Friday, March 11, 2011

Personal branding tip: Create a "Personal Preference Card"

Don't ever go shopping with me.

This is me in Target: 

"OK, I need a hook to hang things on. 

"Oh...look at those great T-shirts! Merona...that's not a brand. Plus, those are men's shirts. I don't know about that.


"Wait. Over there! I see something interesting...."

Which is why a 5-minute errand takes me about half an hour.

If I had a "personal preference card" (PPC) - meaning a little index card type thing where I wrote down my shopping style - with me, I would save a lot of time. Like I would know that I routinely take half an hour to browse every time I need a little tchotzchke (sp?) and maybe get those things in bulk, online.

If you consider that weekends are largely for shopping and that one only has (48-16=) 32 hours on a weekend to do EVERYTHING, saving a half an hour is significant.

I need a PPC. 

It would save me money, not just time. 

I would use my PPC to remind me to stay out of Trader Joe's, except once a week. Otherwise I will spend $75 a trip on things that look interesting, that I MAY need in the future, but which I will never use. Like seaweed snacks, vegetarian pad thai, the new bento box for $5.99 a pop. All of it cool, none of it necessary.

There is a more important use for such a card: It could help to make you happier. 

Gretchen Rubin, writing for Psychology Today, writes about this. Lifehacker picked up on that theme in commenting on her post.

Now you have to forgive Gretchen, as you read this, if she sounds a little narcissistic. It's all for a good cause - her being happy and, at the very least, not driving the people around her crazy (although I am a little unnerved by her referring to herself in the third person):

<<Gretchen prefers to work at a desk with a lot of bare surface space.
Gretchen prefers to clear out her email inbox before turning to more difficult work. 
Gretchen prefers to do original writing away from her home office.
Gretchen prefers not to fall too far behind on her compulsive note-taking, so be sure to leave time for that activity in the schedule.
Gretchen prefers not to spend time looking for things, so be sure to put everything back in its proper place.
Gretchen prefers to work at a computer with three monitors.
Gretchen prefers to drink tea, coffee, or diet soda all the time when she's working so be sure to have plenty at hand.
Gretchen is often cold, so please keep the work space on the warm side.>>

The third person part is why I sort of dismissed this at first. But the idea stuck around in my head, because it's a good one. If only because I'm always so busy and looking for ways to save time.

Eventually I did a little mental exercise where I substituted my own name for hers and put things into her format. That was when I started to like the idea more and more. After all, if a surgeon is entitled to have the operating room set up just right, aren't other people allowed to have their own preferences when it comes to work, shopping, and life?

Yes, of course!

It soon dawned on me that the PPC is ideal from a personal branding point of view. Returning to the theme of the brand as a decision filter, it helps you to gravitate toward success and away from trouble. Quickly.

Really it comes down to this: You have to know your personality and focus on that. It's not about your technical skills or the career you trained for. It's about you. 

Imagine that you are an animal, or better yet, a fish. What environments are most hospitable to you? Go there if you can. Stay away from shark-filled waters or your own personal Bermuda Triangle.

Just like people gain weight when their friends overeat. Just like druggie friends lead to drug abuse. Don't willingly put yourself in a situation where you will fail. 

Go instead where you will be a star. Surround yourself with people who want to be successful, like you do.

It doesn't matter what you went to school to do. These days it's about knowing how to think and how to work in a variety of contexts. Go back to what you're good at, what you've already done well (and what you haven't), and get very clear about it. That way you won't take on assignments or jobs that are doomed to make you look bad or stress out beyond your capacity to handle the situation. The PPC is the perfect tool to help you do that.

To give you an idea of how a PPC might work for branding, here's one I created for myself. Hopefully not too narcissistic-looking. It's just to give you the basic idea.
  1. Dedicated to my career, but G-d and family come first
  2. Creative, innovative, "out of the box" - prefer unpaved road to marked path
  3. Independent worker, but do best within structure and team
  4. Prefer short-term, intensely demanding projects - do well under pressure, multitasking
  5. Virtually oriented - get more done that way
  6. Introverted, but gain energy from collaborating, networking, learning best practices
  7. Not egotistical, but find it important to be valued and recognized for contributions made
  8. Open-minded - enjoy constructive disagreement if it yields a better result
  9. Down-to-earth and direct - polite, but not a politician
  10. Dislike conflict, but will fight like a bulldog if it's necessary for a better result
Looking at this list, I kind of know when I'll do well with something and when I won't. I think I can use this to gravitate toward certain responsibilities and not take on others, if I have a choice. Or, if there is no choice, try to tailor the responsibility in such a way that I can carry it out well.

What are your personal preferences at work? How about in your non-work life? I can easily see this card as a very versatile, expandable thing. Perhaps even for people who are looking to get married - write down a list of your lifestyle preferences as well as your "dealbreakers," as Patti Stanger puts it (see her list here). Unfortunately Patti dated someone for many years who then didn't want to have kids - how much time and emotion did she lose on that? 

Personal preferences are a serious thing. They don't have to be put aside for the sake of finding a job, a mate, or happiness. If you're upfront about who you are and what you want, you can stay focused and turn them to your advantage. 

Be recognized for the qualities that you bring to the table. They are unique, they are valuable, and they are truly yours. Own them with pride.

Good luck!


Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.