I didn't shave today.

That's something of a confession. I got up at my usual time, which is so early even the dog is disgusted, did my usual puttering around, then showered, dressed and went into my office to start the day. It was all very routine for a work-at-home morning. But it's chilly today, and kind of dreary here in the east, and I just didn't feel like standing in front of the sink shivering I could be warmer, faster, by getting dressed.

You might say it's an idiosyncrasy that I shave every weekday, whether I'm going into the Dice office or not. I'd tell you it's my way of getting in the zone. It helps me focus, even when Cody the terrier is feuding with the deer in the back yard. It's a routine that helps establish the line between arriving at work and actually beginning work.  (At a lot of places, this is called "coffee.")

Stepping In, Stepping Out

Those of us who are desk-bound need to take a similar moment before we head out to meet someone for lunch or a drink. Because, really, building a relationship involves more than just showing up. You don't want to meet someone for the first time looking like you're having the day from Hell - even if you are. Introducing yourself, having a useful conversation and even digesting your food is a lot easier to do when you're calm.

While there's no big trick to this, it does take a certain amount of self-discipline. You have to remind yourself why you're leaving the office and tell yourself to take a breath, even if all you want to do is vent. No big trick, I said, but it's not always easy. When things are lousy at work, you can't change your mood as if you were turning on a light. I mean, you're supposed to smile and chat and act excited when QA just found a dozen regression errors in your code or your team decided to pull all of your recommendations out of its final report?

Well, yes, actually.

There's a certain amount of performance to having lunch. That performance is about being your most professional self even if you're thinking this would be a good time to move to Maine and take up lobstering. Because unless you're serious about that, you want to keep building momentum among your business relationships: You want to meet new people and talk over challenges with established contacts.

It's kind of like focusing on any other task. If you had to train someone on a lousy day, you'd do it. If you had to work through a database problem, you'd do that, too. Whatever's bothering you is still there, but you manage to put it into the background for a while you do your work.

My suggestion, use the time traveling to your appointment to review your agenda, either on paper or in your head. Go through the two or three things you most want to accomplish in your conversation. Practice how you're going to introduce yourself. Get yourself out of the office zone and into the lunch zone. Once you've done that, and made it through the first five minutes or so of conversation, you'll be where you want to be.

Don't forget to share your adventures out there - send me an e-mail (mfeffer at dice.com) to tell me what's worked for you, or what hasn't. Or post a comment below.

-- Mark Feffer