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Goals Are Nice, But Think Twice Before Setting a New One

Ever feel like your career is moving at a faster pace than you ever imagined? I know I’ve felt that way numerous times, especially in the last few years.

We’re inundated with information like never before. This makes goal-setting an essential skill that we must all have if we’re going to find the success we want.

Or is it?

Setting a meaningful goal to work toward can be important, but it can also lead us into two specific traps that can do more harm than good. 

  1. It can cause us to be less adaptable to changing circumstances because we are so fixated on the meaningful goal we have set for ourselves.
  2. It can cause us to attempt too many tasks at once because we feel guilt, shame, or remorse for not being able to meet a meaningful goal within a specific period of time.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of working hard at hardly being productive. It’s time to make a change. That’s why I say that goals are nice, but let’s think twice before setting a new one this year.

Why Flexibility Is More Important Than a Meaningful Goal

Thinking about the future of your career is important. Don’t get me wrong here. Planning out a path of success should never be overlooked. It’s how we chart our course and then navigate toward our destination that I’m proposing we change.

When many professionals set goals for themselves, they are long-term in nature. 

  • “In the next 12 months, I want to accomplish…”
  • “Five years from now, my goal is to be…”
  • “I’m trying to save $100 per month so I can retire in 20 years.”

These long-term goals are nice, but they are also very rigid and unforgiving. You must follow a prescribed course of action in order to achieve the goal. If a roadblock is found or there are obstacles that come up, you have no method of finding a detour around the issue because you’re locked into this one path.

So instead of all these long-term resolutions, consider short-term goals instead. Let’s transform those three statements above so you can see what I mean. 

  • “This week I will work toward accomplishing…”
  • “Five years from now, I will be satisfied with my career if any of these events occur.”
  • “I’m trying to save $100 this month for retirement.”

By Staying in the Present Moment, You Can Accomplish More

Ever feel exhausted before you even make it to work? Wonder what happened to your life as you sit in your office? Dream of getting out of a cubicle?

When you have several long-term goals that you’re attempting to achieve, then you spread yourself too thin. There’s no way to focus on what needs to happen today because you’re so focused on what tomorrow will bring.

So let’s forget about tomorrow. Stay in the present moment instead and I guarantee that the stress or even regret you feel about your long-term goals will begin to reduce.

There will always be competitive priorities that we must face. By focusing on what needs to be done right now, we can let tomorrow worry about itself.

How do you set professional goals for yourself? Is there a method of goal-setting that you have found to be particularly effective?

Strategic Thinking: Your Career Needs It

 

How many emails do you send in a day? I counted the other day and figured out I send out just over 100. That’s actually lower than the average employee, who sends out over 120 emails.

How many meetings do you attend per month? Thankfully, most of my meetings are at convenient times these days and for specific reasons. For the average employee, however, there are 60+ meetings per month to attend and many of them may be mostly worthless.

In many ways, our jobs can feel like they control us. It’s time to take that control back. We can do this through the strategic thinking process. Here are the methods I use to make sure my career stays on the right track.

#1. Take time for yourself and your career every day. When life gets busy, it becomes easy to stop thinking. This may be fine for a day or two, but when it occurs for a month or two, it affects the way you think. Instead of pursuing a passion, you begin to pursue a paycheck. This is why I always make at least 15 minutes in my schedule, no matter how busy the day may be, to strategically think. I call it “career meditation.” This allows me to examine the big picture, prepare for meetings, or come up with a new idea that could change everything.

#2. Make sure you have planned the next step. It can be a lot of fun to be spontaneous when taking a vacation. Your career should not be spontaneous. I’ve found that if each career step is planned out and anticipated, it becomes much easier to find the success that is desired. Some pathways toward success may seem hidden. Some steps that need to be taken can be very difficult to take. Look at where you want to be in the next 3-5 years. Then look at what you need to make happen to reach the end of the journey. This is how you plan the next step.

#3. Invest your time into meaningful work. When there are 120+ emails per day to send, it can be easy to feel like you’ve been productive. Trust me. Sending emails is not meaningful work. It just keeps you busy. If you want your career to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself, it is necessary to dig deep and do the work that no one else wants to do. This will likely give you a nickname, like being a “go-getter” or the “VP’s Pet.” Ignore that stuff and do what you need to do. Your co-workers come up with unflattering names because they’ve become stuck on their own path and we all know that misery loves company.

#4. Keep building up your reputation. Here’s an uncomfortable truth: within any organization, the best employees are almost always taken for granted. This is why external hires often make 20% or more than internal promotions. In order to counter this effect, it becomes important to keep reminding your supervisors and executive team of your accomplishments. Show them how you stand out. Take time to support your career during your off-hours here and there as well to prove your commitment and this will help you to build a solid reputation.

Strategic thinking might seem like a waste of time on some days, but it never is. I’ve found that with just 15 minutes set aside every day to think about my career and final goals, it becomes much easier to do more than just shoot for the stars.

How has strategic thinking helped you reach your goals?

Burnout: Why It Happens to Some, But Not Others

 

Ever have one of those days when stress seems to be everywhere? From the moment your feet hit the floor after getting out of bed, the universe seems to have it out for you.

It is important to remember one thing on days like that: stress is not the same as burnout. We all have bad days. Burnout occurs when you are exhausted from day after day of pressure, stress, and worry about your personal or professional responsibilities – or both.

To cope with this stress, I’ve been known to have a drink or two. Others might choose to eat comfort foods, find relief through illicit drugs, or even push themselves harder to get stuff done. When I start to feel exhausted from it all and believe burnout is approaching, these are the steps I take to make sure life can continue on as normal.

#1. Make sure you are not your own trigger.

Pressure creates anxiety. Anxiety creates stress. Stress triggers a reaction. If you’re putting pressure on yourself, then you’re creating your own triggers. I’m the type of person who demands personal perfection in everything, so I understand what it’s like to put pressure on oneself. If you can stop doing this, you’ll eliminate a lot of the triggers that can lead you on a path toward burnout.

#2. Embrace your limitations.

You don’t have to do everything on your own. If you’re in a leadership role, then inspire others to be great. Don’t take over their work in addition to your own. And, if the demands placed on you are greater than your ability to accomplish them, admit that right away. Otherwise you’ll always be swimming upstream and be miserable just about every day.

#3. Take a 5-minute meditation break.

This has helped me immensely. When my chest feels tight and my brain wants to shut down because of stress, I disengage. Just 5 minutes of deep breathing, meditation, or the use of a relaxation technique can help to manage acute stress very effectively.

#4. Look at the situation through honest eyes.

Sometimes stress happens because we’re looking at a problem in a completely upside-down way. Ever make a problem more complicated? I’ve been known to do that. So take off the rose-colored glasses that lead to stress and be completely honest with yourself. Look at the big picture instead of the small picture. Or vice-versa. It might not make your stress go away, but good stress won’t lead to burnout one day, while bad stress typically does.

#5. Tap into your empathy.

Ever feel like someone is attacking you? Competing with you? Targeting you?

This is how many stressful incidents occur. I’ve found that by making a conscious effort to step into the shoes of the other person, I can often de-escalate a conflict before it turns into a situation that can lead to burnout. You may not agree with that person, but if you understand their approach, it becomes easier to communicate with that person.

Through the use of our emotional intelligence, we can recognize stress triggers, limit burnout, and keep going. Those who have been able to do this are able to continue pressing forward when others may give up. How do you cope with stress and burnout to keep doing what you do?

Transform Your Workplace from the Inside Out with These 5 Simple Steps

 

When you’re having a bad day at work, it seems to affect everything in your life. Add in some holiday stress, some in-law drama, and it becomes tempting to pull the covers over your head and call it a day at 7am.

I know that the magic of the holidays often feels lost with the stresses that are around us. These stresses are magnified at work, which makes every trigger seem even stronger. The good news is that there are ways for you to transform your workplace from the inside out. I’ve got 5 simple steps for you to follow.

Step #1: It’s Not About You

I know stuff at work can be tough. It seems like people are sometimes out to get you. Here’s the problem: other people feel like you are out to get them. So it becomes important to remember that the stress that is happening isn’t directed at you personally.

It’s a reflection of what everyone else is experiencing.

Acknowledge your feelings. Be aware of the moments that are making you feel stressed out and avoid them if you can. Implement a coping skill if necessary. And if the feelings seem like they could be related to depression, get some professional help.

Step #2: Take a Deep Breath

Breathing really can make a big difference when you’re having a bad day. I like to breathe in for a 4-count, then breathe out for a 4-count, and do this a handful of times. On the last breath, I breathe in as deep as I can, then I let it go as slowly as possible. Try to do the deep breathing exercises at least once per hour.

It has a remarkable effect on the nervous system. You will feel calmer and ready to become productive once again.

Step #3: Set Meaningful Priorities

I sometimes get these big projects, but they’re due in 5-6 weeks. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop stressing out about it. The stress sometimes hits as soon as the assignment comes through. What I’ve learned to start doing is setting clear priorities for myself.

In other words, take things one day at a time. Focus on what needs to be done today. The present has enough worries of its own. The future can wait for tomorrow.

Step #4: Make an Effort to Be Compassionate

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays – or even a long day at work – the focus tends to go inward. I know in those times I feel like I just need to take care of me. When you can put the focus outward and be compassionate toward others, you’ll find that the response often comes back the same way.

I’ve found this is also a great way to stop arguments with co-workers as well.

Step #5: Take Care of Yourself

You need to recharge your batteries from time to time. Tension will drain your energy like crazy. So spend some time decompressing. Go take a walk. Grab some lunch. Leave your desk or cubicle and do anything other than work. That way whatever stress is going on can be left alone for a few minutes.

We all have bad days come our way, but it doesn’t have to say that way. By transforming how you look at each moment with these 5 steps, you can begin to change everything from the inside out.

How do you handle stressful situations? What coping skills have worked wonders for you?

Why Fair Division Is Essential for a Healthy Team Environment

 

“Why does he get less work than I do?”

“Why does she receive more breaks every day?

Questions like these are the start of division within any team. Even when a manager is trying to be fair in assigning work and offering incentives, the perception of favoritism can cause a festering and hidden sore that destroys the team environment.

I know it’s tempting to give your best people and hardest workers more tasks and responsibility, especially if their quality is better. Yet a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Through fair division, you can bring a team together and reduce the risks of it tearing itself apart.

So how can a fair division of work be achieved? Here’s what I have found to be successful.

#1. You must clarify specific team roles. There must be clarity in the roles everyone on the team happens to have. There is always that one person who thinks they get to be the boss when you’re gone. I’ve found it beneficial to bring the team together so each role can be clarified in a group setting. This reduces those team members who try to “jump ship” and go to a different role when not directly supervised.

#2. Create a block of time on your calendar for “delegation time.” For fair division to work, you must take time to organize the delegation process. I’ve always found the last two hours of the work week to be the best time for this. It’s not a difficult task, but it’s an important one, and you’re usually left undisturbed by others because everyone wants to start the weekend right away.

#3. Set clear expectations. People will work to the bar that you set for them. You’ve got to be careful not to set the bar too low, but your expectations can’t be in the stratosphere either. They must be high, but realistic. I walk each team member through my expectations for them with an individual meeting to make sure any questions can be answer. Then we sign a statement which says they understand their expectations so I’m not stuck with the “I didn’t understand it and you didn’t help me” excuse later on.

#4. Force the workhorse to take a break. There’s that one team member you rely upon more than anyone else. They’re good at what they do and you know it. They know it. For the workhorse, their productivity is a way to establish team leadership. You need that leadership. I’ve found it useful to force a break on that team member. Give them a low priority assignment that they could do in their sleep. It will give them a mental break and you’ll be able to work on skill-building with the rest of the team.

#5. Stay as flexible as possible. Some people will struggle when a policy of fair division is implemented because they’ve been skating under the radar. You know – the people who do the least amount of work possible. Be flexible, but also be firm, in bringing these team members up to speed. They are going to feel like this isn’t fair to them, especially if they haven’t been held responsible for productivity levels for some time.

Fair division reduces stress, improves morale, and can be a boon to your team’s productivity.

How have you implemented a policy of fair division? Have you implemented these strategies with your team? What were the results?

Why You Need 360 Degrees of Feedback to Get Promoted

Making it to the next level of career success can be a frustrating experience. I can remember sitting in my office, mired in middle management, wondering if I would ever be able to make the next step happen. It was a miserable experience. Yet when I discovered the powerful nature that 360 degrees of feedback can provide, I didn’t feel so stuck any more.

Here’s why: the best feedback you can receive won’t come from your family, friends, or your political allies at work. It will come from your biggest critics. Listen to what they have to offer and you may just find a new door is ready to open that you hadn’t seen before.

How Does 360 Degrees of Feedback Work?

I’m a pretty straight-forward manager. I know who likes me, who respects me, and who would rather see me on the first flight to Termination City. It was the last group that I decided to approach because I felt like they would be more willing to tell me the truth I needed to hear.

I’d always felt that I was very good at what I did. I could produce results. Yet when I brought my critics in for an honest feedback session where the gloves could come off, I discovered something that others perceived about me that was potentially holding me back.

Where I felt that I was confident, many felt that I was condescending. Where I felt like I was in control and a team leader, others felt that I was being dismissive of new ideas. And where I felt like I was driving my team forward to new heights of accomplishment, some felt like I was being impatient.

The bottom line that I got out of that conversation was this: many people thought I was trying to further my career at the expense of everyone else. It didn’t matter whether or not that I felt this was true – and it wasn’t true. But because this was the general perception many had about me, that perception would become a reality.

Why Having Diverse Feedback Is Important

William Wrigley Jr. is attributed to this quote: “When two men in business agree, then one of them is unnecessary.” It can be pleasing to have a team of advisors giving you feedback that supports your own point of view, but that can also give you tunnel vision when you look at the future.

You might think you’re finding success. In reality, you’re not finding anything but a lot of “Yes” people telling you what you want to hear.

So here’s what I did: I took those critics and I asked them to be my personal advisors. I told them to be brutally honest with me, but I also told them to be just as honest with themselves when it came to potential positives that I could be doing as well. After all, when people just focus on the negative, that’s what will only be found.

The results have been impressive. I may not have that promotion, but the communication throughout my team is better. I’m no longer arrogant in the eyes of most because more people understand who I am and what my leadership style happens to be.

And it’s all because I listened to the feedback from my critics.

Take the next opportunity you can to embrace your critics and take their feedback seriously. Then implement realistic changes based on what you’re told. When you’ve done that, come back and tell me what happened. I’d love to hear where you found success and what struggles you encountered during this process.

5 Ways to Add Mindfulness Meditation to Your Work Routine

 

Mindfulness meditation. It’s more than a business buzzword these days. It’s a practical action that anyone can take to experience better success in their job duties.

With the application of mindfulness meditation, an individual’s resilience, collaboration skills, and ability to lead are reinforced. And though the benefits are profound, I can tell you that experiencing these benefits isn’t always an easy process.

For mindfulness meditation to work, you’ve got to be willing to commit to the process with 100% of your personal energy. If you’re not “all in,” then the benefits will struggle to appear.

So how can each of us put in the time when we don’t have a lot of time in our schedules? I know there are days when I’m lucky to even find time to eat a sandwich. Here are some ideas that have really helped me be able to include mindfulness into my calendar.

#1. Take away the art of being “busy.” When I took an honest look at my schedule, I found that I was scheduling a lot of time where I was being busy instead of being productive. Since I felt like mindfulness meditation would make me more productive, I forced myself to remove the busy periods of time.

#2. Begin to delegate. I hate delegating. It’s not that I find it hard to let tasks go. I find that I don’t always trust those around me to do a good job. Can you relate to that? So I was brave. I allowed my admin to start reviewing my non-essential emails to let me know what was going on instead of reading through each message. This saved me more time each day than I’d care to admit – but it goes toward my mindfulness time today.

#3. Eliminate the negative self-talk. I’m so bad at this. “Good job, stupid,” tends to come out if I make a mistake. I’ve heard far worse from my colleagues. The only problem is that this negative self-talk enhances the guilt and anxiety we already feel because of failure. So, when we fail at meditation, the negative self-talk tries to show up. I’ll probably never completely eliminate my name calling habit, but by being more conscious about it, I’ve found that I’m more able to embrace mindfulness meditation.

#4. Incorporate it into other business events. When I really can’t find any time to meditate, I’ve found that most of my colleagues are finding a similar struggle on that day. Since my team gets together on a regular basis to discuss what’s going on, I’ve implemented the 5-minute mindfulness introduction. Before we begin the meeting, we have a group meditation session. It’s optional, of course, but it gives us at least a brief respite from what is going on and that helps immensely.

#5. Be realistic. I think this was my biggest mistake. At the very beginning, I expected – no, demanded – that I could make 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation work. Sure enough, it took me only 3 days to start finding excuses as to why I couldn’t make it work. When you’re realistic with your goals, you’ll be more successful. Period.

Mindfulness meditation can change everything. It allows you to connect with your job, your co-workers, and your family in new and exciting ways. How could you add just 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation to your routine today?

 

What It Really Means to Be an Active Listener

 

Ever had someone cut you off mid-thought because they just couldn’t hold their comments back? It seems to happen to me all the time – and even more so recently. The art of active listening seems to have gone away.

From my experience, being an active listener generally comes down to three traits in the eyes of most. You need to not talk when someone else is speaking, be conscious of your body language, and be able to summarize what has been said to you.

That might make it seem like you’re listening to the other person… but did you really hear what they had to say? Your Management 101 class would say that you did. I’m thinking that something may have been missed in translation. Here’s why.

#1. Active listening means more than encouraging silence.

When you’re listening to someone speak, there will be times when something might come up that is factually wrong. Or someone might need a moment to think about what it is they actually want to say. These moments deserve more than mere silence. I believe that in order to be an active listener, we must ask meaningful questions to challenge false assumptions or to break up moments of silence.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I appreciate a daytime sky that’s blue with a yellow sun.”

#2. Active listening also means respecting the opinion of others.

I’ve found that the best active listeners look for ways to build up a person’s self-esteem. They seek out moments of confidence and then look to build upon them. This creates a safe environment for even more conversation to be had.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I like the fact that the stars twinkle yellow in the dark night sky.”

#3. Active listening involves cooperation.

There must be a certain level of back-and-forth within the dialogue of a conversation in order for it to be meaningful. Have you ever noticed how much more rewarding a conversation happens to be when you know that you don’t have to be defensive about what you want to say? So many conversations today are competitive in nature. The goal in active listening isn’t to prove that your opinions are superior to theirs.

It’s to create a give and take so that it feels like you’re trying to help. I’ve found that trying to win an argument is pointless. Trying to listen for cooperative moments where mutual learning can happen? That’s when a conversation becomes rewarding.

#4. Active listening offers suggestions.

I like to call this the “plan of action” stage for active listening.

This is where you can give the other person in the conversation some feedback. Most people tend to talk when they need to vent their frustrations about something. Once they have finished discussing the problem and there’s a moment of silence, that’s your cue to know that they’re potentially receptive to a suggestion.

So suggest something. As an added bonus, if your suggestion calls for a specific action to be taken, then make the time to practice that action in some way.

Active listening isn’t a race. It is a moment for you to get to know someone else in a deeper, meaningful way if you create the structure which allows it. By following these steps, it becomes much easier to make that happen.

How do you apply active listening skills to your conversations?

How to Give Meaningful Feedback to Defensive People

 

They yell. They scream. They cry. Then they blame you.

I’ve been there far too often myself. Some people are constantly on the defensive. In order to give feedback to these individuals that is meaningful in nature, we must take their emotions into account.

Are they feeling fear or anxiety? Anger? Or maybe they are trying to cover up a mistake that they don’t want you to know about?

Negative emotions don’t have to create a negative outcome. With the right approach, it is possible for everyone involved to walk away feeling like they took something positive from the encounter. Here’s how you do it.

#1. Isolate the conversation. Defensive people tend to become more defensive if the conversation is happening in a public area. By isolating the conversation so that the feedback can be given in private, you eliminate the audience that can help to feed the negative emotions so they keep growing.

#2. Focus on the purpose of the conversation. People who are in a defensive mode are looking to counterstrike. You might have some solid feedback to give them, but they’re going to attack you at the first moment they can. The purpose here is to make sure you’re both working toward a solid outcome. Always focus on the end goal first – then focus on the steps that are required to get there.

#3. Keep yourself focused. I love stories. That makes it difficult for me to stay focused sometimes when a defensive individual is off on a tangent. I realize they’ve changed the subject, but I’m fascinated as to the outcome of that story. For the feedback to be meaningful, I’ve had to adjust my perspective. I must focus on myself. And, if you’re like me, you’ll feel more prepared when you stay centered.

#4. Do your homework. There are always people who will surprise us with a negative reaction. For the most part, however, you know exactly who on your team or in your life is going to respond defensively to the feedback you’re about to offer. So do your homework before the encounter, get some research done, and provide concrete examples of how other people in a similar situation have found success. Truth will always be an absolute defense in this type of situation.

#5. Engage the emotion. If you let negative emotions hover over your conversation, then that negativity will fester and grow. Don’t allow that to happen. A few calm words of acknowledgement can be enough to diffuse the negativity.

#6. Understand the reason behind the tears. I’m adding this one on a personal note. When I get really angry – like really, really, REALLY angry – I tend to cry. It’s because I’m trying not to explode my emotions onto the other person. I clench my jaw, I picture chucking a coffee pot at that person’s head, and I say nothing while a few hot tears stream down my face.

That’s a very different emotion compared to someone who cries because they feel like they can’t get anything right.

If you approach crying in the wrong way, you’re only going to make the situation worse. So double-check the emotions before you decide on the right way to offer the needed feedback.

It’s also a good idea to deliver difficult news at the end of the day. A negative situation in the morning can fester into a full-blown disaster by lunch. By giving people the chance to cope in their own comfortable spaces, you’re giving them a chance to eliminate their defensiveness over time.

How do you handle giving defensive people the feedback they need? Have you implemented these methods? I’d appreciate hearing about your experiences, no matter what your results may have been. 

How You Can Be Intelligent Instead of Sounding Smart When Writing

 

Do you spend a lot of time trying to sound smarter than you really are?

The art of writing is a lot like the art of refereeing. You know it’s good when it goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, many professionals today are spending more time trying to figure out how to sound smart instead of working on being intelligent.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a grant letter, or a basic email, your goal should be to drive an outcome with every word offered. There must be a purpose to what is being written that goes beyond trying to establish a better reputation.

I know that I’ve really struggled with this in the past. I used to think that if I sounded smart, then those who read my content would feel that I was intelligent. That would make everyone want to read more of what I had. Now I work on checking these things before posting or sending anything.

#1. Eliminate jargon or unusual words. I love strange words in the English language. It used to be fun for me to talk about my lamprophony within my content. Using words that people have to use a Google search to figure out is a fast way to drive them away from what you’ve written. The goal of writing isn’t just to communicate. It must also establish a relationship.

#2. Use your words correctly. Buzzwords are fine when they’re used properly. The only problem is that you don’t sound intelligent or smart if you use those buzzwords incorrectly. My biggest pet peeve is the use of “empathetic” and “empathic.” If you’re empathetic, then you are able to share another person’s feelings. Empathic can mean the same thing, but it is only supposed to be used in non-scientific writing.

So in this instance, where we’re discussing how to write better, we would actually say that an individual is an empathic listener. If we were talking about a research study about listening, then they would be an empathetic listener.

Or we could just describe someone as a good listener who can sense the feelings of others and avoid misuse altogether.

#3. Include bullet points when they make sense. Bullet points can really help a bit of content stand out. The structure naturally draws the reader to the key points you’re trying to make. The only problem is that when the bullet points don’t flow together well, the reader becomes disengaged from the content. Each bullet point must have the same form of grammar in order for it to be effective.

#4. Stay out of the passive voice whenever possible. “I will write this content today.” That’s active voice. “This content will be completed by the end of the day by me.” That’s passive voice. Active writing creates confidence. It inspires accountability. That’s not to say that passive voice is bad. It’s just a way to offer yourself a method of escape as a writer if someone happens to disagree with what you’ve written.

Being intelligent with your writing means that you are writing for your reader. Sounding smart with your writing means that you’re writing for yourself. So think about what the reader needs, provide that, and your writing will improve.

How do you avoid the traps of sounding smart when you write? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

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