Larry Kim shared a post recently about the value of mindfulness. The term may sound a little New Age-y, but if you get past that, it’s a very useful practice for managing stress and clearing the mind. I’m not a strict adherent (to anything, really), but I’ve found many of the principles of mindfulness beneficial.
Writing out my thoughts in a notebook gets them out of my head and helps me recognize my positive and negative thought patterns. And when I remember something I need to do, I pull my notebook out of my shirt pocket and write it down, so I don’t need to worry I’ll forget it. (The Bullet Journal method is a simple, free and useful way to start.)
Stopping to concentrate on my body and posture tells me when I’m holding my shoulders high and tight in response to stress.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, pausing to take a few deep breaths is a valuable reset and helps me get back to it with a clearer frame of mind.
Making coffee by hand (grinding the beans with a manual grinder, folding the paper filter, pouring the water into the funnel and watching it drip) feels meditative and makes me appreciate the coffee more (and avoids that awful grinding noise first thing in the morning).
I’ve found that listening to the sounds around me while riding the train or walking to and from the bus stop is calmer, simpler and less stressful than constantly messing with my iPhone, podcast app or Spotify, wrangling cords, worrying about my battery and trying to make sure everything is downloaded and ready to play offline.
The more you do it, the more you recognize the things in your life that actually provide value, and the ones that are more trouble than they’re worth.
I have one good friend who recently moved to London, and another who will move there soon. When asked for recommendations, here’s what I sent. I didn’t bother with links. Google is your friend.
The London Eye is really, really worth it. Go on a sunny day, obvs.
Go to The Old Red Cow for Sunday lunch.
The Cabinet War Rooms are super cool. You can see Winston Churchill’s chamber pot.
The London Transport Museum is great, and sells cool posters from throughout the history of Tube ads.
There’s a pub called The King’s Head and Eight Bells on the Thames that is a beautiful, classic pub.
I worked at The Hand and Flower at 617 King’s Road, SW6, if you’re doing the David B. Thomas Tour.
If you like jazz, Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street is the king of jazz clubs.
Black cab drivers (drivers of black cabs) know everything about London and tell great stories. Google “The Knowledge.” That’s the test they have to take. They love to talk about it.
Before you get in a cab, you tell the driver where you want to go through the open window and wait for him to agree (which he will). It’s an odd little piece of etiquette.
Time Out London is the best guide to what’s going on in the city. It’s a weekly magazine.
Buy a “London A-Z” street guide. Everyone has one. Don’t forget to call it “A to Zed.”
Google “best pub lunches” and have a sausage roll and a ploughman’s lunch, but only in a place that gets good reviews. Bad ploughman’s are bad. Fun fact: the ploughman’s lunch was invented by an ad agency in the 1970s when sandwich bars were draining off lunchtime clientele. Real ploughmen couldn’t afford that much cheese.
All of the markets are cool and have different characters. Camden Market is eclectic and artsy, Brixton Market is multicultural and has a lot of interesting food and vegetable stands.
Borough Market is one of the greatest places on Earth. Fast for two days before you go. Go for breakfast and stay through lunch. Amazing place to see the renaissance of English real food. What a friend we have in cheeses.
The Notting Hill neighborhood is a lot of fun to wander around in. I think they have a market, or maybe it’s just like a market all the time. The Notting Hill Carnival is a big deal every year but it’s a giant mess (crowds, traffic, etc.), like all big city festivals. People who live in Notting Hill generally go out of town that week.
Covent Garden is a fun area to wander and the market is pretty good (antiques mostly, as I recall) but also much more touristy than the others.
Take a canal boat tour. There was probably only one when I did it and now there are a bunch, so Google it.
Pub etiquette: Unless things have changed, you don’t tip. But if you buy a large round (six or more drinks or so), or if you are there for a while and/or buy a lot of rounds or are generally difficult, you buy a drink for the barman (I don’t know the gender neutral version). The way you do it (at least when I was there) is you say, “And have one for yourself.” The barman will generally take money out for a half pint or a single whisky. Anything more is considered greedy. You probably won’t see the barman pour it and drink it. They might save it for the end of their shift. It used to be considered rude not to drink it at the time, but that’s changed.
Apparently I have a lot to say about London.
You probably know this, but English people are generally more reticent in conversation at first. They aren’t nearly as comfortable talking about themselves as Americans, and they generally think we’re loud and oafish. It’s not hard to disabuse them of that notion. I’ve heard many times, “You’re the nicest American I’ve ever met.” But I was working in a pub and serving people who only ever saw American tourists. You’ll likely be around more sophisticated folk.
I missed my bus this morning because it was early (as near as the six of us waiting for the next one could figure). That got me thinking about times when being early is bad (aside from babies).
I’ve learned not to show up too early for meetings, and especially job interviews. I know how I feel If I’m interviewing someone at 2:00 p.m. and he shows up at 1:45. I don’t think, “This guy gets the worm.” I think, “Now I can’t do that thing I needed to do in the 15-minute window before my next meeting.”
If it’s a morning meeting, that thing might be coffee. Double plus ungood.
Yes, I could leave the candidate marinating in the lobby. But that can be hard in a small office, or if someone brings the candidate to you. “You’re two o’clock is here! You deal with him.”
If I’m early, I make sure I’m in the right place, then wait until five minutes before the meeting time to approach the receptionist or knock on the door.
The converse or possibly obverse is also true. If you’re in the relative position of power, you send signals about what you’re like to work with. If you’re late, that could mean you’re disorganized, or don’t respect other people’s time, or your company is the kind of place where meetings never start on time and always run long. Those are never good signs, no matter who you’re meeting.
Presumably there is a mutual benefit to your meeting, regardless of who’s buying and who’s selling. (Not that I haven’t been to pointless meetings that benefit no one, but that’s another blog post.)
If you’re an overworked manager hiring for an essential role in a strong market, you may well be the one with the most to lose from making a bad impression. I heard a story from a candidate being wooed by several Bay Area companies. The second time he got stood up by a senior exec at his first choice company, he left and took them off his list.
In a perfect world it would look like a stock photo: the interviewee striding purposefully toward the waiting interviewer, hands reaching out in anticipation of a firm, dry and mutually-pleasurable handshake. And everyone would be smiling.
Except that one guy in his cube who can’t make heads or tails of all those darn spreadsheets and is holding his head in frustration.
I’ve heard that quote, most often attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, for many years. But it’s only in the last few that I have understood its value in a business context.
I’ve seen it explained as an exemplar of the upper-class Victorian attitude of power. With rank and privilege, you can demand what you want. But it has another meaning for me as both a leader and employee.
Your boss doesn’t want to hear excuses; your boss wants you to identify problems and create solutions. If you were up all night working on a client presentation, that means you either didn’t plan well or you don’t know how to delegate. There are very few times when you can complain about your workload or use it as an excuse for poor performance. You must do it carefully and sparingly.
If you find yourself complaining about a co-worker or explaining that your failures are caused by him, you’re telling your boss you can’t overcome obstacles. There’s a reason so many interviewers ask you about a seemingly insurmountable conflict and how you solved it.
Your colleagues and the people on your team don’t want to hear you justify your decisions or complain no one is listening to you. They want you to set a clear direction and act on it. When you explain, they hear it as lack of confidence. When you complain, they immediately compare your troubles to their own. And very few people think other people’s challenges are bigger.
The most successful people in any organization are the ones who meet their objectives without fuss. They focus on what’s important and make sure people see the value they provide without shouting about it. But there’s probably another maxim that covers that.