Review: Stiletto Network by Pamela Ryckman

Disclaimer: The fabulous folks at FSB Associates sent me a review copy of this book, but don’t worry! I’d never review a book I didn’t actually like. This one really did strike a cord with me.

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I’ll admit: When I first cracked the spine of Stiletto Network I had pretty low expectations. I’ve read many business books targeted to women, and I’ve been woefully disappointed in many of them. Why? Because the advice usually centers on the idea that to “fit in” or to “excel” you need to present a specially-tailored version of you that doesn’t paint you as emotional/mom/wife/feminist/etc. Now, I’m not one for tears in the workplace, but I am a firm believe in authenticity. It’s more important to be you than to pretend to be someone you think your office might like better than the real you. How can you be effective at work if that much brain power is being channeled into creating a persona? Plus, many of those women-centric books focus on the importance of competition: out-competing your peers (men and women alike) to prove over and over that you are the best. I’m all for doing and being your best, but… at the expense of relationships? I don’t think so.

Anyway…

This book doesn’t do that. What it does, instead, is focus on the importance of friendship among women – and, in many cases, how those friendships lead to greater success in the workplace. How much more authentic can it get? 

Throughout the book, Ryckman shares interviews with successful women who belong to these networks. The interviews are the most valuable part of this book, in my opinion, because you get an in-the-trenches view combined with a heavy dose of I-can-do-that inspiration.

And this is important stuff across industries. As Ryckman reports, “According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, 8 million U.S. businesses are majority owned by women…. The number of women-owned businesses is growing twice as fast as the number of total businesses.”

It’s funny because at the same time that I received this book, I learned about a networking group specific to women in the pet industry. I filed it away in the back of my mind thinking that maybe I’d look into it… someday. But having read this book, I’m feeling more inspired to track down information about that organization or – gasp! – get together a small group of women to create a new Stiletto Network.

When women work together, we truly can accomplish anything. I love that this book isn’t a battle cry for women to soldier up, but rather to leverage one of our core strengths – relationships – to help each other succeed.

New project alert!

I love pet publications. I’m obsessed with my dogs, and I relish any opportunity to learn more about them and the best ways to spoil their furry little selves. So I’m super excited to announce that I get to write the monthly Products & Trends column for the dog category for Pet Age Magazine, the leading publication for pet professionals.

My first column, Evicting Fleas, appeared in the January issue. Coming soon: Dental products!

A “cobbler’s children have no shoes” situation

When you spend your work life performing a specific task – pouring coffee, cobbling shoes, writing – it’s tough to muster up the energy to perform that same task in your “free” time. Most of my day is spent wordsmithing, piecing together articles and blog posts and web copy for my clients. And I love it. I’m one of the lucky few who genuinely loves her job.

But, when I knock off for the day, it’s difficult to sit back down in front of the computer and work on this blog. I choose to play with my dogs instead. Or visit with friends. Or clean the house (one of my favorite activities… really!). Or watch “NCIS” reruns.

I know I’m a little behind, but I’m working on my 2013 goals this week. One of the goals? Update the blog once a week. It’s a small task, one that I can manage without too much trouble. It’s simply a matter of getting in the habit.

I hope your 2013 is off to a great start! Do you have any specific goals to chase or habits to change? 

Winter reading list

I love to read. I love stacks of books waiting to be read. I love bookshelves stuffed full of old favorites. I love tracking my “wish list” books on Amazon and my finished books on Goodreads.

During the cold winter months, I find that I read frequently, bundled up in front of the fire on icy evenings or snuggled under the covers on snowy mornings. The stack piled on my nightstand reflects my interests remarkably well, so I wanted to pass along my winter reading list to help anyone who’s looking for a good book (or two… or three… or more) for the cold month ahead:

Animal welfare, sustainability, narrative nonfiction, teaching… This stack reflects my varied interests, which is what makes my “to read” pile so exciting. I can’t wait to dig in!

What’s in your “to read” stack? How do those books reflect you and your interests? 

New year, new you? Bah, humbug!

I’m not one for resolutions.

It seems counterproductive to create resolutions that are so easy to break. Instead, I focus on goals. With a busy year ahead, I spent the last week putting my goals down on paper and making my 2012 plan binder. In it, I list all my goals along with their deadlines, action steps, and any data required to complete the goal.

I have tabs for my freelance work, my dog blog, the two writing courses I teach face-to-face, the business writing e-course that will launch in the fall, training plans for all three of my dogs, and personal goals.

Excessive? Maybe.

But I know exactly what I want to accomplish this year – and, most importantly, how to accomplish it all.

With my plan binder next to my laptop, I’m excited and ready for a year filled with exciting writing projects, teaching, blogging, and so much more! How about you? Ready for 2012?

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3 articles on enhancing creativity

I love finding new articles and blog posts on topics like creativity and time management.

However, I tend to seek them out when I’m already in procrastination mode or feeling stuck! The irony there, of course, is that clicking around the internet doesn’t help me make progress on my tasks. Here are a few I found this morning:

I’m not sure I can get behind the negativity-to-boost-creativity idea. It doesn’t feel right to me, but not every technique works for every person.

Next time I’m stuck, I will focus on searching for positive studies on creativity. I’ll post what I find!

Add a little passion into your work day

I knew I wanted to be a writer in elementary school. Well, a writer or a paleontologist.

Had I been a paleontologist, my office would’ve looked like this.

I know how lucky I am that I get to do what I love every single day. Even though I love my job, I don’t love all of my projects. Sometimes, the work can become tedious, and I often feel uninspired. The way I’ve learned to stay motivated, though, is to add a little of my loves to every work day. In other words, I craft my time around my passions.

For instance, I’m obsessed with my dogs. I love the little buggers, so I launched a dog blog as a fun side project. Then I landed a guest post with a popular dog magazine and assignments from animal publications like Petside.com.

I’m also passionate about living an eco-conscious lifestyle, so I’ve tried to target publications that share my beliefs. Bonus: I landed a gig as the pet expert for an eco-friendly website!

Even though none of those are make-me-rich projects, they’re soul enriching. Cheesy? Maybe. But it’s true.

How can you infuse your passion into your work? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • If your passion is totally unrelated to your day job – you love knitting sweaters for turtles but you work as a corporate accountant – launch a blog and use your lunch hour to write posts.
  • Find an interest-specific activity on Meetup.com or join a forum.
  • Create a Facebook page that revolves around your passion. Not only will you meet like-minded people, you’ll also discover tons of sites and resources that you were probably too busy to locate on your own.

If all else fails, use a picture of the cutest turtle wearing your chicest sweater as your screen saver. Everyone needs a little passion in their work day, no matter how you weave it into your routine!

Image: Kurt Thomas Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create a morning routine

What does your morning routine look like? Do you frantically search for your keys while downing a cup of coffee? Do you bolt out the door a few minutes late every day? Do you practice yoga or meditate? Hit the gym? Hit the snooze button?

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I have never been a morning person. Ever. But recently I’ve found some serious value in a morning routine.

Why?

A morning routine sets up your day for success. And you don’t even have to be a “morning person” to take advantage of a routine. Once you adjust to a new way of doing things, it becomes easier to stay on task and on point.

There’s no “right” routine other than finding what’s best for you. (Lifehacker has some tips, though I’d never suggest giving up coffee! zen habits has a suggestion, too, though I can’t imagine waking up at 4:30 in the morning. But, again, it’s about finding what works for you.)

Here’s the loose outline of my morning routine:

  • 7 to 8: My ideal morning routine starts with a steaming mug of coffee between 7 and 8. I know many productivity gurus suggest not checking email first thing in the morning, but that causes me too much mental anguish. I spend that cup of coffee reading emails, checking my Google reader, updating Facebook and Twitter, and making the rounds through my favorite blogs.
  • 8 to 9: Once I’m caught up online, I head out for a dog walk. It usually takes about an hour to get the puppy tired, which is the amount of time it takes for me to wake up fully.
  • 9 to 12: After the walk, I sit down at my desk – with another cup of coffee and my breakfast – with a clear head, ready to tackle my day.

It’s so simple. Three steps, really. But this easy routine has doubled my before-noon productivity.

What about you? What does your typical morning look like? Have you tried to implement a routine?

Image: Gregory Szarkiewicz

Planning to prevent stress? Yes!

In a new study out of Harvard, “25% of our happiness hinges on how well we’re able to manage stress.” Okay. Nothing groundbreaking there.

But what did the Harvard prof discover fights off stress the best?

Planning!

A couple highlights from the article:

“Epstein points to his friend, the late Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner, as a master organizer. (To the rest of us, Skinner is probably better known for his highly influential research on the effects of reinforcement on behavior.) ‘Skinner was amazing at managing stress. He was quite a planner. Not only did he plan his day every day, but he had a 10-year planner,’ says Epstein.”

“‘The most important way to manage stress is to prevent it from ever occurring,’ by planning, says Epstein. Of course, for some people, the idea of making checklists and calendars, organizing and planning ahead sounds, well, stressful.”

I love to plan. Every year, I set out annual goals, which I break into quarterly goals, which eventually become weekly and daily goals.

Does all that planning diminish my stress? To be honest, I have no idea. I’ve never not been a planner. While I do have a decent amount of stress – I’m anal with a Type A personality, after all – my guess is that it would be much worse if I didn’t have a clear-cut plan.

So planning = happiness?

Maybe not for all personalities, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Next time you’re stressed out, try whipping out a notebook and jotting down a quick list. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help alleviate some of the pressure!

10 ways to get out of a creative rut

It happens. We all get stuck. It doesn’t matter the task, either. You could be painting scenery for your child’s class play, arranging columns and rows in your department’s budget spreadsheet, or writing the next great American novel.

It happens to me once a week. I’m plowing through client projects, updating social media campaigns, crossing tasks off my to-do list. Then suddenly I realize I’ve been watching bees buzz around the flowerbed outside my window for the last 20 minutes.

How do you know you’re in a rut? It’s hard to maintain focus. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s hard to keep your butt in your chair. It’s easy to find lots of other things to do (“That’s right! I’ve been meaning to rotate my mattresses!”) that have nothing to do with work.

Okay, so you’re in a rut. Now what?

Here are my 10 ways for getting out of a creative rut:

  1. Allow yourself to set the project aside. Even if you’re on deadline. Even if your kids will be home from school soon. You’re not getting anything done staring at it. So allow yourself to put it down. I can’t tell you how often I used to force myself to work (“You WILL sit here and write this copy!”) even though I wasn’t actually getting any work down. Put it down. Walk away.
  2. Stroll around the block. Don’t think about your project. Focus on the sights and sounds of your neighborhood. Somewhere in the back of your mind, when you’re moving instead of thinking, your mind is working on a solution to whatever got you stuck in the first place.
  3. Snooze. Set your alarm for 30 minutes to recharge. If you wake up and still can’t focus, pull those covers back over your head.
  4. Call that family member who loves to talk. You need to call your mom/uncle/grandma/sister anyway, so do it while you’re already prepared to procrastinate. Bonus: If your mind starts to wander, you may just hit on the next big idea to propel your project forward!
  5. Visit Cute Things Falling Asleep.
  6. Do the opposite of what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to paint, pick up a crossword puzzle. If you’re trying to write, pay some bills. Exercise a different part of your brain to give your worn-out side a much-needed break.
  7. Tap into your inner child: blow bubbles, color with crayons, cartwheel across your backyard, braid your hair, ride bikes.
  8. That kid from high school you were jealous of/in love with/afraid of? I bet that kid has a Facebook page. You have permission to scroll through all 652 of his/her pictures.
  9. Write a love letter to your significant other or your cat or yourself.
  10. Eat a snack full of protein (or chocolate).

And if none of those work? Take the rest of the day off! You need a break!

Image: bulldogza