The Best Time to Buy a TV, Mattress and More: Here’s Your Guide

When’s the best time to buy… just about anything? Here’s your shopping calendar.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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New PUA Rules: Don’t Miss These Unemployment Deadlines

The second stimulus package is tightening the rules for millions of gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed workers receiving unemployment aid. On Dec. 27, the $900 billion stimulus package extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a critical benefits program for folks who don’t typically qualify for regular unemployment aid. The deal lengthened PUA benefits for at least […]

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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I Thought I Was Too Good For Community College

Whether you are about to head to college (no matter what your age may be), if you have a child who is about to attend college, or if you know someone who is about to experience this, then this article is for you. When I was around 17, I applied to several different colleges, but […]

The post I Thought I Was Too Good For Community College appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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Inside Supernatural Star Jensen Ackles’ ‘Very Hip’ Lake House in Austin

If you’re a die-hard Supernatural fan like us, you’re probably still reeling from the show’s finale and coping with the fact that there won’t be any new Winchester adventures for us to follow. But we’re not here to talk about that, but rather snoop into the private life of one of the series’ leading men. […] More

The post Inside Supernatural Star Jensen Ackles’ ‘Very Hip’ Lake House in Austin appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

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How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

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The Average Salary of a Surgeon

Surgery is a prestigious field that requires a high degree of skill, dedication and hard work of its members. Not surprisingly, surgeons’ compensation reflects this fact, as the average salary of a surgeon was $255,110 in 2018. This figure can … Continue reading →

The post The Average Salary of a Surgeon appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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How to Measure Progress and Achieve Goals

Measurement! I just love measurement. That’s because it tells you how you’re doing and how much progress you’ve made. Progress checks can motivate you, help you catch yourself when you’re slacking, and tell you when to change course. 

Without giving thought to how you define progress, however, you can measure the wrong thing, or measure the wrong way. You might end up demoralized for no reason, or falling behind unknowingly on a project, or missing opportunities. So if you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.

Measure process goals

If you’re Type A like me, you probably overwork yourself, under the assumption that more work gives more progress. But does it? Have you ever measured? Just being busy and stressed doesn’t mean we’re getting anything done. We need to track how far we are from our goal, and whether we’re closing that gap.

First determine the kind of goals you’re chasing. Episode 462, “Grow a Pair for Your Career,” outlines the difference between outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals—like getting a promotion—are something you strive for, not something you just do. Process goals, on the other hand, are measurable actions that help you get closer to your outcome goal, like making ten more sales calls each day. 

If you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.

On a daily basis, measure progress through movement toward your process goals. It doesn’t matter how much you work, only whether that work takes you closer to finishing that day’s process goals. Then check that your process goals are doing what they should, by tracking overall movement toward an outcome goal.

For example, if you work in sales, your process goal might be to make fifty cold calls a day. If that’s your goal, sending two hundred emails should not count as progress. What’s more, if your outcome goal is to close sales, and you haven’t closed one in months, you may need to rethink if you have the right process goals. Maybe “number of calls” doesn’t lead to sales. Maybe you need to make progress on the quality of your calls, instead. So make your new process goal tweaking your sales pitch, and direct some work toward that.

Measure how far you’ve come

Another way to track progress is to look at how far you are from your starting point. 

Sam is a twenty-something who’s just started up a fairly successful online delivery company. The vision of being the next Amazon.com seems impossible! Or at least, light years away. And it is. But knowing that it’s not Amazon yet isn’t a useful measure for evaluating progress. Furthermore, it’s so far away that it isn’t even clear which paths lead to that result.

Sam can instead concentrate on what’s been accomplished so far. They started sitting around a dining room table. Now they have office space, customers, a business model that works, money in the bank, and profit. By measuring progress based on how far they’ve come, not on how far they have left to go, Sam can realize they’ve made tons of progress, and can make sure it continues to unfold, as more and more milestones get added to the list.

Measure distance to your goals

At some point your goal is within reach. Then, you can start measuring how far you are from your goal, and concentrate on closing the gap.

Don’t do this too soon! You can hurt morale. At my last Harvard Business School reunion, for example, doing an “Am I there yet?” progress check gave me a soul-crushing burst of inadequacy as I was moderating a panel of my classmates, whose combined net worth was enough to purchase a third world country and pave it over. In gold. 

When you’re out on a long run, you get a surge of fresh energy when you see you’re only ten feet from the finish line, and there’s an entire 55-gallon drum of gummy bears waiting at the end. And an Oreo ice cream cake. The next thing you know, you’re barreling over the finish line.

When you’ve passed the halfway point, start measuring your progress by how quickly you’re closing on your goal. Keep that Oreo ice cream cake in mind, and set new goals to push you those last few feet.

Even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.

A good way to do this is to make a checklist of things you’ll need to do to reach the end point. These can be high-level things like, “Run A/B testing with focus groups,” or low-level things like, “Write an email to call for A/B testing participants.” Once your plan is on paper, finishing your project will seem much more doable, since all the steps left to take are right there in front of you. And as I talked about in episode 466, "Make a Plan for Motivation," even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.

Re-measure often

Once you figure out the best way to track your progress, and the types of progress you need to track, choose how often you’ll track. Sometimes, tracking progress once a week is plenty. But from my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.

That way, if you suddenly notice you’re not where you should be, you only have to make up two or three days’ worth of work. If you were only checking once a week, you could get an entire week behind before you’d notice it.

From my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.

What gets measured gets managed. And we love to manage progress. On a daily basis, concentrate your measurements on your progress goals, rather than your outcome goals. Then choose a less-frequent measurement that is based on where you are in your project: distance to your goal, or distance from your starting point. With a little experimentation, you can find the magic balance that keeps you on top of your game.

This is Stever Robbins. I give great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, and entrepreneurship. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

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The Top Financial Resolutions for 2021

Stumped on resolutions? These are the top financial to-do’s for 2021.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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5 Legal Documents You Need During a Pandemic

As Americans grapple with how to stay physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make sure you and your family have the right emergency documents. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs, it may be too late to make critical decisions.

Let's talk about the different emergency documents and why you may need to create or update existing paperwork. If you get COVID-19 or have another unexpected illness or accident, these documents will help you manage your finances and make essential decisions with more clarity and less stress.   

5 emergency and legal documents to have during a pandemic

Instead of being caught off guard during a difficult time, consider if you should have these five legal documents.

1. Last will and testament

The purpose of a will is to communicate your final wishes after you die. Too many people don’t have one of these incredibly important documents because they mistakenly believe it’s something just for old rich people.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

And once you have a will, don’t forget to update it periodically to make sure it addresses all your wishes, assets, and beneficiaries. Critical life events—such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or losing a spouse or partner—should trigger you to update your will.

If you’re starting from scratch, make an inventory of your assets—like bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, expensive belongings, and sentimental possessions—and decide what you want to happen to them. You can list beneficiaries for specific items, like who gets a piece of heirloom jewelry or an artwork collection. You can also create distribution percentages, such as 50 percent of the value of your assets go to your partner and 50 percent to your only child.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. And don’t forget to leave instructions for what you want to happen to your pets, digital assets, intellectual property, and business assets. You can create a plan for your funeral, such as where you want to be buried and whether you want your organs donated.

Someone must carry out your final wishes and legal details. You can name a designated family member, friend, or attorney to be your “executor” and handle all the arrangements. Depending on the size of your estate, this can be a challenging and time-consuming task. So, make sure they’re capable and willing to do the job.

The bottom line is that having a will makes death easier for the loved ones of the deceased. It can help keep peace in your family by settling disagreements, minimizing bureaucracy, and even saving your heirs from unnecessary expenses. You don’t need a lawyer to create a will, but if you have a high net worth or many different types of assets, it’s a good idea to hire one.

2. Living will

In addition to a last will, you also need a living will. This document specifies what you’d want to happen regarding your end-of-life care. It would help if you were unresponsive for an extended period or in the final stages of a terminal condition.

Having a living will makes your wishes clear when you’re facing death. It’s an essential guide for family and doctors who might need to know if you’d want to extend your life by artificial means or to die without any interventions.

3. Health care proxy

When it comes to your health care, another critical document is a health care proxy. You might also hear this called a health care power of attorney or a health care surrogate. In it, you designate someone to make medical decisions for you when you can’t.

Imagine that you’re in an accident or come down with a severe illness and become mentally incapacitated. Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

You might want to name two proxies in case one isn’t available when you need them. Consider who you’d trust with your care and discuss the responsibilities and your wishes with them.

Some hospitals won’t allow medical professionals to disclose any information about you—even to your health care proxy—unless you have a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) medical privacy release. Your family needs to speak to your doctor about your medical situation without creating a legal problem for the doctor, so consider having this legal document as well.

4. Power of attorney

Even if you don’t need a designated proxy to make medical decisions for you, you likely need someone you trust to help with other types of decisions, such as managing your finances or legal affairs. Creating a power of attorney (POA) allows another person to stand in for you as an agent if you’re incapable of making routine transactions, such as paying bills or signing contracts.

You can use it power of attorney any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions.

There are different kinds of POAs, but the most common is a durable power of attorney. You can use it any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions. You can also create one or more limited powers of attorney, which name people to act on your behalf for specific transactions during a limited period.

Having a POA is how the financial end of your life can run smoothly if you become incapacitated. It’s also a tool for giving someone the authority to manage nearly any aspect of your life if you’re unavailable or don’t have time to handle it yourself.

5.  Childcare authorization

If you’re the parent of a young child, you should have a childcare authorization. This document can address a variety of situations, such as whether your child’s school or daycare can release them to another individual.

You can use this authorization to allow someone else, such as a partner or nanny, to temporarily make decisions for your child in your unexpected absence.

Do you need emergency documents if you’re married?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need emergency or legal documents because you’re married. While a spouse may be able to make some crucial decisions for you, you could both die or become incapacitated at the same time.

Let’s say your spouse is in a coma in the hospital due to a disease or accident. If you had a financial hardship and needed to sell assets, such as jointly owned investments or real estate, it could be difficult. Each of you would have to authorize the transaction.

Married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Therefore, married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Also, consider what would happen to your minor children if you and your spouse were in an accident together. It’s critical to name a guardian in your will, so the court doesn’t appoint one for you that you may not like.

Where should you keep emergency documents?

Keep your original signed legal documents safe, such as at your attorney’s office, in a fireproof safe, or a bank safe deposit box. Also, maintain copies of everything at home in case you need them at night or on the weekend. You should scan and upload them to a cloud-based storage service, such as Dropbox or Evernote.

Do yourself and your family a favor by getting all your emergency documents created as soon as possible. If you already have them, put an annual reminder on your calendar to make any necessary updates. You’ll feel at ease knowing you’re as prepared as possible for the unexpected. Your emergency documents make sure that you and your children’s future is protected no matter what happens.

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