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20 (More) Ways to Slow Down Smart

Fast Company’s Lap(top) of Luxury contest prompted an outpouring of ideas from readers about how to cope with tougher times. Read their strategies and tactics, along with some compelling personal stories — and meet the winner of a Dell Inspiron 4000 Notebook computer.

The economy may be slowing down, but members of the Fast Company community are still fast on their feet — and quick to share their wisdom. Last month, more than 1,700 people registered for our Lap(top) of Luxury contest. They read through a collection of articles that offered ideas and tactics for staying fast in slower times, and then submitted their own ideas. The reward: One community-minded participant would be selected as the winner of a Dell Inspiron 4000 Notebook computer.

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So here’s (some of) what you proposed — 20 tips for building resilience and maintaining hope during the downturn, real advice from real Fast Company readers. And congratulations to Bonnitta Roy, of Kent, Connecticut, winner of our first-ever online contest!

Wind in Your Sails
Reimagine the vision that got you started. That same vision will drive you forward. But you must remember what your vision looked like before reality filled in so many details — details that act like barnacles and weigh down your ship. You might need to pull your boat up out of the water, scrape off those contingent details, and perhaps repair the warped hull. That clear, pared-down vision is what drives your passion for the work and what generates the creativity you need. Like a clean hull, your reexamined vision will suffer less drag as it sails through the waters — muddy or clear.
Bonnitta Roy
Kent, Connecticut

Take the Curve
Slowdowns are like winding highways. You need to brake into the turn to stay in control and to accelerate out of it for maximum efficiency. So when the economy slows down, take a break and learn a new skill. Catch up on your reading. Reintroduce yourself to your family and friends. Then be prepared to accelerate out of the turn when things pick up. You’ll be at the front of the pack during the next up cycle!
— Brett Kottmann
Centerville, Ohio

Million-Dollar Smile
Keeping your energy level at its peak is very difficult when you’ve been “pink-slipped,” but it’s crucial to remain upbeat at certain times. The people you call for references and for interviews can hear depression and desperation in your voice. There will be days when you just don’t feel like making more phone calls or arranging more meetings. Accept that you need a short break and do something good for yourself.
— Lydia Stark
Vancouver, British Columbia

Be a Closer
Now is not the time to simply put in extra hours. Results count. Focus on accomplishing tasks and solving problems, not just putting time on the clock. The resolvers, closers, and self-improvers will be the last ones standing.
— Cory Butler
Austin, Texas

Practice Makes Perfect
Slow times allow people to lose their professional and personal focus. Joe Lewis once said, “There is no such thing as a ‘natural.’ A natural dancer has to practice hard. A natural painter has to paint all the time. And a natural fool has to work at it.” Success requires discipline, focus, and a supportive environment. Find those things, and you will find strength in weak times.
— Vance McMurray
Woodbridge, Virginia

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Become a Leader
Thriving in tough times means acting like a leader. Great leaders don’t take a wait-and-see attitude, and they don’t focus on problems and obstacles. They look at a tough economy as simply a different economy and put their plans in place accordingly.
— Sara McKinnon
Dallas, Texas

Make It Happen
You will always remain promotable if you pursue opportunities in areas not normally staffed by people like you, or if you take projects that nobody wants and “make them happen.” That kind of risk taking allows you to test and redefine your boundaries.
— Larissa Estrada
El Paso, Texas

The Power of Networks
I cannot stress enough the importance of networks. The last job I got from a cold call was when I was 19 years old. I am now 36. I can trace every job I have had since back to the network of people that helped me land that first job 17 years ago.
— Sean Wheeler
Redmond, Washington

Add Value to Your Personal Franchise
Never consider yourself unemployed. Instead, you are “consulting.” There are always opportunities surrounding you. Some may be short-term cash propositions, while others may be long-term equity plays. Either way, use your time wisely.
— Michael Taus
Beverly Hills, California

Keep Yourself Solvent, Employable, and Happy
Spend less than you earn. Learn to write proposals to create great work for yourself. Know your rights as an employee. Ask for a performance review. Keep your ego in check. Learn the work styles of your colleagues. Document everything you do. And keep your sense of humor!
— Jane Snyder
Waterloo, Ontario

Say “I Love You”
After your exit interview, when you’ve received your final paycheck, traded handshakes, and walked out of the building, go look in the mirror. You will notice that nothing has changed. That person you see is just as valuable, efficient, and productive today as he or she was yesterday. Tell yourself, “I love you.” Then ask yourself, “So what are you afraid of?”

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Asking that may be the most freeing step you can take. It will force you to recognize that you do feel fear. If you go on in denial of that fear, you will never face it. If you never face it, you will never overcome it. The mirror chat with yourself is the best “boot to the head” that I know of.
— Richard Roberts
Bremerton, Washington

Give More Than You Get
The best way to stay employed is to make sure that you are positively contributing substantially more than you are paid. Don’t lose the focus of finding ways to make the company more profitable. Create your own projects, focus on value, and improve your value.
— Markus Hill
Asheboro, North Carolina

Diversify Your Input
Go to the bookstore, pick up some magazines from a variety of fields, sit down with a cup of coffee, and peruse. Often, casual browsing is enough to get you thinking of different people in different industries or other companies in related industries in your town. This exercise helps me sharpen my résumé and see how the skills I have honed in my industry might entice a company in a different industry.
— Greg Kittinger
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Goals, Goals, and More Goals …
Start small. Seek out a networking event and set a realistic goal of collecting three business cards. You will walk away from the event with a sense of accomplishment. Benchmark the next event for five business cards — or one relevant job lead.
— John Renolds
Chicago, Illinois

Don’t Settle
Don’t — I repeat — don’t take a job just because you are suffering a panic attack about being laid off. You will experience the consequences and realize how productive you could have been during that downtime.
— Bryan Ward
Los Gatos, California

Make It Your Job!
In any job, do more than is expected. Surprise your manager. And never turn down an assignment by saying, “That’s not my job.”
— Stuart Brogden
Houston, Texas

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Check Yourself
Take your annual goals and reorganize them in terms of what will make the company the most money. Then take your monthly and weekly to-do lists, and restructure them to reflect what you most want your division to achieve in the coming year. You’ll be more effective as a result — and more valuable by focusing on basics.
— David Horn
New York, New York

Simple Words
Preparation + Opportunity = Luck. Every exit is an entry somewhere else.
— Chris Ward
Findlay, Ohio

Add Some Spice to Your Life
Downturns can make your professional life feel stale. Stay productive and attentive by adding to your extracurricular life. Take on a second job or hobby, or start a project that you’ve put off. It’s all about how you choose to spend your spare time and keep yourself enriched.
— James Dell
Ottawa, Ontario

Generalist or Specialist?
If you hit the right mark, your specialty will help you build a reputation and a bank balance. But what if you choose the wrong niche? Today’s economy is no different than the down cycles we see in every decade. Constantly upgrading skills, obtaining new business experience, and delivering value are what count in any economy. Adapt, learn, and do good work.
— Colin McGuire
Calgary, Alberta

Sidebar: Bonnitta Roy

When Bonnitta Roy fled New York after 13 years of living there, she sought a quieter existence in the tucked-away town of Kent, Connecticut. After some time in the small town, her passion for the outdoors drove her to begin poking around the offices of Kent Horticultural Services, a homegrown landscaping company located on Main Street.

What she found inside was a mom-and-pop operation bursting at the seams — and suffering under the weight of its own popularity. Growing from a local landscaper to a full-service design and building firm with top-notch clients across the state, Kent Horticultural Services desperately needed to reconcile its operational technology with its new workload. And Roy was just the ambitious New Yorker to meet the challenge head-on.

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So Roy rolled up her sleeves and got to work. First order of business: order the shop’s very first computers and teach its founders how to transform technology into great customer service. Next, Roy worked to implement a rudimentary operations system upon which the company could continue to build indefinitely. Today, Kent’s plucky mom-and-pop shop is one of the largest full-service landscaping companies in the state. And it’s preparing to unveil a Web-based tool that will allow clients to participate in the design and building process from across the city — or the country.

Meanwhile, Roy has forged ahead with another challenging business proposition: a small company founded and operated by her and her husband, Serafino Bueti, called Treemobile LLC. Roy and Bueti’s love of the land and business innovation helped them create a customer-oriented tree-moving service that fills the gap between landscape architects and nursery services. By relating directly to the customer without truckloads of subcontractors, Treemobile is carving a niche among Connecticut homeowners who want to help design their own landscaping. The killer app behind Treemobile is a unique variation on a tree spade that removes and replants very large trees. By mounting those machines on Volvo trucks, Roy and her husband have built a tool known throughout Connecticut as a “treemobile,” rather than a tree spade — suddenly, they are enjoying the same branding success as Band-Aid, Xerox, and Kleenex.

A loyal Fast Company reader since issue 3, Roy says that she adapts the magazine’s principles to fit her off-center job in an off-center industry. Now landscaping is front and center as we congratulate Roy on her winning submission and thank her for contributing to the Fast Company community.

Read Roy’s winning submission to the Lap(top) of Luxury contest here.

Read the sidebar: Diaries of a Downturn

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