June 28, 2013

3 things to never do in a grocery store

1. Don’t choose items from the Middle Kingdom
Items placed at eye level catch your attention first. Retailers are wise to this and typically place the most expensive items front and centre on the middle shelves.

For better prices, shift your focus: check out the top and bottom shelves. Similarly, the middle aisles are usually the ones filled with convenience foods and packaged goods. Stick to the perimeter of the store for your fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and fresh bread. Venture into specific middle aisles only on an as-needed basis. The common tactic of strolling up and down every aisle just to see if there’s anything you need is a recipe for overspending.

2. Don’t give in to the kid factor
When confronted with a toddler meltdown, you might be willing to buy anything just to stop the madness. Kids of all ages (spouses, too, occasionally) can be a challenge in grocery stores.

They distract you from your list and the prices of the items you are choosing. They get impatient, leading you to start throwing items in your cart just to get the job done. And sometimes they throw their own highly processed, over-priced favourites into the cart as well.

If you can, try to shop without the kids until they are at an age at which you can make the trip an educational and interactive experience, teaching them about food choices and price comparisons.

3. Don’t shop when you’re hungry
It’s incredible how a craving for Doritos can sneak up on you. You leave the office or finish up at the gym and you stop at the supermarket to look for ideas for dinner. By the time you get to the checkout, you’ve got all the ingredients to make a heap of baked nachos, a frozen pizza and duck à l’orange with crème brûlée for dessert. Plus two new kinds of breakfast cereal and a box of fat-free chocolate coconut bars. Hungry much?

When you’re starving, everything looks good and just the suggestion of a certain dish can stimulate an instant craving. If you find yourself stuck having to go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, grab a (lower-priced) energy bar to munch on while you shop — you can pay for it with your other groceries.

June 20, 2013

10 Best Ways to Avoid Burnout at Work

1. Regular workouts:
I usually start my day with a run or lifting weights. It doesn’t have to be a long workout and the mode doesn’t matter, but I find doing something active each morning clears my mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts me in the right physical state for the rest of the day.

2. Evening walk:
This has been a critical element, since I noticed when I got home most days I couldn’t turn off and out of habit would head for my computer. I didn’t have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind. And it works.

3. Reading fiction:
I had not been a fan of fiction and when I read books they were usually business related. But now I seeks a break, with fantasy, science fiction, and other books that transport myself away.

4. One-day respite:
Recently I felt I could be slipping close to burnout again, so I now takes one day a week off from work and its electronic tether, e-mail. It’s tough, and I hold off on running errands during the week and save it for that day. I almost force myself to be off work that day so I don’t have the potential to screw it up. The break is usually a Saturday or Sunday; I tend to rotate.

5. Intellectual hobbies:
a friend of mine recently bought an espresso machine, in part because she likes coffee but also because it was something she could engross herself in as a hobby – stimulate her mind, outside of work, but more intellectually than escapist fiction. She has been learning to roast beans on a little roaster on her deck and seeking to prepare the perfect latte. It also fits her schedule – she dabbles in the hobby as he prepares her brew which I think will help her to change her focus on work.

6. Small wins:
Since so much of burnout is mental, I try to acknowledge the small wins I am having every day. I break big challenges into small tasks that I can complete and feel good about.

7. Healthy diet:
When you’re pushing hard at work you need to eat well, agree? I try my best to avoid junk food and a steady regimen of pizzas.

8. Limiting decisions:
I was talking to one of my colleagues the other day. He mentioned that he was impressed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s revelation that he wears only blue and grey suits so there’s one less decision to be made each day. He believes decision fatigue can drain you, so he similarly tries to avoid decisions by building habits, such as the apple before his workout and the nutrition bar afterwards – no need to come up with a new choice every day.

9. Date night:
My wife is busy, but we try our best to take one night a week for each other.
 10. Yearly unplugs:
Here, I urges you to take time, at least once a year, where you are away from work for more than a single day. If I go for more that a year without an unplug I feel myself close to burnout.

In short, from personal experience, I don’t want to go there again. Cheers!

June 13, 2013

How smoking at home reduces property values

A recent survey of Ontario real estate agents in Ontario found that smoking in a home could lower the value of your property by up to 30 per cent. The survey was sponsored by Pfizer Canada and besides the obvious damage by staining walls and carpets, it can leave a smell that is very hard to eliminate.

It makes sense that a home with a smoky smell or strong odour will be harder to sell as it will deter most buyers. 

Landlords are permitted to include no smoking clauses in their leases. But they can only evict a tenant who smokes if they can prove the smoking has damaged the unit or is bothering the other tenants

The Non-Smoker’s Rights Association published their own study demonstrating that the average costs for a landlord to clean an apartment is two to three times greater when it was occupied by a heavy smoker. They also quote statistics from Canadian Fire Marshals demonstrating that cigarettes, lighters and matches remain one of the top causes of residential fires.
Similar statistics are found with resale cars where the prior owner was a heavy smoker and it is difficult to remove the smell from the upholstery.

Buyers, be suspicious if you notice the fans going or electric air fresheners whenever visiting a home for the first time.
Sellers, don’t try to cover up or hide odour issues that you know about. Get rid of any foul odour before putting your home for sale, to maximize your return.

June 07, 2013

How to Get Your Boss to Say Yes

You have this really wonderful idea but:
A.) It's a little bit out of the ordinary, so the traditional way you go about getting approvals is not going to work.
B.) Your boss has previously shown signs of being "risk adverse."

How do you get the go-ahead?

The first answer is don't ask — at least not at first.

Are we advocating the old adage that it is always easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission? Sort of. What we're saying is that your first series of actions should not create a situation where you have anything to apologize for — even if you're not acting with the boss's permission.

The way to make that happen?

1. Your initial steps should have you acting like an entrepreneur. You want to act quickly with the means at hand. (That's right — before you ask for approval.) What's right around you that you can employ?

You have to be the judge of the size of those steps. Executing it must carry no negative consequences for anyone, especially you and your boss. Then, keep taking those tiny steps for as long as you can.

As you are taking your small steps, under the radar screen, get other respected people's help and fingerprints all over it. That will do a few things for you, all of them good. You will: gain additional perspectives ("Hey, did you ever think about this?"); have access to additional resources ("Sure, we have a lot of X that we aren't using); and be introduced to other like-minded people that, quite frankly, might give you a bit of protection should you be discovered at this early stage. Again, only you know how far you can go with this. The politics of every organization are different, and you don't want to do anything that could be taken to mean you are trying an end-run around your boss.

2. At some point (again, you have to be the judge) you'll want to let your boss know what you're doing. Even then, avoid asking for approval if you can. The conversation might go something like this:

"Hey, boss. I have this idea that fits in with what the company is trying to accomplish and could make some money. I haven't a clue if it is going to work, so I'm just spending a little time during off-hours or during downtime on it. I just wanted to give you a heads-up."

This conversation:
  • Keeps your boss from being surprised. (That's always a good thing.)
  • Buys you time to see if the idea is actually doable. If it's not, you don't have anything to ask your boss for later.
  • Gives you information. You might learn the idea is doable, but you don't want to do it. And that is a good thing to know, before you offer up the idea for formal approval. (You can suggest people who would be perfect to spearhead the initiative.)
The smart boss will appreciate your enthusiasm and initiative and maybe even try to help, or offer a suggestion or two. At the very least, she won't stop you at this point.

The dumb boss will say something like "if you have any time to spare, work on what I already assigned you to do." If this happens more than once, you probably want to transfer to another boss or job. Research has shown that a prime determinant of workplace satisfaction and performance is a supportive boss who respects you and your ideas.

Okay, you've taken some more steps. The idea is a good one and you want to be involved in it going forward and it's going to require your boss to not only sign off, but also provide some resources. What do you do?

3. Make your best prediction of what the acceptable loss is for other key players, especially your boss. You already know the first couple of steps to take. You position the idea in the context of her hot buttons, whatever they may be.

"Hey boss, you know how you are always talking about how our department has to be more innovative. Well, the thing I have been working on seems to fit with that perfectly."

From there, you want to make sure you keep your requests (at least at first) within her realm of acceptable loss. How much is she likely to be willing to risk and write off if the idea fails? How can you do everything humanly possible to keep the number at risk below that?

Implicit in this is that the next step is going to be relatively small. That's a good thing. When you are facing the unknown — and starting something new certainly qualifies — you always want to begin by taking small steps. In fact, when you have been acting on your own, and even when you are acting with the approval of your boss, you are preceding just as successful serial entrepreneurs do:
  • They take a small step toward their goal.
  • They pause to see what they learned from taking that step. ("Yes, it looks like it is worth continuing for now.")
  • They build off of what they learned.
  • The process repeats until they (and you) achieve their goal — the project is a success — or they realize it cannot be done, or they find something more appealing.
Who knows? Telling your boss that she's acting like one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history might get things to go in your favor.

May 29, 2013

10 Most Common Interview Q&A

There's no worse feeling than when you're in an interview and the interviewer asks you a question to which you don't know the answer. The best way to handle this dreaded debacle is to go into the interview prepared. Familiarize yourself with a few common difficult questions and arm yourself with answers prepared ahead of time.

Check out these tough interview questions and some suggested responses in order to avoid an interview disaster:

Tough question No. 1: "Tell me about yourself."
This is usually the opening question in an interview and it's the perfect moment for you to toot your own horn -- not to tell your life history. Your answers should be a quick rundown of your qualifications and experience. Talk about your education, work history, recent career experience and future goals.
Suggested answer: "I graduated from University X and since then, I have been working in public relations with an agency where I have generated millions of PR hits for my clients. While I've enjoyed working on the agency side, I'm looking to expand my horizons and start doing PR for corporate companies such as this one."

Tough question No. 2: "Why did you leave your last job?"
This is your chance to talk about your experience and your career goals, not to badmouth a former boss or give a laundry list of reasons for your exit. Instead, focus on what you learned in your previous position and how you are ready to use those skills in a new position.
Suggested answer: "The company just wasn't a good fit for my creativity, but I learned that organizations have distinct personalities just like people do. Now I know where I'll be a better fit."

Tough question No. 3: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Let the employer know that you're stable and you want to be with this company for the long haul. Keep your aspirations to take over the firm with which you are interviewing, own your own company, retire at 40 or be married with five children to yourself.
Suggested answer: "I want to secure a civil engineering position with a national firm that concentrates on retail development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing firm has to offer."

Tough question No. 4: "What are your weaknesses?"
The key to answering this age-old question is not to respond literally. Your future employer most likely won't care if your weak spot is that you can't cook, nor do they want to hear the generic responses, like you're "too detail oriented" or "work too hard." Respond to this query by identifying areas in your work where you can improve and figure out how they can be assets to a future employer. If you didn't have the opportunity to develop certain skills at your previous job, explain how eager you are to gain that skill in a new position.
Suggested answer: "In my last position, I wasn't able to develop my public-speaking skills. I'd really like to be able to work in a place that will help me get better at giving presentations and talking in front of others."

Tough question No. 5: "Why were you laid off?"
This question will become more common as the economy continues to slow down. It's a tough question, however, especially because many workers aren't told exactly why they were laid off. The best way to tackle this question is to answer as honestly as possible.
Suggested answer: "As I'm sure you're aware, the economy is tough right now and my company felt the effects of it. I was part of a large staff reduction and that's really all I know. I am confident, however, that it had nothing to do with my job performance, as exemplified by my accomplishments. For example..."

Tough question No. 6: "Tell me about the worst boss you ever had."
Never, ever talk badly about your past bosses. A potential boss will anticipate that you'll talk about him or her in the same manner somewhere down the line.
Suggested answer: "While none of my past bosses were awful, there are some who taught me more than others did. I've definitely learned what types of management styles I work with the best."

Tough question No. 7: How would others describe you?
You should always be asking for feedback from your colleagues and supervisors in order to gauge your performance; this way, you can honestly answer the question based on their comments. Keep track of the feedback to be able to give to an employer, if asked. Doing so will also help you identify strengths and weaknesses.
Suggested answer: "My former colleagues have said that I'm easy to do business with and that I always hit the ground running with new projects. I have more specific feedback with me, if you'd like to take a look at it."

Tough question No. 8: "What can you offer me that another person can't?"
This is when you talk about your record of getting things done. Go into specifics from your résumé and portfolio; show an employer your value and how you'd be an asset.
Suggested answer: "I'm the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my passion for excellence sets me apart from the pack. I am committed to always producing the best results. For example..."

Tough question No. 9: "If you could choose any company to work for, where would you go?"
Never say that you would choose any company other than the one where you are interviewing. Talk about the job and the company for which you are being interviewed.
Suggested answer: "I wouldn't have applied for this position if I didn't sincerely want to work with your organization." Continue with specific examples of why you respect the company with which you are interviewing and why you'll be a good fit.

Tough question No. 10: "Would you be willing to take a salary cut?"
Salary is a delicate topic. In today's tough economy though, how much a company can afford to pay you might be the deal breaker in whether or not you are offered a position.
Suggested answer: "I'm making $X now. I understand that the salary range for this position is $XX - $XX. Like most people, I would like to improve on my salary, but I'm more interested in the job itself than the money. I would be open to negotiating a lower starting salary but would hope that we can revisit the subject in a few months after I've proved myself to you."