Thursday, October 16, 2014

trade offs - the game of life

Have you noticed I have been making lots of trade offs recently? as in I haven't posted here for awhile - so I must be spending my time elsewhere? That would be me trading the time it takes to brainstorm, write, and edit a post with laundry, watching TV, studying, working, catching up with family over the phone, and designing an RV among other things.

I have been learning a bit about business strategy and trade offs in my Supply Chain management class this semester.  We learned that a lot of companies ignore strategy and just work on being operationally efficient instead.  

Operationally efficient: when you work harder to get better at what you already do; like answer more phone calls, or take more payments, or submit paperwork with fewer errors.  You can measure all of those things, they are tangible - you either hit your goal or you didn't.

For companies, it is easier to focus on the tangible measures than making a decision on where you want to take your business in the future (aka strategy.)  The problem with becoming operationally efficient is that at some point you will make all the improvements possible and need to decide WHAT'S NEXT??? This is called hitting the productivity frontier.  I snapped a photo of my notes from class below.  Once you hit the curve, this is where you have to make a trade off.  Your business can expand, create another product, offer another service, decide to sell, or move to another region just to name a few options.


Reading through this - it is starting to sound quite dry.  This is how I try to stay interested: while I am daydreaming in class, I like to apply this very "businessy" language to my real life.  Here is my comparison.  I try hard to be operationally efficient day to day by sticking to a schedule for the kids drop off, squeezing in a gym run during lunch at least once a week, and getting gas at the same time I am out for groceries.

Just like in business though - there are only so many things I can do to become more operationally efficient.  At some point we need to start making decisions about what is the most important way to spend time.  Here are some of the real life trade offs I have made in the last 30 days:
  • helping with the kids bed time routine vs. going to my evening MBA class
  • writing blog posts vs. studying for class
  • watching any TV vs. getting my butt to the gym
Hopefully the little trade offs every day support my long term goals.  In my case I am giving up quite a bit of family time during the week, but will walk away with an MBA once it is all done.  I consider that a pretty good trade off, others might not agree.

I am sure this is all pretty geeky (I am a self aware dork at heart.)  I do find it valuable to reflect on my goals and whether I am truly making any progress on them or not.  To be honest, I have it pretty easy right now with the MBA.  My classes are chosen for me every semester and I just need to attend class and do my homework - no need for a lot of thought here.  Once that is finished though, life will get tougher because I will have to make some REAL decisions about what comes next.

I hoping that these posts will help me figure it all out :)  Feel free to send over any advice - I could certainly use it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

need for speed

Next week is the start of another semester of MBA night classes.  I learned a hard lesson last year during my first semester.  I loved my Accounting class and enjoyed the challenge of the homework and as a true nerd even loved taking the tests.  My huge mistake in Accounting landed me my first B in the MBA program (and hopefully my last!!)  I got cocky.  I was speeding through the tests and the homework with great success and I took this to an extreme with the final.  The night of the final I had an obligation to get home at a certain time (so my husband could go to work) and I let that take priority over my final exam.  I made foolish mistakes – answers that I could have fixed if I had spent more time reading through the test again.

Lesson Learned: What I should have done: hire a babysitter to watch the kids.  That would have let me stay in class as LONG as I needed and let my husband get to work on time.  Less stress across the board – doesn’t that sound nice!

This MBA program has been really interesting to take on.  I have to balance the class with work, kids, gym, friends and anything extra that gets thrown into the mix.  I know that I don’t have the time to study for 20+ hours a week.  I am ok with that – I am also ok with getting a B if I need to.  At the end of the day the grades for each individual class won’t make a difference.  The real goal for me is completion of the full program.  What drives me nuts about the scenario above is that it was under my control and I could have resolved it with a little planning ahead.  I won’t make that same mistake again. 

With the semester starting next week – I am making myself a couple promises:

·        Don’t get cocky

·        Take my time during class – to ask questions and absorb anything I can.  (The more I can get done in the class, the less I need to tackle at home.)

·        Go to weekend study groups at Panera – and don’t eat too many pastries!
How do you balance your time?  What lessons have you learned this year? 

*** in case you were wondering - my text books make a great lamp base ***

Sunday, August 10, 2014

from sketch to painting in 3 days flat

This is my follow up post from rekindling a hobby that I wrote about last month.  I wanted to share the final results of a class that I would call a success.  I spent three days with a local artist and learned quite a bit. 

First day - walked around town sketching several spots (in the rain.)  We were looking for an interesting view as well as someplace we could paint without getting wet if it rained all three days.  Here is the chosen spot and the sketch I did on the first day:

The second day we worked on adding a rough sketch to canvas and starting out with under-painting (which I had never heard of before.) Basically you choose any color you want and just start filling in the shadow/dark areas with color.  The oil paint is thinned with turpentine to make it watery. Once you have the darkest colors filled in - you choose a different color and paint the middle dark tones.   The colors don't matter because the next step will be painting over top with more realistic color choices.  My instructor called this day drawing with paint.

The third day was the most intimidating because I knew I didn't have much time left to finish the painting before I needed to head home.  It was nerve racking to choose what colors to use.  Another trick that I learned was to take each color and make three shades on your pallet using more and more white.  The three shades help the painting look more real when you think about light hitting the building or the shadow of the trees. 

And there you have it - the final product (still sitting in a travel tube on top of my dresser.)  Next step is to actually get it framed and find a home for it.  Overall, I was really pleased with the class.  My instructor was great and I enjoyed learning new things.  Not sure when I will make the leap and purchase those oil paints - but I would sign up for another class again.  It is all the fun without the commitment.

do more with less... sleep

Recently I have come across several articles about how much sleep we need every night.  I am probably a rare breed in that I make sleep a priority and usually get about 9 hours sleep a night.  I have always been jealous of my husband who can sleep for 6 hours a night (every night) and not feel groggy during the day. I just think about how much MORE I could get done if I didn’t need to sleep so much. 

With that being said – I am starting a sleep experiment! I am going to see what it would feel like to reduce the time I spend sleeping every day and what more I can accomplish if I give myself the gift of MORE time. My goal is to get to 7.5 hours a sleep a night (and be comfortable with it.)
  • Current sleep hours per night: 8.5-9
  • Planned sleep hours per night: 7.5-8
Nightly gain = 1 hour * 7 days = 7 hours more free time per week

Week One Results
Day one:
  • Set alarm for 7am when usually wake up @ 7:45 am
  • Hit the snooze button several time and finally gave in – got up at 7:50 - no gain

Day two:
  • Up at 6:40 out of necessity for kid drop off responsibilities  – no gain
Day three:
  • Alarm went off at 6:40 and I gave up the first time.  Deleted alarm and reset for 7:45 am (normal wake up time)
  • Remainder of the week was a bust - sleep challenge fail
Week Two Results
  • Monday – set alarm for 6:40 – got up at 7am (45 min gain)
  • Tuesday - Set alarm for 6:00 – got up at 6:20 (20 min gain)
  • Wednesday - Set alarm for 6:40 – got up at 7am (45 min gain)
  • Thursday - set alarm for 6:00 - got up at 6:15 (15 min gain)
  • Friday - set alarm for 7:00 - got up at 7:15 (30 min gain)
  • week two I would call a success!! total time gained 155 min :) 

What did I do with all this glorious free time??? Cleaned my office – made coffee before the work day started – took a shower – finished reading my Real Simple magazine – cooked and ate a hot breakfast (egg white omelet) and sat down to breakfast with my kids on a day I usually wouldn’t see them in the morning.
So far so good - I would consider this a success.  What about you - how many hours do you sleep a night? do you wish you could sleep more? sleep less?
Most importantly - what would you do with 7 extra hours per week?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

curiosity killed the cat... or wait - maybe not

I ran across this TED talk last night and that really resonated with me.  Here are a few key points:
  • Curiosity is good and leads to questions
  • Questions are good and lead to a search for answers
  • Questions should come first then instruction vs. lecture then questions
the talk is only 6 minutes long - I would highly recommend checking it out

OK so I know I am a total dork - but I have been thinking about this subject from several different angles: 

  1. My husband has a research lab and remarks that his students that do well are the ones that are able to think of questions about the process and then go out to search for the answers. I wonder if this is a skill that can be taught? How do you encourage this behavior or get someone to do it on their own when it is not an inherent skill?
  2. My 17 year old nephew is staying with me for the summer and I am not sure how to encourage the "curious learner" style.  I have tried all sorts of things like introducing Kahn Academy video learning, talking about grant opportunities (asking him to research), and asking open ended questions about what he wants to do after high school and how he might go about making it happen.
  3. Personally this relates to my own search for what's next.  I am constantly going down rabbit holes searching for more information on my chosen subject (knitting, personal finance, blogging!)  But then I question myself and wonder - am I spending too much time on the wrong thing? Am I looking in the wrong place?  The path is not always obvious....

Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole fueled with curiosity? What did you find? :)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

bringing a hobby back to life

I am about to dabble in something that I have been waiting years for....

Painting (I know you were probably expecting something more exciting like rock climbing or bread making or traveling or politics (just kidding))  

I am by no means an expert at painting but would love to do something artistic every now and then.  I find a lot of excuses not to:

  • too much time to set up
  • would be expensive to buy all the materials
  • my two boys would make a mess with all the supplies
  • whatever I paint would come out looking amateurish*

I have not seriously painted since college and I am excited to be taking a painting class next week for 3 days in a row.  I promise you this will be no masterpiece and I may not even finish it since one of the days will just be sketching.  The good news is - no matter how horrible this experiment comes out I plan to hang the picture someplace in the house..... room choice will depend on success of the finished product.  If it is horrible - it will hang in the guest bedroom, if it is good, it could hang in the hallway, and if it is great then maybe the dining room (where most people hang out when we entertain.)

The most exciting part of this painting class is that hopefully it will remind me how much I like to paint and draw - this could be the kick in the butt I need to just stop making excuses.  There is no time like the present to focus on what you enjoy and expand your skillset. 

Just for kicks I wanted to share one of the few things I have kept from my Art minor.  I did this drawing in a nude pencil class and it has survived a marriage, two kids, three states, and 10 houses.... come to think of it - that is pretty amazing :)

*is that a word?

You tell me, what hobby have you been thinking about starting or rekindling? Have you procrastinated doing something you love?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

90 minutes or bust

I made a horrible mistake this week.

I showed up at my local Bikram Yoga studio for a 90 minute class.  This is a big deal because I am a beginner yogi (as in just about a month of experience.)  Up until this point I have only attended the shorter 60 minute classes which have all the same poses but do ONE set instead of two sets for several poses to decrease the length of the class.  I was oblivious to my upcoming 90 minute challenge while I went about my normal prep:
  • getting dressed in my fancy yoga pants
  • hydrating; hydrating; hydrating for two hours pre-class
  • driving
  • setting up my mat (on the line - following the rules)
  • soaking up 15 minutes of "quiet time" laying in the hot room (104 degrees) before the start
Nope - I didn't realize my horrible mistake until I was five minutes into the class and we started a SECOND set of warm up breathing exercises.  All I could think at that moment is oh sh*&!

How much time does that mean I will be in this room?? 15 minute literal warm up + 90 minute class + 5 minute cool down - that is close to two hours.  I immediately started second guessing myself, feeling faint, wasn't sure I could do the poses (even the ones I could tackle in the 60 minute class) because I was doing calculations in my head about how much longer I needed to stay in the room.

I couldn't leave - because everyone would figure out that I am not very good at this yoga thing.  Ok, they probably already know that by the number of times I have to sit down and gulp water - but let's not add insult to injury.

The worst part about all this - and now I actually get to the point:  I have been daydreaming about how cool it would be to become a yoga instructor.
  • I would get to wear yoga pants ALL the time and nobody can give mecrap about it
  • I would have a rockin body because I would be constantly stretching and contorting and practicing
  • best of all I would probably get a discount on the coconut pineapple water (which reminds me an awful lot of a Pina Colada)
(As a side note I had a very similar dream in college where I thought I was going to become a pro surfer.  I bought surfing magazines - even though I went to school in the landlocked state of Pennsylvania.  I talked about it with my roommates and planned all sorts of trips that never happened to go to California and learn.)

After all of this self reflection - I know my dreams are crushed and I am going to have to cross Yoga Instructor off my list of next possible careers.  what about you, have you ever dreamt of teaching yoga, or zumba, weight training, cycling class or anything else?  Did your dream come true?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

split personalities

I feel like two different people - I have a creative side fighting with a very analytical corporate side of my personality.  This becomes a fight because there are very few careers that meld those two things together. 

Last week I discussed one of the ways I could express my creativity with a career move.  My next option is quite a bit more practical.  I am considering being an accountant.  I have just finished up my first year in an evening MBA program and the first semester was all about Accounting (financial and managerial.)  I really enjoyed the challenge and working with numbers which was a surprise for me.  I haven't had this much fun in a math class since AP Calculus in high school.  (Yes I was a total nerd in high school - I was also the layout editor of the yearbook and the lighting person in stage crew to round out my nerdiness.)

Pros of accounting: I think the work could be fun and interesting.  I would learn more about financial statements, taxes, and how this information effects stock prices.  I would be able to see through all the fine print - like an investigator flushing out all the details of a new case.  I would clearly be a hit at all the parties.  I love the accounting jokes on Parks and Recreation.

Cons: Lose the flexibility I have in my job today.  I would have to wake up - get dressed - commute to work at an office and be stuck their until the end of the day, every day.   I have been very lucky to work from home since 2009 and I am grateful for the flexibility that comes with a home office.

While I ended my last post with the decision NOT to open an Etsy shop; being an accountant is still on the table for me.  What would you do?  Would you ever consider a career in Accounting?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

narrowing the field

When I broached the subject about changing careers with my husband - he said I can do anything I want as long as I don't open an Etsy shop...

What's wrong with an Etsy shop???

He hit a nerve! One of my fantasies is just that - to open an Etsy shop and sell hand knitted items.  I have been thinking about this in the back of my mind every since I realized that Etsy is a thing. 

I learned to knit from my aunt growing up in Maine and have since gone through phases of constant knitting (months at a time) to years of not touching a needle.  It can be really rewarding to finish a project and give it away as a gift - and it can be really tedious to finish a project that you realize at the end doesn't fit right and needs to be completely pulled apart to start all over again. 

I have a vision of knitting every night once the kids go to bed and selling the handcrafted items the next day for a profit, smiling the whole time and enjoying every aspect of running my own business.  Practically speaking I know this will not be a good second career for me. 

Knitting is TIME CONSUMING and choosing the right yarn and patterns that people will be willing to buy is an art.  On top of that charging for your labor is a sensitive topic - most people do not want to pay the premium for a handmade product and would choose the cheaper machine made knitted item.  (heck - I would too!)

With all that being said - opening an Etsy shop is a nice dream, but not a real option when it comes to making a change.  I can see why my husband would ban that as an option.  In his mind it is probably worse than laying on the couch all day watching reality TV.  At least while watching TV - I wouldn't be spending lot's of money on expensive yarn and supplies. 

I guess I will reserve my Etsy dream to just browsing and buying from other artists.  What about you - would you ever open an Etsy shop?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

jump right in

is it bad to write my first blog post while watching Intervention?

First things first - let me introduce myself.  I am a learning professional in the financial industry.  I have worked for the same company for over 18 years and I am at a crossroad.  With 35 years left until retirement - I am taking my time now to decide what do I want to spend the rest of my working years doing?

I am torn between early retirement goals, pursuing advanced degrees, working harder in my current company, exploring a different side of my personality and starting at the ground floor in something completely new. 

I feel like a college freshman trying to choose their major in college.   That decision seemed like a piece of cake at the time - you would think that with years of life experience behind me, this would be an easier decision today. 

I plan to share the details of my research, and make some tough decisions along the way.