Career Cliques

One of the easiest ways for me to meet new people has been at my new job. I’ve only been there a month, and there are plenty of new faces around.

There are RTE and Agile Communities of Practice (CoP) at my office. The RTE community is still fairly small, so I have gotten a lot of face time with the other RTEs at the company. The Agile CoP has a much wider audience, and by attending their bi-weekly sessions I have met most of the other agile practitioners near me.

My office also has a Women with Drive group. I went to their session about Negotiation, and there was a fantastic networking game at the end. They also have a book club element to the group which is exciting. I liked it so much I signed up to volunteer with them.

I’m also a member of my local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter and have attended a few of their breakfast meetings. They don’t have high attendance at breakfast, but that allows me ample opportunity to interact with the speakers and network. The agile manager at my office and I will also be attending an agile professionals meetup in a couple of weeks. I’m excited to bring someone else along with me on my networking adventures.

Joining these groups have allowed me to meet a lot of new people. There is also great content shared in these meetings. There are so many intangible benefits to getting out of your comfort zone so I’m excited to keep my momentum going and to find new groups in my city.

What is your favorite way to improve your professional network? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Rowing Routines

Rowing can easily become tedious. I have been trying out a number of different rowing exercises to stay focused and find a rhythm that works for me. Below are my favorite exercises so far.

Rowing Sprints

My rowing machine isn’t fancy and does not track meters rowed, it only gives me a count of strokes. So I have to modify any exercises that track by meters rowed.

I liked this workout because it was one final push at the end to do 50, but didn’t make me feel like I was going to die like a row pyramid does. It also doesn’t skimp on the rest which I need as a beginner.


30/30 Rowing Workout

The original exercise plan had another round of squats at the end, but I changed that to sit-ups because I felt like it would be a better use of time. My push-ups we laughable, but I really liked this workout. It was nice to stop rowing and do something else during the break.

This will definitely fit into my normal routine. I might even experiment with different exercises during the 2 mint


30 Minute Rowing Body Blast

This exercise is great for building my endurance. I want to build up enough strength to row for 2 hours straight, and I think this exercise will really help me get there. It would probably expand well into a pyramid workout when I am ready to go for an hour.

30 Minute Rowing Sprint

30 minutes is a long sprint! This is a great workout and wonderful for building endurance. I found 75 seconds hard very challenging and I had to put in additional time between the 60 & 75.

I’m not a pro so I give myself leeway when I need to modify some exercises. I’m just ecstatic when I finish and know I will improve as I go along.

15 Minute Rowing Workout

This is an easy exercise to follow and I thought the breaks were well placed. By the third interval, I was feeling the burn. As I try to row for longer I will increase the reps on this workout.

The variety these exercises have added to my rowing routine has helped keep me engaged and motivated. I am sure that if I was rowing at the same pace every day this habit would have gotten old real quick.

Now all I need is more variety in my playlist. Please share your favorite workout song in the comments below. I’m always looking for something new!

Rowing Right

There are all kinds of wrong ways to row. Since I’m doing a repetitive exercise every day I need to focus on my form so I don’t injure myself. I also researched the benefits of rowing to ensure I key in on the right metrics.

This instructional video posted by Zain Khan does a wonderful job of breaking down the rowing stroke and explaining some of the common mistakes beginners make along with how to correct them. My favorite parts explain how improper technique could lead to specific injuries, and the impact those movements would have on the water.

Watching a variety of videos on proper technique has helped me to feel more confident in my stroke. Every warmup I do starts with the stroke breakdown and an easy row to make sure I’m doing things in the right order. I’m sure taking a rowing class with an instructor will do wonders for my technique, but I want to build up more endurance before I pay for a class.

Improving my cardio health is the main reason I decided to pick up rowing. According to the Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercises can help you lose weight, strengthen your heart, and even help with your mood. Because rowing is low impact I feel like I have made greater strides than when I tried different running programs.

A rowing machine is also a combination machine. It allows you to build muscle while getting in a great cardio workout. Setting the resistance on your rowing machine at 4-6 is supposed to mimic the drag you would experience on the water.

I was intimidated about rowing every day because previously I worked out about once a week, but I haven’t experienced any major issues. I think pacing myself has helped a lot, and I am still seeing progress gains.

Please let me know if there is something I missed in my research. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Practice Pro-tips

My banjo teacher has been very patient with me and guided my learning. I’ve also gotten tips from people I know who play other instruments. As it turns out, you can get plenty of advice when you talk to people about your goals. Below are the most useful tips I’ve been given so far.

General Tips

  • Buy a stand so your instrument is easy to get to and pick up when you have free time.
  • Learning to read music is important.
  • When learning a new song, break it up into small chunks and play that perfectly before moving onto the next part.
  • A drum beat is a lot more fun for staying in rhythm than a metronome.
  • Practice, practice, practice…

Banjo Tips

  • Buy a strap so you can walk around and practice your rolls while doing other things.
  • You can slide your polishing rag under the strings to muffle the sound to be less annoying to the family.
  • Remove the resonator to be quieter when practicing.
  • It’s easier to learn songs you’re familiar with so I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify.
  • Playing the banjo is fun! Try not to take it so seriously or get nervous when people ask you to play for them.

These tips have helped me a lot through this process. It takes a lot of patience to learn an instrument, but there are few things as satisfying as playing a new song all the way through for the first time.

Please share any tips you think should be added to the list in the comments below!

Webinar Wrap-up

The second round of webinars were much more engaging than the first. They are listed below in order of preference.

RiskReadyCreating “Risk-Ready” Project Schedules

  • Wesley Gillette
  • Rated: 5.77/7
  • Duration: 56:03

Gillette focused on how constraints, lags, and schedule logic can be hidden in the project plan and cause false results in your risk analysis. He explained that we need to challenge the way our schedules. We need clear assumptions and risks should be called out properly. This was the best webinar that I’ve seen on the Project Management site. There was an excellent balance between explaining new concepts and examples.

5 Essential Insights for Maximizing your Limited Resources

  • Jerry Manas & Maureen Carlson
  • Rated: 5.43/7
  • Duration: 61:10

I am a fan of big data and this presentation was centered on the 2014 State of Resource Management and Capacity Planning Report conducted by Appleseed Partners. They honed in on the idea that top performing companies had a holistic view of their demand pipeline and resource capacity by utilizing Project Portfolio Management software. Manas and Carlson did a great job co-presenting and it was obvious they had practiced.

RookiePMMistakes4 Common Rookie PM Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

  • Dana Brownlee
  • Rated: 6.34/7
  • Duration: 59:22

She spent a lot of time on anecdotes, but it was an interesting and engaging presentation. Her tips to address the “slacker” on the team were practical. Those interaction are never easy so I appreciated her insights on creating a culture of accountability. Brownlee’s 3 magic questions for clarifying task assignments are:

  1. What is your understanding of the task?
  2. What will the deliverable look like?
  3. What are the 1st 3 steps you’ll take to begin working on this?

I would highly recommend this presentation to any PM or manager.

Avoid the Three Major Mistakes of Organization Wide Change

  • Barbara Trautlein
  • Rated: 6.18/7
  • Duration: 45:46

This was a great topic for change management. My primary project is going to have a significant amount of process changes. Knowing that we have a blend of heart and hand change leadership styles will help me to leverage our strengths and avoid common pitfalls. I found Trautlein engaging, but this presentation was repetitive and oddly paced.

This was four hours well spent. I’ve come away with a wealth of resources and some great tips for keeping my projects on track.

Do you have a favorite webinar or instructional video? Please share the link in the comments.

Crash Course on the PMP Application

The PMI-MN dinner this month offered a PMP Application Writing workshop. Excellent timing since I just signed up for an exam prep course. This my take on the evening.

PMP Application Writing

I’ve been told that the PMP application process is difficult. This workshop was helpful because the presentation was short and practical which left plenty of time for questions and specific scenarios. These were my key takeaways:

  • “There is no cum laude on the PMP exam”
  • Professional Development Units (PDUs) and PM Education are not always the same thing
  • Only enter the number of hours they request under experience, there is no extra credit for more experience
  • List projects in order of size, not by date
  • The more detail you provide on your application the better and you’ll be less likely to get audited
  • Study to get 80% on the exam

Three Critical Success Factors for Project Managers

The main presentation wasn’t bad, but I was not a huge fan of Bill Johnson’s style. He told us early on that he ascribes to the “Socratean style of teaching”, and I should have left then. I spent most of my time taking notes on his style and the other people in the room than I did on his content. It was fun to practice Gutkind’s immersion technique.

His presentation revolved around the idea that if we took the time to align our projects to the company/leadership’s strategic vision; understood our own leadership style better; and increased our knowledge in the project management methodology we would have more successful projects. A good message, but one that could have been much more direct. I heard one person in the audience speak almost as much as Bill.

Overall, I would say this was an evening well spent. I got exactly what I was hoping for out of the workshop, more confidence in pursuing my PMP!

WBS Webinars

The first set of PMI webinars I watched were related to creating a work breakdown structure (WBS). As I am spinning up a new project I thought this would be an excellent place to start.

Tips for Creating the WBS and Gathering Better Estimates 

  • Vincent McGevna, PMP
  • Rated: 5.13/7
  • Duration: 70:35

This presentation was a good starting point. McGevna explained that a WBS needs to be deliverable oriented, hierarchical, and define 100% of the work to be delivered. He detailed how to start with a product breakdown structure and expand it into a work breakdown structure. I also liked that he reviewed different tools that could help you accomplish this task like WBS Chart Pro that integrates with Microsoft Project.

Industrial Strength Work Breakdown Structures 

  • Dale Boeckman
  • Rated: 4.29/7
  • Duration: 61:39

The second webinar I watch was not nearly as good as the first. Boeckman’s slides we’re overloaded with information and did not sync up with his talking points. It also appeared that he was reading directly from a page in some areas and had long pauses not caused by technical issues.

I wished he had gone into more detail around the WBS dictionary, because I thought his list of required and optional definition was very helpful.

The quality of these webinars is not very good. The audio cuts out in certain places, and they don’t really seem to have any standardization on the slides. I will try a couple more sessions based on rating instead of by topic and see if those are any better.

Do you have any suggestions for project management webinars? Please share your recommendations in the comments.

Multiform Meditation

The idea of sitting still and trying not think originally seemed equal parts foolish and intimidating. To overcome my unease I tried a variety of meditation techniques that could help develop my habit. I have them listed below in order of personal preference.

Walking Meditation

I learned walking meditation (kinhin) at Dharma Field. Standing with your hands in the shashu position focus on your breath, and on your exhale take a half step forward. At first it seemed like too much to concentrate on: following my breath; walking at the right time; not taking a normal stride, but after a few minutes I got the hang of things. The additional focus on my posture and speed really helped me to stay in the meditative state and when my ending bell sounded I felt relaxed and refreshed.

I will be incorporating this in my regular practice by doing walking meditation at the end of my sit. This will be a great way to bring myself back to an awakened state gradually, and it will allow me to extend my sessions by incorporating different techniques rather than sitting for longer.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

11931135_1632250123704341_1948719911_nI tried two different hand poses for alternate nostril breathing, and I preferred the one with the index and middle finger folded down (bottom picture). When I had those fingers resting between my eyebrows I found it hard to relax and not to press them into my skin. Once I settled into the timing of movement the time flew by! I was focused and my mind seemed to wander less because I was aware of my breath and body.

This is an easy technique to pick up, and I would suggest that everyone give it a try! I will be starting my daily sits with 1 minute of alternate nostril breathing before a 10 minute session. This will afford me better focus as I start my sessions.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a form of moving meditation similar to yoga. Since I suck at yoga I was glad to find an alternative. Tai chi is low impact, and much better aligned with my fitness and flexibility levels. I found an excellent tutorial video, but it has a lot of pop-up adds. I have not counted the time watching the video and practicing tai chi toward my daily habit because I don’t feel like I am in a meditative state while learning.

I am hoping that once I learn some of the basic forms I can take a class on tai chi or find a meet up group. I know I’ve seen groups of people practicing in the park, now I just need to find them. This is definitely a technique I am interested in pursuing.


I had a lot of fun ideas for my mantra, like Stuart Smalley’s positive affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me” or “let that shit go.” Ultimately, I decided to stick with my goals and picked “salud.” It means health in Spanish and is a toast my grandmother always makes.

I repeated my mantra silently on my exhale for the first half of my sit, and then switched to chanting it during the second half. I had a neutral experience. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it didn’t seem to help me focus any better than sitting silently. I thought that since my love language is “words of affirmation” I would really benefit from a mantra, but this not a practice I will stick with.

Candle Staring

11376399_1622897171318699_1420930732_nThe first time I tried candle staring I used a guided meditation. There was an interesting point during the session where you close your eyes and focus on the negative image of the candle, but overall this technique did not seem particularly helpful. I felt more distracted and had trouble letting my thoughts pass.

I tried this method a second time without the guided meditation. It was slightly better than my first attempt but at the end of my session I spilled hot wax on my hand and that was the end of my foray into candle staring. All the angry cursing probably negated the benefits of that session.

I’m glad I expanded my horizons and tried various techniques. I am sure walking meditation, alternate nostril breathing, and tai chi will help me grow my meditation practice.

Have you tried any of these techniques before? Please share your experience in the comments!

Writing Workouts

This habit is all about becoming a better and more consistent writer. As I have researched different ways to accomplish this goal I keep seeing the same tip over and over again: Write! In an effort to write at least 300 words a day I have come up with some different ways to meet that goal.


I am a great in class learner so I signed up for a Coursera class, Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens. There are writing exercises we will be working on throughout the course. The word count varies by assignment, but it is a good way to get writing. I also picked my second book for this habit, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, because there are writing exercises peppered throughout.


I follow /r/WritingPrompts on Reddit, NaNoWriMo on Facebook, and some of my favorite authors on various social media sites. Great writing prompts can come from these sources. I don’t do them on a regular basis, but if I’m dealing with writer’s block the prompts can get me out of my rut. I will search for prompts that fire a spark of inspiration, and then write as much as I can on that topic. It’s a useful distraction!


I have always been a consistent journal-er, but this blogging habit is a stretch for me. This blog has been my primary writing outlet, along with my corresponding notebook. I use the notebook daily to reflect on all the ways I am trying to cultivate my habit. Those notes lead directly to my blog posts.

I also have a private LiveJournal account and a small journal that I keep on my nightstand. When I find it hard to sleep or am particularly stressed out I use those journals just to get things out of my head! I find I am better able to relax once I get everything down on paper.

Business Writing

As a consulting project manager I have the opportunity to write a lot throughout the day. I send countless emails, create reference documents, and give a lot of presentations. I do not count the words I type during the work day, but I am reinforcing the skills that I am learning from my blogging habit.

Now, when I proofread my emails I ensure I have the “newsiest” pieces at the top with a great introduction. When I write my project management plans, I try to power through my shitty first drafts. Building this habit has given me a new appreciation for all the writing I already do on a daily basis.

Writing 300 words a day is not as simple as I thought it would be. Having a couple of different “writing workouts” like the assignments and prompts help me to keep building my writing chops. It also a great way to ensure I meet my goal of working on this blog for at least 1 hour every day.

Do you have any tips on how you meet a daily word count? Please share in the comments below!