Sudoku at 3am

For many years I’ve polished my word skills working the crossword puzzle. Occasionally I’d glance across the page at the Sudoku puzzle wondering how that worked, but not curious enough to try. On a recent trip to New York, with newspaper in-hand and the crossword done, I took a stab at the Sudoku numbers puzzle. There I sat, trying my best to logically figure out the pattern of numbers. Soon John took an interest and by the end of our trip we were hooked on Sudoku.

Last Saturday evening, I was working a puzzle with a level 5 difficulty and was so stuck that I gave up and went to bed. At 3 am Sunday morning, my sweet dog needed to be let outside, so while I was waiting to let her back in I took a look at the puzzle that had me stumped the night before. Within one minute of looking at the squares I discovered the one number I needed and a few minutes later I had the puzzle solved. Wow…my first level 5. (Yes, I woke John up to tell him)

I don’t know if it was the five hours of sleep, fresh eyes or just luck that I discovered the number that held the key to solving the puzzle. But, like usual for me, it made me wonder about how our minds work. Perhaps the uncluttered mind at 3 am was all I needed to see what I was too tired to see the night before. Or maybe it was the absence of stress that made the solution so obvious.

This makes me think of Raymer Bookbindery and the philosophy that Myers, the owner, uses to create his custom bookbinding. Myers likes to muse about a project and he will not be rushed. He knows through experience that his most challenging projects can’t be solved quickly. He is certain the solution will come to him, but perhaps in a time frame that is not necessarily in sync with our current craze of doing everything quickly.

That gets me to thinking about some of my more difficult print projects. Sometimes I don’t immediately know the best way to proceed with a job and I’ll need to make paper mock ups and discuss the project with my pressmen or production team. All of this takes time for us to think, to estimate, discuss some more and execute. The absence of time restrictions would be beneficial to every project, and although we don’t typically have that luxury, it is obvious that with additional time to ponder we would be more efficient at solving problems.

Early Discovery ~

When Ty was about four years old he did something that every parent fears.

He was watching TV in the living room while I was nearby in the kitchen making dinner. Earlier I had lit a candle, and without thinking about it, left it burning when I went to the other room. So Ty, being the inquisitive child, found a piece of paper and laid it across the flame. As the paper began to burn he realized he needed my help and flew into the kitchen. I took one look at his face and his urgent cry and wasted no time running into the next room where I picked up the burning piece of paper by a tiny edge that wasn’t on fire and carried it to the sink.

When everything (including me) was under control I turned to face my son. It was obvious from the terrified look on his face that he knew he made a mistake and I was confident he would not make that particular one again. So, I didn’t scold him or punish him, instead I pulled him towards me and gave him a big hug and told him he did the right thing. I thanked him over and over again for coming to get me and not trying to hide what he did. My goal was to reinforce the part he did do right, that was, alerting me to the situation.

There are many situations in life and work, where, if you can identify a problem early in the process, that the damage could be minimized. The piece of paper could have turned into the sofa being on fire, which could have turned into the house being on fire. If that had happened, I can’t imagine the emotional toll Ty and I would have faced.

If you do anything at all in your job, you will occasionally be required to identify or admit problems with your work. But the damage could be negated by admitting the problem sooner than later.

American Printer ~

As of September 2011, American Printer ceased publication.

This is the last statement in the footnote of the It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday blog from the American Printer editor, Katherine O’Brien.

The death of our industry magazine is just another slam on the printing industry and it makes me sad. Don’t misunderstand, I’m just as guilty of not reading this publication as the next. I’m an industry veteran…31 years in printing and I can’t even find the time to support a magazine that covers my industry. There is so much to read, so much to do and so little time to do all the things we want to do. I’m now supposed to be an expert not only in my industry, but the other industries I call on. At least that’s what a lot of the sales gurus are saying. Study, learn, and make the call to the senior marketing managers and prove to them you understand their challenges. Heck, it’s hard to keep up with my own industry challenges. How do I do all that and still support my own? Guess we didn’t and that makes me sad. I think I’ve already said that.

Changes ~

Word is out on the street; things are changing at Ussery Printing.

Change makes most of us uncomfortable, even when it’s for the best. The discomfort arises out of not knowing what will happen next. New people are coming on board from the recent closing of Padgett Printing and we’re full of anticipation to see how we will all work together.

I don’t know a whole lot about the football draft but I can see a correlation when you are talking about recruiting talent. Ussery already has great talent, but the addition of some new people will give us greater depth in our abilities as a team. Isn’t that how it works in sports? If a valuable player gets side-lined or isn’t performing up to par, the other team members pick up the slack?

Over the years we’ve watched many great printers close their doors, from the traditional Heritage Press to the new-age Buchanan Visual Communications, and those are just two of many. Every time a printer fails we have a choice in how we react to the news. I’ve been involved in my share of plant closures and thankfully have always rebounded. Some people have been fortunate to never endure a closing, but the people who can claim that are getting harder to find. It’s humbling when it happens and all the employees deserve our respect knowing how hard they fought, even if their shop closed. Some have spent a life-time in an industry we’re all still struggling to maintain. It’s important to support our own teams, but also let’s unite to support the game.

Simplicity ~

At the beginning of every year I buy a new spiral bound calendar. It sits on my desk during working hours where I use it to schedule appointments, lunch dates and make note of things to do. I use it to remember anniversaries, birthdays and party plans. I schedule my doctor and dentist appointments and even keep track of when I practice yoga or how much I walk every week. I am also the keeper of our social calendar, as John likes to say. I can project months into the future with the flip of a few pages. I know how quickly the summer weekends go by just by jotting down dinner dates, vacation dates and time spent with family and friends at the lake.

Every year when I work on my taxes I use my calendar to confirm mileage and client lunches. It’s helpful to page through and match up receipts to journal entries. Once my taxes are complete, my calendar gets filed away with the paperwork for that year. If I ever need to review something or prove an expense from years ago, I don’t have any problems or even any effort to do that…it’s all there. Sure, there’s no argument that you can use any number of digital applications for storing information and scheduling dates on an electronic calendar or smart phone. It might be new, cool technology, but it doesn’t mean that it’s better.

Rusty Nails…

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Our lack of rain means the water levels at our area lakes are pretty low this year. Since the water is so low, we’ve been able to place our chairs further out on the beach that would normally be covered with water. We couldn’t help but notice an area on the beach that was darker than the rest with an old dock post sticking up out of the sand. As we speculated how the old post with cement at its base could have made its way to shore, an older gentleman strolling by overheard our conversation, stopped, and told us a story. He said many years ago when a local builder rebuilt a nearby dock, he buried the old dock right there and that was probably why the old post was there now. Somehow, as the years went by and the sands and water ebbed and flowed, it no longer held the remains of that old dock.

It wasn’t very long after that conversation when the nails started showing up. Big, thick, rusty, old nails. It seemed like every time the waves rolled in and out we would find one, two, sometimes three more. I don’t know what else they threw in the hole that day thinking…what? That the old dock remains would stay buried under the sand and the water forever? Those rusty nails reminded me that generations ago, a lot of people didn’t contemplate the possibility that decades later their garbage would seep back up through the earth, exposed by the tides of time.

Wood, like paper, can be recycled or will eventually be broken down by the elements. Cement and nails? Not so much. This generation should be mindful of what’s being buried and/or shipped to underdeveloped countries to be buried…and, what could possibly seep back up from the earth twenty or thirty years from now.

Back to Basics…

I’ve made a decision that for the month of May I’m going to focus more on getting back to basics. I’m feeling overwhelmed again and when I feel overwhelmed I’m not that productive. I like to be productive, so when I’m not, I get frustrated and the cycle begins again. I’m feeling a bit like the hamster in the wheel, working hard and running fast, but sadly getting no where.

Yesterday, I spent about 20 minutes picking up everything that was scattered across the floor in my office. Some of you might think why does she have stuff on her floor? All of us down the sales hall work very differently from each other. Some of the offices are bare of files, job tickets and any kind of paper work. Then, there are some that have job tickets, estimates and ideas in progress piled high here and there on the desk and the floor space. You know who you are.

Me, I’m kinda in the middle. Not super neat, but not the messiest hamster down the hall. I’m not focusing completely on the neatness, but on organization and the basics. The basics are what kept me in the game early on in my career. I just couldn’t allow random distractions to disrupt what I needed to get done for that day, that week, that month. So, I’m cleaning up my act and getting rid of the paper piles, little ducks, and other random stuff I don’t need to do my job. I feel better already.