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Exercise in Willpower – Level 3 Update

April 28, 2010

So much for updating every day. I have been working out every morning, like I said, so that’s a good thing. Yesterday though, I got so wrapped up in what I was doing that I forgot to update. Which isn’t a bad thing, except that I said I would. I also didn’t go for a walk yesterday, but I did engage in other aerobic exercise, so I’m hoping that counts.

In any case, my walk today was lovely. Beautiful, if chilly, weather here, which makes walking all the more enjoyable.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful day as well.

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Excellent Customer Service

April 28, 2010

My husband went out last Thursday to see Avenue Q, which has been one of our favorite musicals since we first heard the music in college. When we found out it was touring to our part of the world, we jumped at the chance to go.

I actually bought the tickets for Ben as his anniversary present (Paper Anniverary = Paper tickets to see his favorite show… I am so clever), and so to re-celebrate our anniversary, we went out to dinner. On our actual anniversary we had wanted to go my favorite restaurant in town, a place called Food Dance. They use mostly ingredients grown by local farmers, and the food is always amazing. Unfortunately, on the Sunday that we had been planning to celebrate, they were closed.

Disappointed but not discouraged, we went to another great restaurant in town, where our server was truly awful (we suspect she was new). We told the hostess that we were there celebrating our first anniversary, and she congratulated us, but then nothing else happened. Our server didn’t ask us why we were there, no one said anything about our anniversary, and, to top it all off, because our server was new (and therefore slow), dinner ended up taking almost two hours, causing us to miss our movie time. The food itself wasn’t bad, but it was not the anniversary dinner I had been hoping for.

So, meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Being a Thursday, Food Dance was open. We walked in and in the course of the conversation with hostess I mentioned that we were excited about dining with them this evening because we had tried to come for our anniversary but it was a Sunday evening, so they were closed. She apologized, which I brushed off, because it would have been easy to figure out if they were going to be open while we were making our plans, and she took us to our table.

First of all, our server, whose name was Ashely, was fantastic. She was friendly, she was knowledgeable. She’d obviously been doing what she was doing for a while and still really enjoyed it. We didn’t mention that we were celebrating our anniversary to her, because it never came up in conversation. While observing her behavior with other tables, where she asked them why they had come to Food Dance that evening, I realized that either a) she had forgotten to ask us why we were here, which seemed unlikely, or b) that she already knew. I wasn’t expecting much, since it was almost a month after our anniversary, but it still made me curious.

Dinner was delicious, which is no surprise, but was a delight. I had wild Alaska salmon with a cucumber relish served over a sushi rice and ginger cake-thing. That was probably my favorite part of the whole dish. Sushi rice with ginger is amazing. I will definitely have to try to replicate it when I have my rice cooker again.

Just after we ordered dessert (we opted for the 4″ diameter decadent chocolate cake, as urged by our server, over cherry crisp a la mode), the manager came over and asked us how everything was. We gushed about the quality of the food and the service and told her this is our favorite restaurant in town. And then she mentioned that she had heard it was our anniversary, at which point I saw our server coming towards us from across the restaurant with a sparkler stuck in a dessert.

I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. They wished us a happy belated anniversary, and the manager thanked us for not giving up on coming to the restaurant. And our server told us that, in honor of our anniversary, they were buying our dessert (which is why the server had encouraged us to chose the more expensive cake).

The reason that Food Dance is my favorite restaurant is because they have incredible, delicious food. I’ve really never had anything there that wasn’t amazing. But the reason they’re so successful as a restaurant (and they are, they recently moved into a much larger location, and are still very busy) is because they haven’t forgotten that the little things matter.

They didn’t have to do anything that they did, not really.

I mean, you go to a restaurant where you’re paying between $20 and $30 for a dinner, you expect the food to be good. Maybe even great. But it doesn’t have to be perfect, and yet, at Food Dance, it always is. And this isn’t just my opinion, I’ve never talked to anyone who’s had a meal there that they didn’t love. Seriously.

It’s always nice if a restaurant has friendly, competent servers, but if you get a bad one, it’s not unexpected. I’ve been to Food Dance five times over the last four years, with five different servers, and the service has always been impeccable. However they train their servers, they do a damn good job.

The hostess, who usually is in a position to know, doesn’t have to pass on to the manager that one of their guests is there celebrating. It’s not required for her to be doing her job, but it is a nice extra touch, and shows that she cares.

The manager doesn’t have to authorize a free dessert to be bought for the celebrating people, and one of those expensive desserts on the menu to boot, but she did.

None of those things are necessary. They’re none of them hard, but they all take a little extra effort, a little extra caring. They’re not expected, but they are noticed and appreciated by guests, and they are one of those things that turn a good experience into a FANTASTIC experience.

They did everything right.

Excellent customer service isn’t terribly complicated. But it can be hard. It can be hard to keep employees motivated to do a great job. It can be hard to judge where the mark is and hit or exceed expectations every time. But if you can do it, even 9 times out of 10, you’ll reap the benefits of your efforts. It’s hard, but it’s worth it, because then you have one person who had an okay experience, and nine people like me, raving to complete strangers who will probably never even find themselves in this little corner of the world, telling them how amazing the experience was.

An Exercise in Willpower: Level 3

April 26, 2010

Today is the start of my exercise in willpower series, level 3. If you’ve been following along, you might remember that today is the day I am supposed to start adding physical exercise to my morning routine.

Level 1: Wake up at 7 am, M-F, and 8 am, Sa-Sn

Level 2: In bed by 11 pm (with lights out at 11:30 pm), Su-Th, F-Sa it changes to 12 am, 12:30 am, respectively.

Level 3: Do five minutes of stretching and fifteen minutes of pilates right after I wake up.

Well, I did it. Kind of. I (foolishly) had wine last night. A glass with dinner and a glass after. Alcohol and I don’t play as nicely as they could (I’m a cheap date), and so while I wasn’t feeling buzzed after that amount of alcohol, I did have enough in my system to mess up my sleep more than I would like. And, because my willpower is weak when it comes to spending time with my husband, I was up until midnight doing so.

Between the wine and the going to bed and hour past my bedtime, I woke up 30 minutes late and a little groggy. Stupid wine. Also, my cell phone had randomly shut itself off, which meant one of my alarms didn’t go off. I’m less concerned about the alarm not going off than I am about the fact that my cell phone randomly shut itself off. I mean, it wasn’t even low on battery. What gives?

But in any case, I got up, I did my workout. It was more refreshing than I thought it would be, and did, in fact, wake me up. That’s the first time I’ve had that experience with a morning workout. In the past I’ve always still felt a little sluggish and sleepy.

I rewarded myself with coffee, because I didn’t want to do the workout in the first place, and so I figured some sort of reward for having done it would be good. But it would have to be something like coffee, that I would have had anyway, so I can eventually remove the reward and not remove the motivation for doing the activity.

I think I’m going to add an addendum to Level 3. I think I’m going to add walking around the block in the afternoon to the mix. I know I said I was going to add incremental change, and do things one step at a time, but the workout this morning was so refreshing, and I always hit that slump around 2:30. If I took a brisk walk around the block, maybe that would help.

I guess we’ll see.

I’m going to go back to posting daily about my progress since exercise is the thing that I’ve previously had so much trouble maintaining. My goal is to start a post in the morning after I’ve done my morning work, and the post it at 3:30, after I’ve done my afternoon walk.

The Anti-Resume Experiment: Businesses

April 24, 2010

I wrote on Monday that I was going to send anti-resumes to a bunch of different businesses in Michigan to see how they would respond.


Bed, Bath, and Beyond – I’ve always loved how friendly, helpful and enthusiastic the employees are at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I have always felt that if they were hiring when I was looking for a job, we’d be a great fit. And just my luck, they’re actually hiring. Bonus.

Barnes and Nobles – I have wanted to work at a bookstore since I was old enough to understand that “working” is the thing my parents did so they could buy me books. I think I was eight at the time. The only bookstore in town is Barnes and Noble, so I’m going to try my luck there. Again.

Fast Signs – A local design company that does marketing and other signs for area businesses. I had some dealings with them in previous jobs, and they’ve always produced high quality work and been friendly and helpful besides.

The public library – I’ve wanted to work at a library for longer than I’ve wanted to work at a book store. Then I found out that most people who work at the library have advanced degrees in things like history and library science. All I really want is to work at the front desk. I wonder if they’ll make an exception if I turn it a totally awesome Anti-Resume?

The Plan

My plan of attack is to apply to the above businesses in the order in which I’ve presented them here. I was originally planning to suggest a type of anti-resume that I was going to send to each business, but right now I’m not sure.

My goal is to send out the first anti-resume to Bed, Bath, and Beyond by Friday, April 30th.

Today is a RESET kind of day

April 23, 2010

Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed

This day started out poorly and just went down hill from there.

I woke up at 7:00, right when my alarm went off and got out of bed. At that point I thought I was doing fine, so I went in to get coffee and sit down at my computer to consider what I had to do today. I knew what projects I had to work on, but I couldn’t seem to get my mind in gear. I sat there, staring at my computer, thinking “I should do something,” and nothing was happening.

I moved over to the couch with my computer and my coffee, and decided to try to write the post that I promised everyone today about The Anti-Resume Experiment. 20 minutes later I had nothing, and so I decided to close my eyes for a minute and clear my head. I set the alarm on my phone for 30 minutes, and lay down.

I woke up three hours later, cold coffee on the end table by my head and a puppy curled up on my feet. Apparently I had completely missed the alarm.

Now the post was late (although if I get it done before midnight, I’ll still technically have fulfilled my promise), I still hadn’t accomplished anything, and it was almost time for lunch. Instead of lunch I got some more coffee and sat down again at my desk to do something useful. I decided to call my mom to see if she could look at something for me and give me her opinion on it. I sent it to her via email while we chatted, but ten minutes later she still hadn’t received it. I sent it to her again, and also to my step-dad, but no luck. I don’t know if the screw-up was on my end (it didn’t look like it), or her end (possible, but I don’t know how we’d tell). In any case, we weren’t going to get anywhere with it, so I hung up to let her get on with her day, and went looking for something else I might be able to accomplish.

I decided to figure out how much it was going to cost us to get our windshield repaired (huge crack in it) since our deductible on such expenses is $500. I pulled out the files and started going through them when there was a huge crash in the other room. I jumped, spilled my coffee all over my desk (thankfully missing my laptop), and swore vociferously. Putting my laptop up out of the range of the slowly spreading coffee, I ran out in the living room to find that the puppy had knocked over one of my plants.

40 minutes later, the coffee was cleaned up, the dirt and broken pottery were cleaned up, the plant was in a make-shift planter in the garage, and I started writing this post.

Hitting the RESET button

Following the advice of my brilliant Aunt, I am going to hit “Reset” on this day. I’m going to take a shower, change clothes and eat breakfast for lunch. The “new” day can hardly be worse than the current one. I mean, it’s possible, but I prefer to be hopeful and optimistic.

Hopefully, the next time you hear from me, it will be when I tell about all of the places I’m going to send Anti-Resumes over the coming weeks.

Reading The Anti-Resume Revolution – Chapter 8

April 21, 2010

I wrote a little bit about The Anti-Resume Revolution on Monday. Now that I’ve finished it, I can truly say that buying it was one of the best decisions I’ve made recently. Normally, if I’m interested in a book, I wait until I can get it at the library. Well, unfortunately (or fortunately), because The Anti-Resume Revolution is self-published, that wasn’t an option. So I bought it. I almost never regret a book purchase, and this is no exception.

Positive upside of ownership #1: I don’t feel bad for writing on the pages, because Angela Lussier (the author) told me to.

Positive upside of ownership #2: When I realize how completely revolutionary and awesome the book is, I can lend it to the people who most need to read it.

Possible downside of #2: If I’m going to lend the book to people, maybe I shouldn’t write in it, so they don’t have to be distracted by my scribbles. Hmmm…

The solution? Write a blog post! Awesome.

So, Chapter 8. Chapter 8 is all about branding, and figuring out what makes you unique so you can market yourself. Throughout the chapter, Angela asks several questions that really helped me think about who I am and what I have to offer.

Question 1: Find a partner and give them the elevator speech of you. Talk for 30 seconds, and then have them sum up what they heard in one to two sentences.

For this, I called my mom, who is pretty much the best sounding board ever. Her sum-up was:

I’m currently exploring self-employment. I like helping people and I’m interested in Marketing, Personal Finances, and Education.

Question 2: Imagine that you got a call from Oprah to come on her show “for something special you accomplished in your life. What have you done either professionally or in your personal life that would warrant an interview.” (p.78)

My answer:

I am one of the youngest movers in the Education Reform Movement, and I’ve just written a book about Education Reform and I continue to work to transform how we teach our young people. And I did it all despite running a flourishing consultant business from home and raising two kids. My husband has been a big help and source of support and encouragement.

Questions 3 and 4: “What do I stand for?”and “What do I want to be remembered for?”

I grouped those questions together because they’re so big as to be completely overwhelming, and I’m not sure I can answer them. My brain shuts down. It’s like the thought experiment in a book I read recently (Maybe Made to Stick, but I can’t find it), where the authors ask the reader to think of ten white things. Most people come up with two or three, and no more. Then they ask the reader to think of ten white things in the refrigerator. That’s much easier, and most people can come up with eight, ten, or even more items that are white in the fridge. What’s missing in the first half of the experiment is context, a frame to narrow the process, and help kick your brain into gear.

So, instead of considering the HUGE questions, I’m going to answer a question she never asks directly: What do I want people to remember about why I do what I do?

Why do I want to help people figure out their finances?

Because when I graduated from college I didn’t have a clue, and I know I’m not alone. I dug myself a pretty deep hole, financially, and it’s only because I wised up quick that I have some savings and am only in debt up to my waist, and not my eyeballs. Even so, I made a boat load of mistakes along the way that could have easily been avoided. I want to help people avoid the mistakes I made, and I know that I can help because, unlike most people, I like numbers and spreadsheets and thinking about budgeting. And what’s more, I’m good at it.

Why do I want to reform the education system?

This is much longer term, but I’ve been thinking about it for years and actively working on it since I graduated from college.
I want to change the way we educate our young because we’re doing our country and our children a disservice by teaching to tests and limiting how and what they learn. I loved school, and love learning, but I meet so many people for whom that is not the case, and I think that’s wrong. School shouldn’t beat the creativity out of you, it should enhance your unique ways of being creative and thinking about the world. School shouldn’t make us conform, they should help us diverge. We’d all be healthier, happier, and more productive if that were the case.

And the final question from the chapter that really made me think is “What makes me different?”

I’m creative, enthusiastic, motivated, and empathic.

I love to learn and experience new things, I always see the positive side of things, and trying to envision a better future is a hobby of mine.

So now I have a few more pieces in the puzzle of figuring out what I’m good at and what I have to offer the world. Of course, I didn’t consider all of the questions in the chapter, because some of them didn’t seem relevant because I’m not to the point where I have enough information to really think about the answers. It’s a very thought provoking chapter, though, and if you’re in a position to be considering these kinds of questions, again, I highly recommend the book.

An Exercise in Willpower: Level 2 Update

April 20, 2010

Last Monday, I posted about Level 2 of my current project in willpower.

Level 1 started with getting up at 7 am every morning, and with Level 2, going to bed at 11 pm, so that getting up at 7 am wasn’t completely unreasonable.

I’ve been working on Level 2 for seven days today, starting last Monday and skipping the weekends. I decided early on in this project that the weekends weren’t going to count, because I often meet friends or catch a movie, which keeps me out back midnight. I do still try to get up at 8 am, in order to not completely screw up my schedule.

How’s it going?

It’s going really well. Last night, because my brain was tired and I really needed a break, I stayed up a little past my “bed time” and watched Bolt, which was just the kind of decompression I needed, but it meant I didn’t get to bed until midnight or a little after. Therefore, this morning, I woke up at 7:15 am instead of 7:00 am.

I’m not too worried about it though. No plan is ever executed without a few bumps and snags, and this one is no different. For the most part, the whole exercise has been a rousing success. I’ve been getting enough sleep on a regular basis, I’ve been getting things accomplished, and I feel great.

What’s next?

Having successfully completed Levels 1 and 2 as I’ve set them out for myself, Level 3 is next.

Level 3 is going to start Monday, 4/26, and the new plan is going to look like this:

  • Go to bed every night at 11 pm
  • Wake up every morning at 7 am
  • Stretch for five minutes
  • Do Pilates for 15 minutes
  • Eat breakfast and get work done on my projects until 9:30 am
  • Start working at 10 am

My favorite personal finance blogger, Trent Hamm, wrote just the other day about the wisdom of incremental change. He writes:

One step forward is better than “five steps forward, four steps back.” On the surface, the accomplishment is the same, but underneath it, the “five steps forward, four steps back” approach leaves you worn out mentally and physically and reduces your ability to really trust yourself.

Most of the change I’ve implemented in my life (or at least tried to implement) has been of the “five steps forward, four steps back” variety. As Trent points out, this is less useful because it leaves you worn out and diminishes your trust in yourself. I’ve always sort of known that it was better to do incremental change, but now I have proof.

I have been very pleased with my progress thus far, and I am looking forward to getting back into a regular exercise routine by incrementally stepping up how much I do in the mornings every few weeks. I’m not sure yet what Level 4 will look like, or how soon I’ll implement it, but making progress is always exciting.

Inadvertant side bonus of this whole project: I now spell ‘exercise’ right on the first try, without having to think about it too hard. I used to think it should be spelled ‘excersice’ or ‘excercise’ or something with an X and a C in the front. Which is wrong. Obviously. Hooray for correcting my own spelling!

Check out these related posts:

An Exercise in Willpower: Day 1
An Exercise in Willpower: Level 2
My Current Projects page