Want to Improve Your Business Skills? Try Working a Crossword Puzzle

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An editor I worked with many years ago used to set out the day’s New York Times crossword puzzle so that everyone in the office could fill in the blanks that he could never finish. Usually by the end of the day, that crossword puzzle was completely filled in.

Another company I know has one or two jigsaw puzzles set up in one corner of the office in varying stages of completion. Workers who pass by can work on them, filling in a few pieces at a time while taking a break from their own tasks. Little by little, the puzzles are getting becoming more complete.

You don’t have to work in an office with a group of co-workers to enjoy the benefits of working puzzles. Computer games make it possible to complete puzzles on your own. Whether you play Free Flow, Angry Birds or Tetris, on your own or with a group of people, on the computer or in an office, computer games and puzzles can do more for your professional life than just provide a temporary respite from the daily grind. They can also help you build skills that are as beneficial to your business success as they are to your personal life. Here’s what games and puzzles can do for you:

They can help you solve problems. 
When playing games and puzzles, you are faced with a task, and it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it, whether it’s to arrive at a certain destination, overcome an obstacle or reach some other goal. You may not have all the information you need to get there so you have to make the best decisions possible, and you may not have a lot of time to make them. Games like chess can also help you learn to anticipate an opponent’s moves so you can be prepared to respond appropriately. The more problems you solve in puzzles and games, the more skilled you become in solving problems in your everyday business life.

They help you process data and meet deadlines. 
Since some games are timed, you may be faced with a running clock – or a looming deadline — while trying to solve a problem. When you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you have to make snap decisions. You learn to quickly assess a problem, come up with possible solutions then decide which one will work best in that situation – all while racing against the clock. If you work in a fast-paced environment, these types of timed games can help you become better problem solvers while under pressure to meet a deadline.

They help improve concentration and focus. 
Playing puzzles and games helps you focus on the task at hand and block out distractions and improve your concentration. When you are able to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption, you can resolve the problem or reach goals more quickly. Participating in games and puzzles proves that multi-tasking is counterproductive because you need to have good concentration to successfully complete the puzzle or problem in front of you.

They help develop self-trust and intuition.
When working on problems at work or working on a puzzle in your spare time, you may find yourself working with limited data. With less than optimal amounts of information available, you have to find other means to solve problems. Usually that means trusting your own past experience and your intuition to know what your next move may be.

They help improve your emotional and mental outlook. 
The most obvious benefit to playing games is the emotional lift it gives you. Games are just plain fun, and when you take time to have fun, your outlook improves. By setting aside your own work problems to focus on a puzzle or game for even 10 or 15 minutes gives your brain a rest so that when you do come back to work, you can look at a problem or task with a clear head. And with a clear head comes a solution you did not see before.

Clearly, games and puzzles offer many benefits. Just don’t overdo it on the playing part and refrain from using games to avoid working on a project you should be doing. If you have a habit of spending too much time playing games and puzzles, and not enough time working on your latest client project, perhaps you need to time yourself. Games and puzzles are a leisure activity after all, not a key part of your job. So set the clock for 30 minutes for play time, then get back to work.

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

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I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.

How Creative People Can Survive in Non-Creative Jobs

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When you think of a creative person, what images comes to mind? An improvisational comedian? A ballet dancer, an artist or songwriter?  Do you ever stop to consider that maybe business owners and company CEOs have a creative spirit too? It’s not always obvious to the rest of us. But I believe they could not have reached their level of success without having some creative juice coursing through their veins. The rest of us don’t always get to see it.

I believe we are all born with creative gifts. It doesn’t matter if you are the company CEO, the sales manager or the guy in the mailroom. We all have a creative source within us that begs to be exercised. It is no wonder I see so many people leave the rat race to write a novel, pursue a singing career or become a curator at an art museum.

Working in a dull 9-to-5 job can sometimes stifle that creativity – but it doesn’t have to. I worked for 10 years as an administrative assistant, which required little, if any creativity. Between making travel arrangements for VIPs, organizing files, updating monthly spreadsheets and making sure the supply room was well stocked, there wasn’t a lot of room for more imaginative endeavors. But I was also blessed to work with managers who understood my need to indulge my creative talents, even if it was only to design a flyer or write a customer service letter.

If you believe the corporate world has robbed you of your creative edge, don’t lose hope. Your creative spirit is alive and well. It just needs an environment in which to thrive.

But don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Be proactive. Look around the office for opportunities to express your creativity. Here are a few ideas:

* Be a problem solver. Solving problems is a valuable skill in the workplace, often requiring thinking outside the box. To solve problems, you have to tap into that creative reservoir within yourself. Whether it’s coming up with a complex solution to a long-standing customer relations issue or developing a new product that can change the way people work, creativity is at the heart of these innovations. And innovation is what drives businesses to grow and prosper.

* Learn new software programs. Teach yourself to do desktop publishing using Adobe InDesign or create Power Point presentations. As you gain more experience doing design work, you can add samples to your portfolio and become a valuable go-to design resource for your friends and colleagues, who may not have the design skills you just acquired.

* Plan events and parties. In a small office especially, you may have to wear many hats. Event planning may be one of them. Maybe you are assigned the task of planning a co-worker’s work anniversary celebration, a meeting of the board of directors, or the annual Christmas party for the office staff. Surprise parties are even better, because they challenge you to come up with creative ways to keep the party a secret. And decorating the office party room naturally lends itself to creative expression.

If meeting planning is not in your job description and it’s something you want to break into, ask your boss or the person in charge of planning meetings if you can help. You not only show your creative side and your initiative.

* Display your artwork. Are you an artist, painter or photographer? Ask your boss or manager if they are willing to display your artwork in your office. At a nearby yoga studio I regularly attend, one of the instructors recently displayed her artwork around the studio. It was a great opportunity to showcase her talents and sell her work to studio clients.

* Display your writing skills. Writing skills are highly valued and often overlooked in the workplace. If you like to write and have a talent for telling amusing stories, there may be opportunities for writing that can be an outlet for your creative genius. Offer to write customer service letters for your boss or the sales department. Ask the marketing director if you can contribute to the company blog or write articles for their newsletter.

I once worked as a temp at a Japanese-owned property management company that managed multiple hotels around the world. One day, the president of the company, who spoke very little English, asked me to write a thank-you letter to a friend who had taken he and his wife out to dinner. I quickly drafted a letter – only three sentences – and showed it to the president. From his wide smile and enthusiastic nod of his head, I knew I had hit the mark. No matter what type of company you work at, good writing skills will always be valued by higher-ups.

* Get a side gig. It seems many workers are doing side gigs these days. For many, it helps them bring in more money. For others, the side gig does what the day job cannot do – feed the creative soul.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about other ways to add a creative edge to your non-creative job. Brainstorm with co-workers and your boss, and see what you come up with. That alone is a creative challenge.

You can’t always change the circumstances of your job (unless you change jobs), but you can change the way you think about your job. Sometimes, by simply accepting the fact that you work in an unimaginative office environment allows you to see opportunities for contributing your creative skills that you may not have noticed before. And that can make the day job all the more tolerable.