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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Get past the roadblocks to creative concepts

Sometimes the ideas just don’t come. You don’t have to be a cartoonist or a novelist to need a fresh supply of ideas every day; every job calls on us to find creative solutions from time to time. When you’re not feeling the magic, look for these common causes behind “imagination block”:

• Inside the box thinking. You may be looking for familiar solutions to the same old problems. Get into the habit of questioning all your assumptions and looking at situations from different angles. For instance, instead of asking, “How can we sell this product to our customers?” try, “What would make a customer reject this product?” and build your solution around eliminating that objection.

• Fear of . . . Maybe you’re afraid of failure. Or the commitment a solution might call for. Or perhaps you’re aware that the best idea will require you to do things you’re not comfortable with. Confront your fears head on, and identify why they’re paralyzing you. Most of the time you can overcome them if you break them down into manageable elements.

• Lack of knowledge. Take a good look at your subject. If it’s unfamiliar, you may not know enough of the details to generate any relevant ideas. Do more homework. Or if you’re casting about for a com­pletely new idea, devote time to studying something outside your usual area of expertise without looking for a flash of inspiration. Often, exploring a new field will generate unexpected connections.

• Overabundance. Sometimes the problem is that you’ve got so many partial ideas that you can’t choose just one to develop. Try picking one at random and working on that alone until you’ve either got a solid project or you reject it for being unworkable. Or step back and look at your priorities so you can choose the option that suits your needs best.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The co-parenting challenge: Put your kids first

When parents don’t live together, whatever the reason, raising kids is even more complicated than usual. “Co-parenting” adds an extra layer of challenge to the responsibility of caring for children, from getting them to and from school and soccer games to maintaining a consistent schedule and enforcing important family rules. Here’s some advice for making the co-parenting relationship work to everyone’s benefit:

• Put your children first. You and the other parent should agree to put your kids’ needs ahead of any issues you may have with each other. Don’t use a child as a pawn in your own relationship with an ex-spouse.

• Plan together. Try to avoid any unilateral decisions about your children. Sit down regularly to map out schedules and discuss upcoming issues. Negotiate in good faith who’s responsible for what, shared rules, and boundaries.

• Respect each other’s rules. You and your co-parent may have different ideas about behavior, schedules, expectations, etc. As long as your children are safe and given reasonable limits, don’t rock the boat. Co-parenting relationships can be complicated for children, too, so avoid putting them in the middle of your disputes.

• Maintain some distance. Don’t call your child repeatedly while he or she is at your co-parent’s house. Resist the urge to pump children for information that’s none of your business (an ex-spouse’s new partner, for example), or comment negatively on the co-parent’s personality.

• Communicate directly. Don’t use your children as a conduit for messages to the other parent. If issues or questions come up, con­tact him or her directly. You’ll suffer fewer misunderstandings, and you’ll keep your children out of your personal issues.

• Support your co-parent. Let your children know that they’re expected to follow the other parents’ rules when they’re with him or her. Speak respectfully about the co-parent, and insist that your children do the same.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let reading help your child thrive

What’s the single most important thing parents can do to help their children succeed in life? Encourage them to read. Reading is a skill essential in all areas of achievement. Here are a few tips from the U.S. Department of Education’s website:

• Read aloud to your children often. Start reading to your children when they are babies. As they grow older, encourage them to ask questions and to talk about the story. Ask them to predict what will come next.

• Encourage your children to read on their own. Children who spend at least 30 minutes a day reading for fun develop the skills to be better readers and students.

• Set aside quiet time for family reading. Some families enjoy reading aloud to each other, with each family member choosing a book, story, poem, or article to read to the others.

• Visit the library often. Begin making weekly trips to the library when your child is very young. See that your child gets his own library card as soon as possible.

• Get help for your children if they have a reading problem. Ask teachers about special services, such as after-school or summer reading programs. Also ask teachers or your local librarian for names of community organizations and local literacy volunteer groups that offer tutoring services.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Take positive action against workplace stress

Your job may be full of pressure, but that doesn’t mean you have to be at the mercy of work-related stress. You’ll stay healthier, happier, and more productive with these tips for keeping stress under control wherever you work:

• Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep diminishes your ability to deal with stress. Don’t burn the midnight oil trying to stay caught up. Seven or eight hours of sleep every night will help you stay calm and patient throughout the day.

• Plan to worry. Set aside 30 minutes regularly to think about what’s bothering you. If you know you’ll be able to tackle your problems, they won’t nag at you so much throughout the day.

• Resist the urge to vent. Expressing your feelings isn’t the same as losing control. Lashing out at others can intensify your sense of frustration, especially if you can’t do anything about the situation. You’ll also alienate the people around you. Focus on solving problems without exploding.

• Find your stress triggers. Pay attention to the causes of stress in your workplace. By observing what’s likely to make you nervous, impatient, or angry, you’ll be able to head off an ugly incident with your co-workers.

• Exercise. Regular exercise keeps you healthier overall. Some scientific evidence suggests that exercise reduce levels of a hormone called cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands when you’re feeling stressed, and which can damage your body if levels stay too high for too long. Low-impact exercises such as yoga can help you relax your mind as well as your body.

• Recognize the symptoms. Some people try to ignore the presence of stress in their lives, but if you’re suffering from warning signs like lingering head­aches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, or stomach problems, you may be hiding from a very real threat to your health. Pay attention to what your body is telling you before stress takes its toll.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Recovering from a Big Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes, and a big mistake at work can have serious repercussions. So what can you do after you blow the deadline on a big project, send an email to the absolute last person who should see it or get the numbers wrong on a year-end spreadsheet that goes straight to corporate?

Panicking will not do you any good, and in truth there is probably not much you can do except work damage control. The best tip is to admit your mistake to your bosses the moment you realize you have made it. They will probably be angry at first, but a professional boss will cool down a lot quicker if you are candid than if you try to hide your error and delay the inevitable. Nor should you make excuses for your mistake. Even if you do have a good reason, rather than attempt to mitigate your blame you should simply apologize, take responsibility and try to fix what has happened.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Preventing Brain Injuries in Children

Head injuries are a common occurrence in young children and adolescents. While most are mild and non-life threatening or associated with any type of brain injury, there are those rare occurrences when what seems to be a mild injury can develop into a more serious situation, such as brain swelling or bleeding.

There are two types of falls that can lead to injury – low force injuries, or falls from short distances or being hit by soft objects, typically have a low risk of any type of brain injury. However, injuries from car accidents, falls from a high place, being hit by a sharp or speeding object and abuse such as shaking can and will cause traumatic brain injury.

Brain injuries can often be prevented by being proactive with common activities that our children are often involved with.

  • Make sure that your car seats and booster seats are installed correctly and if your child is supposed to be in one as required by law, put them there! Each state has their own individual laws relating to this, so be sure you’re doing it right. When they outgrow car seats and booster seats, make sure they know the importance of wearing the seatbelt.
  • If your home has stairs, use gates to prevent infants and young children from taking a tumble down them.  Live in an apartment above the first floor? Install window guards.
  • When your children are old enough, teach them the importance of crossing the street at crosswalks and to always look both ways before crossing. Never let them cross the street alone.
  • Sports are a common place for head injuries, discuss sports safety with your children and make sure they have all of the appropriate protective equipment like helmets, mouth guards and eye protection for starters.

If your child has suffered a head injury, check for some of the more common symptoms: scalp swelling, loss of consciousness, headache, vomiting or seizures. If you’re unsure of whether your child needs medical attention or not, a good rule of thumb to follow – if your child has more than a slight bump on the head, seek medical treatment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tips for Job Hunting

When looking for a new job, job hunters invariably head to the streets and take to the Internet and networking events in hopes of being able to find new employment.

Nowadays, however, there is far more than just a resume and portfolio needed for job searching, including a few simple social media tips to take into consideration before commencing a search.

One good tip is to make use of keywords. These can be used on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn in order to make sure that you are easy to locate. Think of all your skills and what makes you great at your job, and list them in your biography.

Another tip is to Google yourself, as this is precisely what your potential employers will do. It is important to know what information is out there about you – and again, keywords can be very helpful when it comes to controlling that kind of information.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Staying Inspired

Everyone has days when they feel genuinely inspired; at other times, it is the last thing they feel and they are lacking in energy, zest and creativity. What can you do when you are hit by a spectacular lack of inspiration?

For one thing, you need to stay calm – getting stressed out over a lack of inspiration will only make the situation worse. It is also a good idea to keep an open mind and open your eyes to the world that surrounds you, be it other people, nature, buildings and so on. Being observant at all times is often a very good way to find inspiration. Many people also recommend meditation.

The world is full of potential sources of inspiration, from books and movies to children, art, music, photographs, Internet websites and much more. Try to associate with people who are naturally inspiring and creative, and spend extra time with those you love. Exercise is a good way of throwing off the cobwebs, and even something as trivial as traveling to work via a different route can prove to be unexpectedly stimulating.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Eat Your Way to Well-Being

One vital tip when it comes to eating your way to better health is to eat as much “real” food as you can. This means that you should eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible. Select grains and grain products that have undergone minimal processing, such as brown rice instead of white, muesli over breakfast cereal covered in sugar, and rolled oats over instant.

Another good tip is to select less well-known grains such as bulgur, freekeh or quinoa, as well as traditionally produced whole grain bread like sourdough. Go for whole fruits rather than products supposedly made with “real fruit.” It is also a good idea to make more of your own food via real ingredients rather than choosing packaged meals produced in factories.

It is also a good tip to avoid foods that have colorings, chemical flavorings and preservatives, so you need to always read lists of ingredients and choose products accordingly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Constructive Play

In his classic guidebook, Constructive Play, George Forman opens with these observations about play:

"The child learns through play. In fact, Jean Piaget insists that meaningful learning requires a period of open-ended 'playing around' with the alternative ways of doing something. Constructive play is a preliminary stage in the development of skill, and skill is preliminary to creativity. Play that does not increase skill may be pleasurable in a narrow sense, but is not what we would call constructive. Constructive play, by definition, builds on itself to increase the competence of the child. This competence, in turn, increases the child’s pleasure by making even more creative acts possible. The cycle repeats itself, with the new creative acts becoming yet another form of play at a higher level of understanding until they are mastered. Development, as Piaget ph rases it, is a spiral of knowledge moving upward through alternating play and skill.

"Another characteristic of constructive play, central to Piaget’s theory of development, is that the player herself must do the constructing. Meaningful learning is more likely when the child herself invents the alternative ways of doing something. In fact, if the child is only imitating alternatives modeled by a teacher or a parent, we do not call it play; it becomes drill. But if the child herself invents some new way to do something, the chances are that she will also better understand how that new way relates to the other ways that she has performed the act in the past."