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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?

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