Stretching Your Travel Dollar From an Unassuming Wanderluster

View towards tarmac from YVR passener holding areaMany of my friends and colleagues have often asked me about my approach to booking travel, this one is for them, thank you for inspiring me to share this with you here.

Do you prescribe to the myth that the best deals occur on trip bidding sites or on standby status? Reality Check! It’s all about research, research and more research! It can be worth it. It can be the difference between resting in four star luxury for the price of three star accommodation and sometimes the equivalent savings of a return flight. From the vault of my own travel experience, this is how I’ve come to get the best value for my wanderlust. Let me preempt that this isn’t intended for the audience that can take off on a whim. I’m like many of you who need to be considerate of work and other life commitments, in fact some of this knowledge has come from road warrior experience. But, also let me say that only you know what your preferences are. If you’re finding anything helpful from this post, only take what you need and adapt according to your needs and tastes.

Beware of days to book flights and hotels

  • Plan ahead (months ahead where possible), I can’t stress this enough, last minute deals aren’t as good as they used to be
  • Compare the prices for the same hotel and flight booked on a weekend versus a weekday and see if there is a difference*
  • Compare the prices again for the same hotel and flight booked in the morning versus the evening
  • I don’t know about you, but if my gut instinct sees a good deal, I nab it right away and halt further comparison shopping and don’t look back

Take it from Rick Steeves, if you think you’ve got a good deal, you better nab it before it’s gone.

*This may sound silly, but I’ve seen it before and yes I have had my moment also, it helps to remember to clear the cache from the browser to bring up the latest deal possible.

For some accommodations, such as with the larger chain hotels, you can often price match online deals with the chain’s own website offers and still consider options that cover a range of cancellation policies. If you have a AAA membership (CAA in most cases as well) or a partnership benefit, don’t forget to check off the special rate box for this. If you’re like me and happen to like a certain chain hotel experience, collecting rewards points on their member rewards cards can bring free hotel stays pretty quickly. However, watch out for the  credit card registration offers tied to these same establishments. Always consider the associated interest rates and rewards terms before signing up.

Makes Cents to Support Local Business

JJBean Store Front on CambieIt thrills me to see the steady expansion of smart local businesses (not to say that I don’t shop at mega international vendors, that tends to be a given). Smart means local coffee shops like JJ Bean, opening their 16th location in March. These businesses often figured out the region’s market formula. Starting off conservatively, these small businesses take just the right amount of time to brew consistent quality products and service while establishing a following before developing further their footprint.

For anyone who isn’t convinced that supporting local business is worth a second thought, check out Michael Salguero’s (custommade.com) Huffington Post feature on why buying local is worth every cent. BC Stats reveals that small business in BC translates to over 1 million jobs, and almost one third of wages earned in the province. BC also operates the most small businesses per capita in Canada.

Looking to develop your own? Here’s some Canadian inspiration:

http://smallbusinessbc.ca/

http://www.womensenterprise.ca/

http://www.startupcan.ca/

A Word or Two on Gratitude Can Make A Difference

 

William Arthur Ward Quote: Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessingsA tool of positive transformation can be found in gratitude. I used to just reflect, think, react and act on appreciation. However, nothing I find, is as potent as the visual form. It’s been a long while since I’ve kept a diary, this year I’ve returned to writing down my appreciative thoughts in a gratitude journal. People tend to forget so easily, but looking at my meaningful scribbles, it proves to show how much their is to be grateful for in a more tangible concrete sense. It is a most uplifting ritual. From time to time you’ll find my heartfelt messages of thanks from my journal entries this year posted here.

Mapping the Road Ahead

A wall with color coded sticky notes arranged by category cascading down a wall.From 2010, I’ve started each year with a rough personal plan on paper, a starting point if you will. I utilized a tool often used in project planning, some know it as mind mapping others know it as road mapping, but instead of diagrams, I combined it with sticky notes. Sticky notes makes sense for me because it exists in different colors and I use each color to represent categories of goals (pink for personal, green for financial, etc). Also, sticky notes could be moved and changed around on a wall. If I had written it in my notebook or saved it on my laptop I could easily file it away in a corner and forget about it, but with the sticky notes plastered on my walls, I would walk into my home office every day and be reminded of them and it would encourage me to literally stick with it. Now four years later,  what I’ve learned is that this system still works for me today with some customized adjustments for iterative purposes as I learn along the way. For instance, once I have distilled key annual goals, I’ll outline quarterly and daily action items to meet some of these goals and will continue to until, hopefully, a broad range of goals are reached.

Strategies for the Year Ahead

Royal blue pocket sized day planner from Harrods, open to calendar pageAfter reviewing the results of last year’s plans, I’m looking at the New Year as a new chapter, new goals to establish and carrying over some from the previous year. Advising a friend of mine who was searching for a way forward, having suffered a huge loss in 2014, I had this to say about goal setting.

“Goals should be bigger picture ideas for the year that are attainable. Mini targets that you set along the way to the larger end goals makes it a less daunting process. What works in sport and business can sometimes apply to life.“

Really, I didn’t have to tell my friend that, she already knew. In fact she was a devout practitioner in the years I’ve known her. With the vulnerable state she was in, she just needed a little reminder, as we all need every now and then. That’s what friends are for, to hand us the mirror without judgement.

To make planning simpler, I’m streamlining this year’s goal setting with a few key points:

1. Use the litmus test. Ask why the goal is considered in the first place. How is it aligned to who you are? How can it make your life better?

2. Keep it short. I am aiming for 5 to 10 depending on time and breadth.

3. Keep it simple.

4. Keep it iterative. Being agile has helped manage expectations, something I’ve practiced volunteering on a board)

5. Be accountable, set timelines and ways to monitor results.

6. Be social, good friends can encourage or remind you to stay the course, as per my example above.

7. Keep it fun and challenging. It’s a lot easier to reach for a goal when you can feel a sense of fulfillment and positivity.

8. Append a “wish list” to the shorter and simpler goals list. Keeping this separate list removes the distraction of disappointment to “nice-to-have” goals that may or may not be as manageable.

Happy planning and Happy New Year to all!

Highlights of Lessons Learned from 2014

Collage of four photos, top left fitbit device on wrist, top right deep end of pool overlooking the ocean, bottom left photo of program featuring Theressa as moderator, bottom right the knowledge seekers at TEDx Vancouver 2014Looking back on blog posts from the past 12 months there was so much to be learned. Here’s a roundup of five lessons learned from 2014. To read on about how I came across these gems of knowledge you can find related blog posts for these particular lessons referenced in their corresponding links.

5. Wearable technology can be a great agent of healthy habits. However, don’t expect to rely on it solely for this reason, the rest is always up to you.

4. Meetings aren’t always necessary. But, when it makes sense to hold one, a breadth of preparation and anticipation towards reasonable goals will help keep it on course.

3. The expression, “ don’t judge a book by its cover,” takes on new meaning as we trend towards geek chic.

2. Opportunities can be disguised as adverse decisions and situations. If unraveled, there could lay treasures of knowledge and experience.

1. The archetype of yesterday’s leadership isn’t necessarily relevant today. Being a humble leader could be the next best thing.

Why Geek is Chic in 2014

Geek is Good Bill Board in front of Science Museum on Broad Street in OxfordIn the 90s super brainy and socially awkward Steve Urkel from the TV sitcom Family Matters was considered the quintessential geek, a character that none of the cool kids in school aspired to be. According to the Oxford Dictionary a geek is defined as, “An unfashionable or socially inept person” or a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast.” Neither seems mutually exclusive. What seems to have happened in the last 20 years is a cultural shift, however.

How tables have turned. When it comes to career paths, today millennials are now aspiring to be the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer. These are modern business icons who are considered enthusiastic field experts. Even the geek style of the 90s, with large rim plastic frames, preppy checkered shirts, ankle grazers and bow ties, have returned as fashion statements, now coined “hipster” cool.

The most watched sitcom in 2014, with some of highest ratings each week as reported by neilson.com, is The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). In case you haven’t caught an episode, the plot is based on the interactions between a woman and her two brilliant but socially awkward physicist neighbours. 2014 was also the year TBBT took home an Emmy (emmys.com) for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Is it just another trend though? Does this mean jocks are out and geeks are in? Not necessarily true if pop culture is any indication. NFL football and other major sporting events still tend to top overall television ratings as most watched TV. Maybe instead, it’s a sign that field experts and obsessive enthusiasts are more of an understood social group than seen as an anomaly as in the past. Or maybe, it’s because it was the geeks who made it despite the 2008 recession that got attention and proved to have staying power and helped bolster the economy. And did you know that jocks, like Reggie Wilkes, who retired successfully were also knowledge obsessed? Whoops, did I let my geek speak slip again?

As a self-professed geek, I would say who cares about the naysayers, learn and do what you’re passionate about and everything else will follow. Whether it’s trending or not, seeking out knowledge and exploring enthusiastically should be celebrated, whether it’s for innovation or sport. We should all be so lucky to find the one thing that engages us and allows us to share knowledge and skills with others. The Big Bang Theory was with its Emmy win. Whether it’s for 2014 or in the future, so long as knowledge is sought for the greater purpose of helping others and building a brighter future, geek will always be chic in my books.

The Upside of Being Thrown in the Deep End

Kitsilano Outdoor Pool Overlooking English BayBe it a job or a favor, have you ever felt you’ve not understood all there is to an opportunity before committing to it? Perhaps you were distracted by the proverbial dangling of the carrot, be it the payoff or benefits. Or, maybe, you thought you were being of service to a friend. Then, only after the ink is dried or the promise made, you find the complexity involved in the job.

Also, known as being thrown into the deep end, I’ve been privy to the experience and you might have too. Sometimes expecting it and other times less prepared. In both cases what’s obvious about it is it can pose seemingly overwhelming challenges at first. But, what’s not obvious is the wealth of learning that can come of it if the opportunity is seized. It can become an invaluable tool of growth and development. I’m not going to diminish how scary or frustrating it might be at first. I’m also not saying that all learning has to be this challenging for it to be useful, but that it is possible to make the best out of daunting situations. Often I’ll reflect on a few questions to rationalize the situation, sometimes on my own and other times with close friends.

Here are some examples of questions to pose when treading water in the deep end:

  1. What am I thankful for today because of this experience?
  2. Empathetically, how are others in the situation feeling?
  3. What can I do to make things better?
  4. What did I learn from the experience?
  5. Precisely, if it had not been for this experience would I have learned what I needed to in order to be who I am today?

By, the time I’ve thought through these questions, the deep end has become a different place, a place where it’s possible for me to swim. I hope that you too can find your place to swim ashore.

Fall Reading List 2014 – The Humble Side of Leadership

Six Book Spines photographed, left to right, Leaders East Last, Power of Now, the Alchemist, HBR's 10 Must Reads on Leadership, Strategy, The Leader Without a Title and David and GoliathAt the tale (pun intended) end of summer I was asked to take on a lead volunteer role. Unbeknownst to me, I had just cracked open an inspiring read on leadership (please see below for more). Crazy coincidence? Or, is this the world’s way of sending me a message? Who knows. Either way this leads me to share with you my Fall reading list on the topic. As I start my journey exploring leadership, I have found a spectrum of literature, some that is universal and some that is suited for those who are like me, just dipping my toes in the water.

  1. Re-read or pick up the 25th anniversary edition of the Alchemist. If you have only 5 minutes, then read Paul Coelho’s blog post about why he wrote this New York Times Bestseller, you might be surprised. This novel depicts a boy’s journey to Egypt in search for treasure and finds his destiny in the process. I also came across the audio edition, read by Jeremy Irons, and saw the book in a totally different perspective.
  1. If you find yourself on the fence about a leadership path, you might find Eckart Etolle’s “Power of Now” to be helpful in the spiritual exploration of who you are meant to be by clearing the mind of clutter.
  1. For those starting out in leadership, I have found the following title to be very inspiring. Why? There seems to be a misconception of what leadership is, often confused with a sense of entitlement.  In “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek not only debunks this myth, but also shares examples of the true meaning of sustainable leadership excellence that works.
  1. The quintessential reference on the topic brings to you HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leardership. In the same series published by Harvard Business Review, you’ll find HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Strategy as well, which seems to go hand in hand with Leadership.
  1. For leaders looking to shake things up or feeling sucked into a black tunnel, these might be enlightening reads. A quick 5 minute read can be found on Business Insider.com http://www.businessinsider.com/better-leader-2014-4. Or, for a longer plane ride type of read, might I suggest: Robin Sharma’s “The Leader Who Had No Title” (worth re-reading if you already caught 2012’s reading list). Malcolm Gladwell illustrates how legends may not be what they seem in this latest title, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” (as seen in a recent TED talk) and this can be true of the humble side of leadership.

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Meeting Optimization & the Unmeeting

At the head of the boardroom table, empty chairs There isn’t a manager I haven’t met who hasn’t rolled their eyes at the mention of scheduling a “meeting,” from time to time. Some are essential and others not so much. How does one optimize meetings then (more tips from some of the world’s productive people as found at fast company.com)? Ask yourself next time if you really need to schedule that meeting or if it’s just a quick phone call or a drop-by-the-office kind of one-on-one query.  Meetings should address some kind of call to action and highlight new and important information requiring the attention of all.

Some of my most productive meetings came about when the team was called to kick-off a project or to start off the quarter. Following that, what worked well was breaking into one-on-one phone conversations or paired collaborative meet-ups as needed before the team reported in mid-point and end of the project.

Setting expectations helps immensely. This tip works for both collaborators and clients. I schedule and let my meeting partners know that it will only be for 20 minutes or 1/2 an hour and this takes care of any hums and haws.  The onus is then on the person who calls the meeting to be tactfully direct, stay on topic and to prepare thoroughly for the meeting. Ideally this should always be the case, but for many without the idea of having a 20 minute clock stare at them to finish up (think TED speaker style), some meetings can go unproductively long.

Dressing down the pretense of the meeting also helps as a lot of meeting goers feel nervous, be it the uncertainty or the formality. Why couldn’t they all be like brain-storming sessions? Fun, engaging, collaborative and productive, shouldn’t this “unmeeting” be the model for getting together with your colleagues to “make it happen?”

This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend time relationship building with your teammates, clients and stakeholders. On the one hand keeping it brief is showing respect for their time, as well as yours. On the other hand, there are other ways and times you can build a relationship other than to have a meeting. Enter coffee breaks or lunch, killing two birds with one stone is always appreciated, you’re going to need to take a break at some point during the day, may as well make it a fun and productive one.

Whatever your style of engagement, maximizing time, being mindful of preparation and staying focused will return some free space back into your schedule. Using your time wisely will pay out in dividends.