Be A Bullfrog! Just Say No!

"I'm not a diva. I'm a tadpole trying to be a frog" - Toni Braxton

I detest winter. I hate the cold, dark, snowy days and especially the quiet. Everything is eerily asleep. Spring is my favorite time of year because everything bounces back to life and the sounds of nature linger in the air. We have a relaxing pond with multiple waterfalls that trickle all summer long intermingling with the sounds of bees, birds and big ole bullfrogs.

As I’m writing, I am sitting by my pond right now with three massive bullfrogs staring me down huddled amongst the rocks. I know that there are many more which is rather creepy as we check one another out. Their throaty croaks echo around the breezy air while a fish or two jumps in competition.

 Over the years I have learned that each frog has its own personality. Some jump at the slightest sound, others are friendly and even tolerating playing dress up. The picture below was the handiwork of my son.  Harris easily caught a bullfrog and the frog patiently waited while Harris made him a little hat and he actually sat on the table for some time enjoying his new wardrobe! His older brothers were more interested in eating frog legs as a snack. I quickly shut that idea down!

As with everything in my garden, I was curious to learn more about my bullfrogs and their throaty croaks that sound like a drawn out “nooooooo”.

Just who is the bullfrog?

·         Bullfrogs are big. They can be 4-6 inches long and weigh up to 1 pound. They are native to North America living in lakes, ponds, marshes, woods, and slow waters. Yes, they probably would be a good light snack!
·         Bullfrogs live a long life. They can live up to 10 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity. They are true survivalists.
·         They can be fierce and are natural predators. Surprisingly, they are part of a group of the 100 most invasive species in the world.
·         They do have enemies (other than teenage boys wanting to eat their legs).  Raccoons, snakes, turtles, and large birds love them.
·         They don’t care much who they eat and will actually eat their own. They eat fish, mollusks, small birds, and mammals. Hmmm. Maybe I should shoo them away from my fully stocked fish pond?
·         Bullfrog has a very powerful body with a huge head and mouth.  They are designed for jumping and quickly glide through the water.
·         From where I am sitting now I can see hundreds of tiny tadpoles along the edge of the pond.  Females can lay up to 20,000 eggs however, I am sure that my Koi enjoy eating a large population of them. Luckily these little guys tend to eat algae and aquatic plants. It’s when they drop their tails that I will need to be concerned!
·         American bullfrogs are usually more active at night when they begin their deep throated croaking. Mine tend to like to vocalize in the early morning as well. Their “noooooo” vocals are very loud and can make me jump. Their croaking can be heard over a half mile away and they are very loud this time of year during mating season.

Bullfrogs add a glorious baritone to the high pitch singing of the birds and droning of the bumblebees. Unfortunately, they can’t drone out the annoying buzzing of mosquitoes in the dark of the night. As I listen to the low “nooooo” I am reminded just how hard the word “no” is for most of us to say – or say it with meaning! American Bullfrog Facts

As any parent knows, saying “no” to a young child isn’t always easy especially when they look so sweet with pleading eyes. Over time though you may find that it’s the only word that leaves your lips and you find  it’s all too easy to say “no” before the child is even done talking. So why do so many of us have such a hard time saying “no” at work to our boss or team?  If we are able to pull the word out of our lips we may very likely sound just like our friend the bullfrog. Our “no” comes out as a deep throaty drawn out “noooooo” making it hard to understand or hardly convincing. Why is saying “no” so difficult?

“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better that a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble” – Gandhi

Can you remember the last time that you offered up a flat out “no” at work to your boss or a colleague? Most of us don’t and if we do, it was uncomfortable wasn’t it? You may have had to pry the word from your lips and may have even drawn out the “no” just like the croak of the bullfrog. There are good reasons that we can’t say no very easy and I bet these will hit home:

·         Most of us hate to disappoint our team and we want to be seen as a “team player”.
·         We have a reputation to keep and we don’t want anyone to think that we can’t handle more responsibility.
·         Some of us are just too nice to say no. We want to be liked and a part of the group.
·         Some people take receiving the word “no” personally and most of us avoid hurting the feelings of others.
·         If you hate conflict you will avoid the two letter word at all cost!
·         Few of us like offending anyone and that’s  what it feels like when we say “no” to an “opportunity” when it’s presented to us.
·         There have been times when I have been flattered to be invited to work on another project when I probably should have spoke up and said “no” knowing all the work that I had on my plate already.
·          Let’s face it. Sometimes people catch us in a weak moment and we cave in and say “yes”.

I bet that there has been more than one time where you couldn’t say no and you committed yourself to more work. You quickly regretted it however; it’s tough to undo a “sure” with a “no thanks”.  In reality, you aren’t doing anyone a favor, including yourself, if you commit to something that you can’t give 100% to and may actually end up disappointing someone or your team with incomplete work.  One of my weaknesses is my over exuberant enthusiasm for new projects and opportunities. I say “yes” and jump into new projects without thinking of my current capacity for taking on more. I‘ve learned that I need to pause and step back to examine what else I can take on before opening my mouth.

You can say “no”! Just put your bullfrog lenses on and Say “NOOOOOOOOOO”!  Here are some tips to help you morph into “no”:

·         Stall by responding that you need to check your calendar and current projects. This gives you time to think the request over.
·         Accept that you owe it to yourself to protect your time and sanity. Be realistic about what you can take on.
·         Remember that there is a difference between pleasing everyone and helping out. You just can’t please everyone and the word “no” gives you an out.
·         Be true to yourself first as well as your own priorities and life commitments.
·         White lies aren’t always bad you know…..
·         Saying “no” to someone gives you the chance to say “yes” when you need to down the road.
·         You don’t want to become the person on the team that becomes known for always saying “yes” to everything.
·         Respond by saying that you can’t help out this time, but please check in again when help is needed.
·         Don’t allow yourself to become someone else’s dumping ground for work. Some people are very sneaky at spreading their work around to avoid doing it themselves.
·         Don’t feel guilty about saying “no”.
·         You can be a resource instead of taking on more work. You can also offer the name of a colleague that may be better equipped to help. Everyone wins this way.
·         Don’t make excuses and be honest with people why you can’t pitch in.
·         Practice saying “no” over and over in front of a mirror and become more comfortable with the word

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that it IS acceptable to say “NO”! Remember the bullfrog and feel free to croak the word out!

Don't Get Suckered!

"Never give a sucker an even break" - W.C Fields

Even though it's June I'm still toiling away in my garden getting chips down, digging up dead plant victims to the harsh winter and cleaning up. As I've been crawling around low and pruning up high I encountered something that I haven't seen in abundance in a long time - I've been "Suckered!" Guess what? You probably have been too but you just didn't know it.

Suckers are all around you. In this case, I'm not referring to your friends but to your garden. Have you ever had branches growing at the base of your trees like the picture below? Have you come across a woody plant or tiny thin tree growing an odd distance from a tree or bush? Frequently, the branches that sprout don't look a thing like the mother plant and seem to sprout out of nowhere. Just as the word indicates, “suckers” are not a good thing. In fact, suckers will drain the energy from your tree and may even weaken it to the point of death.  

Suckers are the result of a tree or large shrub trying hard to grow more branches, especially if it is stressed. On grafted trees (trees that have a different root stock from the actual tree to give it vigor or disease resistance – fruit trees are a prime example) the branches usually grow at the base of the tree like my Witch Hazel in the picture. What happens is the top part of the tree is happy as can be but the lower part (the roots) are stressed and the tree attempts to reproduce for protection. It essentially goes a little crazy. Other trees, like my Weeping Cherry, grow suckers as far as 5 feet away from the tree. I occasionally find small lanky trees trying to grow in odd places.

So what do you do with suckers? Pull them as soon as you find them. They grow super fast and have a lot of energy. They suck the energy from your trees and are parasites. In some cases on grafted trees they can take over the tree. Keep tearing them away and don’t let them take control. Some trees tend to sucker more than others and it’s just a matter of regularly pulling them. I’m always pulling suckers from the base of my Apple trees.

You can’t always prevent suckers but there are some things that you can do to try to keep them away.

ü  Keep your trees healthy and well watered. Fertilize them each spring. Strong trees have the energy to survive an onslaught of suckers.
ü  Don’t over prune your trees. It will weaken them. When I was young we never let my Mom have the pruners. She tended to go on a pruning rampage.
ü  Don’t over prune, but prune regularly. Pruning enables the tree to stretch out and grow. Pruning also stimulates growth hormones within the tree which is exactly what you want to start the new growing season.
ü  Pull those suckers the minute you see them and check back in periodically to make sure they haven’t returned.

"If you look around the table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you"– Paul Scofield

Do you sometimes feel like there are suckers all around you as you go through the day? They sap your attention, your energy, and your growth?  Suckers distract you and you feel like you are working hard but never getting anything done. There’s a name for these “suckers” and they don’t belong to your coworkers. The suckers that I’m talking about are productivity suckers. I’m guessing that right away you can name a few that pop into your mind. Their goal is to turn you into a fire fighter and to keep you busy without accomplishing a thing. They turn you into the person who is running around all day working like madman but seemingly getting nothing done. Stop the suckers! Yank them away like we do to the suckers on our trees and get growing!

Here’s a list of the most common productivity suckers that you want to avoid. I guarantee that you will take back control of your time and your results will grow:

ü  Attend fewer meetings. Shorten ones that you hold. Don’t feel obligated to accept every invite and are regular weekly meetings really beneficial? Nope. They are often the biggest time suckers of all. Start saying no and prioritize. Protect your time and your schedule.
ü  Run from chatty coworkers. Hide from the gossipers. Be pleasant but don’t get sucked in.
ü  Create action plans for yourself and others to avoid other priorities from creeping in.
ü  Avoid your email. Emails can pull you in and force you to lose your focus. Don’t manage by answering every email that comes in one after another. Create folders for low priority emails to drop into automatically. Stick to your priority list, not the email list.
ü  Don’t copy everyone on every email that you send. Stop people from copying you on every email. Copying = covering butts in most cases.
ü  Ignore emails all together and do what our parents did back in the day. Pick up the phone and have an actual discussion rather than an email war. Person to person communication will always win.
ü  Set aside quiet time for goal setting. Block your calendar. Silence the cell phone. Hide in the bathroom if you must. Do it.
ü  Don’t multitask. You know that it doesn’t really work. How many people do you know that multitask in meetings and are clueless about the discussion? Every day all day.
ü  Use the technology at your fingertips. Make sure it’s updated and functional. If you don’t know how to use it then learn. It will help you fight the time suckers.
ü  Stop trying to look good by being the “nice” girl to work on extra projects or be on every committee. You will soon be lost in a field of suckers. You know what they will do to you!

What is your worst productivity sucker? Email would be mine, and you?

Structure Matters. How Is Your Structure?

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show." - Andrew Wyeth

I love talking to new gardeners. They are so enthusiastic and have a lot of questions that I can generally answer. I was talking with a  friend this week and she just bought an old farm house that she wants to start a new garden in this spring. She's already frustrated because she doesn't know where to start and feels completely overwhelmed. My advice for her was to start with structure. Start with the structure and everything else will fall into place.

I always look at my garden in the dead of winter before the jungle growth begins in the spring. I can see what shrubs or trees need trimming or to be moved and what elements that I need to change. These are some pics of my garden and it helps me in the spring when I want to add plants or other structures. It also helps me in pruning my trees because I can easily see which branches are encroaching on healthy branches or if there are weak areas. Pictures really do say a thousand words.

Only the best garden designers can start with a blank space and design a complete garden with every plant picked out with perfection and in the right spot. They also use sophisticated software that most of us don't have access to. My advice to my friend was to look at her existing garden and examine the structure. Winter is a perfect time to do this because you can see what the garden looks like in it's sparsest form. Decide what looks good and what plants that you want to keep. See if some shrubs or trees are overgrown, scraggly, or too close to each other.

Once spring hits and the snow is gone, look at the space again. Add a bench or two. Put in a birdbath or some pots. Look at the structure again. Is everything symmetrical? Are the elements that you added "right" through your eyes? The beauty of adding these elements is that they break up a space and make it easier for your eyes and brain to connect and see what looks right. Once you have the garden area "divided" by your trees, shrubs, benches, or other structures then pick a segmented area and start to plant.

 Decide on what plants that you want in that space depending on the light and soil requirements. Buy the plants and put them in. Don't worry about having everything perfect. Gardening is meant to be fun and enjoyable. It's about doing what you want, not what others will think. I guarantee that you can't go wrong with this approach. By focusing on one area you will make better decisions because you won't be overwhelmed. It will look and feel "right" to you. It's also a lot cheaper to garden section by section and taking your time. Try it. I think that you  will love gardening by looking at your structure first.

"Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break" - Earl Wilson

The economic news keeps getting better and that's great news for job seekers. I was meeting with a friend earlier this week and she expressed her frustration with finding quality job applicants. She said that there are 1.7 jobs for every applicant in our area. Great news for people like me that the tide has changed. From a hiring standpoint, employers are going to need to work a bit harder in attracting talent going forward.

What I have found over the years, on both sides of the hiring table, is that too often applicants place money as their top priority in looking for a new spot. Bad idea folks. Studies have shown time after time that additional money only keeps the glow going for about 6 months. After that a whole lot of other factors come into play. These factors are different for everyone but include vacation, health insurance, educational opportunities, promotions, healthy living benefits, work friends, culture...the list is endless.

Like our gardens, we need to have the right "structure" or framework in place in order to have an impact in our jobs. If we don't have the "right" structure then our other wants aren't going to mean a hill of beans. I personally feel that culture is the #1 most important key factor in the success of a company's associates. I have immersed myself in learning about different company cultures and have personally lived in several, good and bad. The culture of a company impacts so many areas of a business and can literally mean the life or death of a successful organization. That's a tale for another time because the #2 factor for many of us should be structure.

Structure can mean many things in a business. It can refer to the organizational chart which is critical to some. It can be the size of offices, their location, their proximity to certain areas. I am referring to the open plan or closed office spaces within a company. Think about it. How many of you are introverts but are in an open office plan? I bet that it can really stress you out and drive you nuts because you can't focus. Not being able to focus can have a huge impact on how well you perform in your job. On the flip side, a lot of extroverts go absolutely crazy in a quiet closed office environment. The office can feel like a padded room and extroverts want no part of that! When looking at making a change in your life where you work and the structure in place really can be a deal breaker. Do you know your preference? Have you wondered why you are unsettled at work at times?  Have you really thought enough about it ? (Introverts have.....).

I have always worked in a closed office environment with my own office but quite a bit of activity within my area. Whenever I have visited our corporate offices and there was deep silence,  I became unnerved. Yup. I'm an extrovert (well, technically an ambivert but that's another story). Right now I work in an open office environment. No one has an office, even our CEO. I love it. There is always noise, conversations, and activity going on. I'm very effective at blocking out sounds (a Mommy trait) so the noise is soothing. The down side is of course, everyone hears everything! The introverts that I work with go nuts. They struggle to keep focused and hate being "exposed". At times it hinders their work and they resort to reserving a conference room in order to actually get work done. Introverts definitely understand what I'm referring to! If you know that you need quiet, or vise versa, to perform your best don't you think that you should take a hard look at your structure? Lack of the right structure will hinder your growth just as it does in a garden.

Only you can decide what kind of structure that you need. Where is the best spot for you to be planted within a company to perform best? If you are struggling at work with concentrating in a closed or open environment can you do anything to change it? If you are looking to make a new career move and need the right environment, one of your key questions needs to be how the company space is organized and configured. Are there places where you can go to work that will be conducive to working more effectively? For me, that may mean working from time to time near a lunchroom or busy conference area if I need some noise. I have a close friend that would curl up and whimper in a noisy area. You need to know yourself and know how you can be at the top of your game. Perhaps it's time to look a bit closer at what you can tweak in your work space to nudge you to success.

So. How IS your structure working for you?

Photo courtesy of Sektorfuenf via Compfight

Photo courtesy of theledge80- via Compfight