébut less than a red. It has 14% alcohol and (thus?) is more tannic. It will be perfect next summer, served chilled in the heat of summer.

I have to admit, we leave having ordered three cases of wine… the 2005 red which is ready to drink now, and the 2009 red which will be ready to drink in 4 years. And, of course, a case of Claret!

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Having a Bad Day? Some Things to Keep in Mind

September 7, 2014

A bad day. It happens to everyone. And not just on football Sundays when both the Patriots and the Saints lose to their respective nemeses. A few days ago I was starting to have a bad day, and somehow it turned into a better day. It made me think of things I can do to avoid bad days, or transform them when they start happening.

1. My mom always told me to wear a particularly pretty dress, and brighter red lipstick when I “wake up on the wrong side of the bed.” It works every time. Dress up, not down, when you are feeling grumpy.

2. It’s amazing what an extra hour of sleep can do. It gives me a different perspective. It unlocks my creativity. It enables me to solve problems more effectively. When I feel like crap, I give myself permission to sleep more.

3. There is nothing that cures work stress better than working. Even if it is the last thing I want to do, even if I want to do nothing, even if I am over it, just doing some work makes me feel better because at least I am being productive. If I am going to feel like crap, might as well be productive.

4. Related to point #3, sometimes I do the work thing I least want to do when I am feeling down. Again, if I am going to be feeling down anyway, I might as well do the thing that has been hanging over me for weeks – the thing on my to-do list I least want to do. At least then it’s done. No matter how I feel.

5. Enjoy the small things. Even when everything sucks, there is usually beauty in the mundane, in the everyday. The clouds. The tree outside my window. The orchid on my desk. Stop and smell the roses. It helps to put things in perspective.

6. Close a deal. Nothing gives me a better high than a new client, than a new deal. As a few of the Sharks say, “revenue cures all ills.” That includes a bad mood.

7. Avoid email. The emails I wish I had never sent usually happen when I am in a bad mood or upset or annoyed. I try to remind myself to pick up the phone if I receive a frustrating email while in a bad mood. There is something to be said for using a phone as a phone…

8. Perform a random act of kindness. Do something for someone else. Again, my mother always told me that doing something nice for someone is actually doing something nice for yourself. Even more important than how it makes the other person feel is how it will make you feel. Just like red lipstick, this works every time.

9. Think of one thing you are grateful for. Many of my BFFs have started gratitude journals, and now I know why. Nothing like reminding myself of all of the amazing people and things in my life to make me forget about all the things I might think are wrong.

10. Remember that bad days last just as long as good days, and not one second longer.

And finally, I remind myself of yet another thing my mother said. “Choose to be happy,” she recommends; “it is in your power to decide how you feel.” She must be on to something since Tony Robbins agrees: “How you feel is not the result of what is happening in your life – it is your interpretation of what is happening.”

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