Distractions and Travel Troubles





It’s been a busy time with work and the final renovations of the kitchen. Finally, you’ve scheduled a few days off to visit friends at their beach house. It’s hot and humid and you can almost feel the balmy breezes enveloping you as you sit on the deck near the water’s edge at sundown. You stop at the local gas station to fill the tank and call your friends to let them know you’ll be on the road in a few minutes.  “Hi. We’re almost on the road. We’re so excited to be on our way.” There is a long pause and then a sigh. Your friend says, “You’re not coming here now are you? We’ve got you down for next weekend.”


How often do such vacation scheduling mishaps occur?


For many, summer means some time off to relax. However, the days prior to vacation may be hectic and preclude time to plan and prepare. To avoid the stress and strain of travel troubles, schedule time well before departure to check the logistics, including hotel and other travel reservations. Good planning helps you deal with expected—and unexpected hassles.


Tips to avoid travel troubles:


  • Put reminders in your phone or on your schedule to confirmation hotel or other reservations.  Consider downloading the app, TripCase. It guides you through every stage of your trip, organizing every aspect of your trip at your finger tips.
  • Pack light so you don’t get fatigued and irritated lugging around overstuffed cases.
  • Alert your credit card company about the out-of-town locations you will visit.
  • Make copies or take photographs of your driver’s license, credit, insurance, or discount cards, or confirmations and store in your luggage and/or on your phone.
  • Make a list of your medications and place in a plastic bag for ease when going through security. Take an extra day’s supply in case your return is delayed.
  • Bring some healthy snacks such as dried fruit, granola bars or nuts.
  • Store all chargers, cords, and other devices in a zip-lock, plastic bag to prevent items from loss when in and out of planes, trains, or cars.
  • Post a checklist in your hotel room to remind you to take your digital devices when departing. Check under the bed for shoes or other articles.
  • Prepare for the return by keeping an envelope, plastic bag, or wallet to hold your home parking lot ticket, taxi telephone number, and car keys. Save all receives in an envelope.
  • Allow ample time upon your return to unpack and get ready for your return to the world of work.


Summer vacation time is supposed to be relaxing, but that week away can also be stressful if you have been too distracted to plan ahead.

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Do You Fasten Your Safety Belt in a Taxi Cab?

bildeBob Simon, an award-winning CBS News correspondent whose career spanned nearly 50 years and many major international conflicts, was killed in a car crash in Manhattan on Wednesday, February 11, 2015. It was reported by the police that he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/nyregion/bob-simon-cbs-correspondent-is-killed-in-manhattan-car-crash.html?_r=0).

What about you? Do you wear your seatbelt in a cab? Distracted, rushed, or neglectful, you need to develop the same safety-belt habit for taxis as for cars. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, if you aren’t buckling up when you’re a passenger, you aren’t alone—around 65% of passengers don’t bother with seat belts when they catch a cab (alternatively, 90% use seat belts in private cars (http://gothamist.com/2011/12/29/do_you_wear_your_seatbelt_in_cabs.php).

The Simon crash “is a tragic reminder to all Americans that the laws of physics still apply to cabs and other cars-for-hire,” says Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Motorists are not magically safer in these vehicles. Too many of us don’t think about wearing a seat belt when we are in these vehicles because we aren’t in them for long periods of time, and we are out of our normal travel routine.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/13/no-seat-belt-violation-in-simon-crash/23354289/

If you have a tendency to be unbuckled in the back seat of a cab or a friend’s car, take the time and effort to form a new habit for yourself and others. Use a buckle-up photo, sign, or slogan as a reminder.

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Don’t Let Digital Distractions Ruin Your Valentines Day

happy valentines day 2014 quotes

The National Retail Federation polled 6,417 consumers in early January 2014 to ask about their Valentine’s Day plans. It turns out that 54 percent of Americans will celebrate with loved ones this year, spending an average of $133.91 on candy, cards, dinner, and gifts.

At the same time, studies indicate that mobile or smart phones interfere with relationships due to lack of attention and insensitivity to partners. For example, one partner may become upset over interruptions caused by the other person taking incoming calls, checking social media, or “looking up” information such as sports scores, news, or stock market reports.

Don’t allow the inappropriate use of digital devices waste your time or money or energy. Here are tips to disallow distractions from ruining your Valentine’s Day:
1. Agree to have an electronic lockdown during a special meeting or meal. In addition, alert others that you won’t be available at certain times during the Valentine’s weekend.
2. Agree not to sneak a peek at your phone or tablet.
3. Agree that such agreements are difficult, but worth it, given the importance of the relationship.
4. Alert others that you are unavailable at certain times during the Valentine’s weekend.

Valentines is a special time for good communications and positive interactions. Silencing the cell phone can contribute to an enjoyable weekend.

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Cartoons, Humor and Positive Distractions



I had the great pleasure to meet and hear Bob Mankoff, the author of “How About Never: Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons” It describes his early life, his early career and current interests as a cartoonist, editor and author.

His talk was warm, witty, and engaging. He reminded me about today’s need for humor in general. We need a good laugh to reduce stress and put things into better perspective. Of course, Mankoff’s cartoon wit makes us all too aware of the absurdity of contemporary life. No one does it better than the cover of his book.

His talk, however, provided a reminder about how important it is to use one’s strengths, interests and passions. In Mankoff’s case he always drew, but never felt that he fit in at school. For each of us, it is important to ask, “What interests or talents am I ignoring? Could I be more satisfied with my life if I focused on my talents?

In addition, his presentation emphasized the importance of perseverance. In Mankoff’s case, he “felt” that he should be in the New Yorker Magazine since the writing was intelligent and in sync with his values. The history of rejection by the magazine was formidable, but he had grit and, not only was his cartoons accepted, he worked there for 20 years and became the Cartoon editor.

Cartoons, specifically, and humor in general, are positive distractions, connecting us to others and the world, giving us a lift and reducing stress. Bob Mankoff’s book is worth some time and would make a great gift.

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New Year’s Resolutions and the Agony of Exercise

unnamedI hate exercise. There, I said it. I was brought up in New York City, where everyone walked and no one (at that time) had to “do exercise.” Now, however, I’m faced with challenges my parents and grandparents didn’t have: my job involves a lot of sitting. Sitting in the car, sitting with clients, sitting in front of the computer, sitting on trains and airplanes, sitting in conferences and meetings… I’ve known for a while that if I’m going to keep health issues at bay, I need to arrange my life to support daily exercise. Every year, it seems, I resolve to put in two days a week of strength training and two more for cardio activities. After all, I have the space and equipment at home, and at least some time flexibility because I’m self-employed. What I haven’t had is the consistency to make myself head down those basement stairs and “just do it,” as they preach in the Nike ad.

I’m somewhat ashamed of the fact that I hadn’t managed to achieve a regular exercise plan in my own home, at minimal expense. I never wanted to be part of the 92% of people who slack off on their New Year’s resolutions after a few weeks [http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/]. I feel the irony deeply, especially since I’m looked at as the diva of self-management and productivity. I’ve spent my career encouraging and providing support for self-regulation of healthy habits to my clients, friends, and family.

But the truth is, if I’m going to be successful at this, I need help. I have to admit that, despite all of my academic expertise, this is my Achilles heel, so to speak. Taking a page from my book “Actions Against Distractions” [pages 22-24], I determined the steps that would ensure that I would not only get started on my goal of health and fitness, but also ones that would build in accountability and consequences if I didn’t follow them. I realized that it would be more productive for me to engage the services of a personal trainer at a fitness center. I opted for standing, weekly appointments with her so that the time was already dedicated to exercise. And, I adjusted my finances in order to pre-pay for services, giving me extra incentive not to “waste money already spent” on my fitness goals.

What were your resolutions for the year? What challenges have been posed for you this month? Perhaps it’s time to put aside your pride and seek the help you need to be successful. Brainstorm some ways to get going, enlist support and incentives, and hold yourself accountable with consequences or rewards.

So how has the exercise program been going for me? I’m certainly more consistent than I was at home because I know that my excellent trainer is waiting for me at our appointed times. I am enjoying the benefits of feeling stronger and more energetic. But there are still plenty of moments during my reps when she is counting and I am kvetching, “Help! Get me out here!” I may not have fallen in love, but I do feel a great sense of satisfaction in finally maintaining a healthy relationship with exercise.

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Long Shopping lines? Talk to Others.


Long Shopping lines? Talk to Others.


An experiment in Chicago randomly assigned train and bus riders to either talk to the stranger next to them or commute quietly. The result? Even for introverts, silence leaves you sadder.(http://www.npr.org/2014/12/02/367938704/study-shows-riding-the-quiet-car-is-crushing-your-spirit?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=storiesfromnpr)

What does this mean for the average person during holiday season? Talking to others may provide you a ways to feel happier and less stressed, even when you’ve lots on your plate. We’re social animals and the mere act of communication with others, even strangers, seems to trigger feelings of togetherness and purpose. This study was conducted on trains and buses, but the lesson is applicable in other public places. For example, when you stand in line at the bank, restaurant, bank, post office, or grocery or retail store.

Here are tips for starting a conversation with a stranger during the holidays:
1. Put your phone away.
2. Smile
3. Ask neutral questions or make a comment such as:
“Looking forward to the holidays?”
“How about this weather?”
“A new study says it good for us to talk to strangers, so I’m saying hello.”

What happens when you receive a gruff rebuff? You smile and say, “That person didn’t hear about the study. I need to try again.”

For some people, talking to strangers is natural. For me it is. Once, after a brief and humorous encounter with a stranger who was standing in line at a restaurant, my grandson remarked, “Grandma, you’d talk to a stone!” Yep, that’s about it. Although it may not be natural for you, it is worth a try. If you’re shy, pick a person to talk to who is already smiling.

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Reduce Thanksgiving Kitchen Distractions to Avoid Accidents and Fires

house-fire2The Red Cross reports that Thanksgiving is the leading day of the year for cooking fires and kitchen equipment accidents. There are costly fires, painful spills of hot liquids and serious gashes. If you reduce distractions, needless accidents are prevented (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/11/21/red-crosss-top-safety-tips-for-thanksgiving/).
Here are some tips to reduce Thanksgiving kitchen accidents:
Before the festivities: Plan ahead. For example, use a checklist to schedule when and how others can help. Also, it’s smart to create a “No Fly Zone,” so small children are protected from hot liquids on stoves, fryers, ovens and cutting utensils. Remember to take a short break to refresh and refocus.
During the festivities: Be vigilant about kitchen clutter. For example, clear paper around cooking surfaces, hang potholders on hooks, move pot handles toward the back of the stove and never leave cooking unattended. To avoid cuts and gashes, make sure the person carving is in a distraction-free area and protect him or her from adults and children milling around or bumping into the knife.
After the festivities: Make sure  all burners and candles are extinguished, food and oil spills are wiped from the floor and carving knives are pointed down in the dishwasher or sink.
Reduce kitchen distractions before, during and after Thanksgiving dinner and you’ll avoid needless visits to the emergency room. For a comprehensive list of tips, go to: http://www.redcrossillinois.org/thanksgiving-safety

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Geri’s Lemon Jell-O Journey

Jello2             Jello1

Geri’s Lemon Jell-O Journey

The family has been making Jell-O molds for decades. One favorite recipe is an Apricot Jell-O Mold, made with pureed apricots and ice cream. It’s a no-fail creation. Another holiday special is a Lemon Jell-O mold. Not my favorite, but adored by many in the family. Here’s the Jell-O journey from hell:

Wednesday evening: pick up 2 packages of Lemon Jell-O, a 12 ounce can of frozen lemonade, and a container of Cool Whip.

Wednesday night (tired!): mix Jell-O and 6 cups of water, lemonade and let it firm up. Then, mix in Cool Whip. OOPs, the carton says it’s 12 ounces, but I need 16. I think, “No problem. The other mold uses ice cream; why not add ice cream for the missing Cool Whip?” Blend again and pour the mixture into the 2 quart mold and refrigerate.

Thursday at 8 am: Oh NO. It’s not a mold; it’s soup. “I knew there was too much water. I must have incorrectly copied the recipe. OK, OK, I’ll run to the store and get an extra package of Jell-O.”

Thursday at 10:30 am: Return from the store and mix up the extra package in a small cup of boiling water. Take out the soup. Get out the mixer and blend the new Jell-O with the soup. Return to refrigerator.

Noon: Check the mold. It’s still soup. What is the matter? Reread the recipe again and again until I see that I was supposed to buy 2, 6 ounce (double) boxes of Jell-O, not the 3 ounce size. So, really I had needed 4, rather than 2 boxes. Well, now it all makes sense.Decision point: to go back to the store for another box of lemon Jell-O or just throw it out. Never a die-heart, I slip into my clogs and return to the smiling faces at the grocery store. At least, while driving, I’m at an interesting part of my mystery audio book.

Grab the Jell-O, laugh with the same check-out clerk, and head home. I laugh at the situation and enjoy the audio book on the way home.

12:30 pm: Off with the clogs, on with the Jell-O adventure. I’m chuckling as I relate the story to my husband. I boil, pour and mix—but the mixture is so granular and lumpy. It doesn’t make sense, you’re in trouble when you’re cooking and you say, “This doesn’t look right.”

Of course it didn’t look right, I bought Jell-O Lemon Pudding! Now, I’m laughing and with tears rolling down my cheeks, but undaunted, I again blend to add the pudding with soup. Of course, with my laughter, I spill the stuff on the way to the refrigerator.

Will it firm up? If not, can it be used as a sauce over pound cake and ice cream? Should I tell?

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Takes Two


Ballroom Dancing




“Takes Two”  Shel Markel (2014)

Shall We Dance? Kristen Storey and Richard Tonizzo’s Leadership Lessons from the Ballroom Floor

Jane Heineken (Guest Blog)

Although we often discuss the Demons of Distractions, one of our favorite topics is the benefit of positive distraction: those activities that—unlike damaging forces such as the Stress or Fatigue Demons—actually help refresh and refocus you. What you may not realize is how your hobbies can enhance and inform your performance on your “real” job. Our team attended a workshop presented by University of Michigan Human Resource Development organizational development and learning specialist Kristen Storey, entitled, “Leadership Lessons from the Ballroom Dance Floor.” Kristen was joined by her Ballroom Dance instructor, international competitor Richard Tonizzo, and members of the UM Ballroom Dance Team.

Kristen began learning Ballroom Dance on a dare to herself during a time when she was feeling unfulfilled in her career and vaguely dissatisfied in her life. In addition to becoming addicted to the art form, she also discovered, “…how Ballroom Dance and Leadership are integrated in concept and approach.”  Here are the five aspects of Ballroom Dance that have also helped her in her role as a Leader and Educator:

Balance: in Ballroom, balance is a physical and spatial issue. In life, it’s a metaphorical issue; human beings are most fulfilled when they strive to achieve balance in the realms of career, personal finance, social relationships, community service, and health/well-being. Kristen thinks of them as buckets that all need to be filled to sufficient levels to achieve a satisfying life. But balancing your life involves an element of risk-taking: Kristen quoted champion ballroom dancer, Emmanual Pierre Antoine to his students: ‘Sometimes you have to lose your balance to find your balance.’ Successful Leaders continuously evaluate what they are doing right versus where they need to give more or pay more attention.

Self-Awareness: dancers need to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the dance floor at any given time. This helps them know what to work on. Ballroom Dancing is evaluated as a partnership; both dancers need to look good. The male traditionally leads, but he can’t always see where he is going; he has to be willing to let his partner guide his leadership through subtle signals. The same is true in the workplace: no one will follow a Leader who can’t support, showcase, and share credit with co-workers. Leadership is more than attacking tasks “like a beast” —it includes cultivating relationships and being responsive to the music and rhythm of the work environment. Self-awareness on the job means staying present and realizing your impact on others.

Teaching & Coaching Mindset: dancers who interact with each other may possess different levels of experience and competence; every dancer has been taught and coached by someone at a higher level. Instructors must be patient and flexible in the ways they communicate information because adult learners come to them with baggage and egos; they may react more negatively to new challenges. A Ballroom student might say, “This new move is stupid!” The instructor knows to translate this as, “I feel stupid because I can’t execute this new move” and respond with, “You just don’t understand the move yet; later on, when you do, it’ll be fun.”

In the workplace, successful Leaders also need to see what they do as teaching and coaching. You should never take for granted that others know what you know, or that they experience things in the same way that you do. Ask questions about your learners; the more you know about them, the better you can draw on similar experiences or make analogies when coaching them. You need to “…leverage a variety of ways to communicate and enable successful performance in others.”

Being Agile: Ballroom dancers need agility, not only to achieve each position, move, and turn, but also to execute their plan on the space of the ballroom floor, which is divided into long and short runs. Pairs have goals for navigating the space, but there are many factors beyond their control that force them to adapt their plans in competition or performance. Their coping strategies include: challenging each other with the unexpected during practices to see if both can adjust, using their powers of observation the moment they arrive in the new setting to plan adjustments to actual conditions, and deploying special strengths to cope with challenges. For example, if the competition is taller and has longer strides, a shorter pair can show off quicker, sharper steps. If the floor is unusually crowded, a pair might need to change up their speed, or even hold back and yield to others until a space opens up to shine. Dancers have to accept that their plan is always changing and will never be perfect: if a partner makes a mistake, they don’t dwell on it—they support them and recover quickly.

In the workplace, successful Leaders are agile in mindset. There are many business conditions that call for adaptability: financial challenges, staffing issues, reorganizations, technology change—even the price of success (resources stretched thinner, growing pains, etc.). Though you may start with a plan, you need to view change as a given and respond quickly to unexpected circumstances while meeting strategic goals and priorities. Be aware of speed, pace, openness, and readiness to move forward on issues with your team. Also, observe other leaders: how does their agenda conflict with yours? Are they pushing the boundaries? Can you “play the game” against them but still be respectful of each other?

Continuous learning: no matter what their level, Ballroom dancers never rest on their laurels. There is always something to improve and something new to learn from instructors and other competitors. In the workplace, successful Leaders never assume they know it all: “When you stop learning, you cease to become a valuable asset to your organization.” Like Ballroom competitors, Leaders can always be asking, “What’s the next thing I can learn and add on to my repertoire?” Staying open to the various perspectives of mentors, inspirational figures, and team members around you can alert you to knowledge gaps that you weren’t aware of having.

Daring herself to dance is a risk that paid off spectacularly for Kristen in ways she never expected. What leisure activities and hobbies do you love to do in your free time? What have you been tempted to try? Your work skills will undoubtedly benefit from an activity that cultivates one or more of the five areas above. As Kristen Storey says, make sure all of your life buckets are getting as filled as possible!

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Don’t Be Distracted by Style over Substance






Don’t Be Distracted by Style over Substance

Guest Blog: Jane Heineken


We know that our ancestors spent most of their days fighting for their very survival without the benefit of automation, climate control, sanitation, modern medicine, or any of the technological advances we now enjoy. The few pauses they took from the unrelenting task of feeding, clothing, and sheltering their families had to do with religious or social rituals marking major life events and the passage of time: births, deaths, marriages, and holidays.  Each culture around the world developed customs that made their people feel celebrated or comforted during particular times along the hard road of life. Sometimes there were artists or storytellers to capture these moments for future generations, but mostly, memories were made in the minds of those who lived the moments: laughed, cried, danced, ate, and prayed intensely with their communities.

Cut to modern times, when the entrepreneurs of a commercialized society realized that there was lots of money to be made off of these celebrations: suddenly Martha Stewart was dictating your kid’s destination birthday party and Zales was hinting that your husband should be looking at a “push present” and Bridezillas terrorizing their girlfriends had actually become A Thing. When I had my senior high school yearbook photo taken, I drove to a studio in August, sweated through a series of posed, seated shots in a stifling hot, velour sweater that was to be “all the rage” that fall, waited several weeks to see proofs, and chose the one I found the most flattering—end of story. Then came my daughter’s turn: “on location” in a public botanical garden over several hours, with at least four different outfits—and I was STILL sweating as I tried to help her change into them behind a blanket so that she wouldn’t acquire an arrest record at 18 for indecent exposure. “This is CRAZY,” I kept muttering as I swatted off bees and mosquitos; it got even worse when we were paralyzed by the overwhelming quantity and shocking expense of possible photos from which to choose. Whenever I questioned the new protocol, I was told over and over again, “But this is how it’s DONE now.” The peer pressure had shifted from wearing the “right sweater” to being “the right kind of parent.”

I heard a similar story from a friend who attended a perfect cinematic tableau of a wedding: sunset at the beach, balmy breezes, chirping birds, and lapping surf. The happy bride and groom stood clutching hands, ready for the ceremony to bind their lives together…when suddenly the peacefulness of the moment was completely destroyed by an overly ambitious wedding photographer clicking her way around and across the altar space. She then proceeded to force her way between the bridal party and the audience, turning around to the front rows to jam a large lens into the faces of loved ones, trying to get “candid response shots” from people attempting to witness and enjoy the sacred ceremony. What the photographer got instead was my friend giving her the evil eye, gesturing a “cut” motion and hissing at her to “GO AWAY,” much to the relief of those sitting around her!

Meanwhile, a recent news report cited the latest trend in wedding photography: hiring drone operators to send cameras overhead for a bird’s-eye perspective of outdoor ceremonies. Seriously? Now we’re going to be buzzed and dive-bombed during everyone’s vows?? Add to this the rash of overly elaborate, flashmob engagement proposals going viral, and professional photo sessions booked for everything from school dances to once-private passages such as gestation and childbirth. I hadn’t realized how out of hand some of these practices had gotten until people began to parody them: check out one dad-to-be’s “pregnancy photo shoot” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/this-man-took-maternity-photos-of-himself-when-his-pregnant#yx14a1 ) and the couple that inserted their dog into the modern family album trope (http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2014/08/couple-does-newborn-photo-shoot-of-rescue-dog/  )!

Perhaps because technology and trends have been changing so quickly, people have become more concerned with micromanaging the presentation and documentation of life events rather than simply experiencing them, in the moment, with merely the human senses granted to us from as far back as when we were in the womb. It’s not just the hosts of events who are guilty of this; attendees, too, are often caught up in demonstrating their own participation in things that are really “not about them.” I received one wedding invitation in which the bride and groom felt the need to request that their guests focus on the ceremony rather than on photographing it with their camera phones. Have we really become so distracted by the trappings of occasions that we forget to focus on their deeper meanings?

It’s easy to feel controlled by all of the things that are possible these days, as well as by what “everybody else” is doing. However, we have the right—and sometimes, the obligation—to examine and question how we want to mark the special occasions in our lives. What is the most important aspect of the event we are hosting or attending? How best do we honor that aspect? How can we balance planning, presentation, and preserving memories with the actual opportunity to connect and engage in ritual and community in the moment? If you are the subject of the event, discuss these things with your photographer, videographer, family, and guests so that expectations are clear and your wishes are respected (as well as those of others who may prefer not to be photographed or filmed). If you are a guest at an event, take a few moments to see beyond the style—stunning as it may be—in order to appreciate the substance of the occasion. A beautiful photograph or video clip is a lovely momento to treasure, but in the end, it is still a collection of pixels filtered through the distance of a lens. It’s much more powerful to have the smell of the flowers, the warmth of the hug, the power of the music, and the light in the faces of your loved ones imprinted on your heart.

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