Category Archives: Personal Productivity

This day, this job, this YOU is only temporary.

this you is only temporary

Thanun Buranapong via Unsplash

I was sick this week.  It started with a head cold and turned into a nasty stomach bug that left me totally incapacitated for 24 hours.  At the worst of it, I remember feeling like I had been sick forever and that I would likely never NOT be sick again.  This would be my world, forever and always.  Obviously, exhaustion and discomfort were skewing reason and my sense of proportion.  But I think there’s also a bigger psychological effect at play.

We humans, as a whole, assume that the person we are today is the person we will be for the rest of our lives.  Researchers call it the “end of history illusion”.  We see the present as the culmination of everything that led up to it (which, I suppose, technically it is) but, more significantly, we tend to underestimate how much we will change in the future.  As a result, TODAY always seems more significant and more permanent than any other day.

This is why early in our careers (or at any stage, really) a bad job can be so gut-wrenchingly painful.  If everything we’ve done to date has gotten us here, and here kind of sucks, what does that say about our lives?  It can feel like everything has been a waste.  And, because it’s so hard to imagine how much we will change in the future, we don’t see the way out and beat ourselves up for not having met our full potential.

Why do we do this to ourselves??  We don’t look around us and berate our friends because they haven’t found their dream jobs.  We accept that they just haven’t found the right fit yet and we still see the potential in their future.  But do we offer ourselves that same kindness?  Rarely.

So how do we get past it?  We remind ourselves that this “now” is simply an experience that will create the next “now” and the “now” after that.  We remain driven and intentional about the future, but give ourselves a break when we get stuck.  This day, this job, this YOU is merely one plot point in the whole story, not the final page of the book.

 

Taking control of your career requires taking control of your life.

take control of your life

Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

Your career is as much about your life outside of work as it is about what you do from 8 to 5.  Money, health, relationships…it all impacts how effectively you manage your career.  Whether you’re trying to find your life’s passion or simply want to land a better gig, it’s time to get more than just your resume in order.

First, take a look at your finances.  If your dream job means taking a salary cut or paying more for medical benefits, will you be able to make it work?  Committing to living within your means and building up a savings cushion is critical.  Career decisions shouldn’t be made from a position of scarcity, so now’s the time to start building good financial habits.

Speaking of habits, how are your diet and exercise?  Are you getting enough sleep?  A new job will make it tough to focus on self-care.  Building a healthy routine now – prepping weeknight meals on Sunday, hitting the gym regularly – will make it easier to stay on track when work gets crazy.  And don’t forget about relationships.  Make connecting with the important people in your life a regularly scheduled event.

Since you’re career-minded, I’m sure you’ve already spent some time polishing your resume.  But have you given your online presence a once-over recently?  The bulk of all your online content should reflect your professional experience and interests.  Take the time to clean up anything unflattering and make sure you’re putting your best digital foot forward.  (This is a good post on crafting a professional digital identity.)

And finally, let’s talk about time.  You already feel like you don’t have enough and here I am telling you to add more to your to-do list?  I know it seems daunting but I’m willing to bet you have more time than you think.  I challenge you to keep a time log for a week and see what you learn.  (And I admit that I hate tracking my time too, but it’s worth it.  Start here.)

How about you?  What would you add to this list?

 

Don’t let your inexperience hold you back.

you can figure it out

Rayi Christian Wicaksono via Unsplash

If you’re making progress in your career – getting promoted, taking on new responsibility – at some point you’ll be faced with the unnerving reality that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.  Maybe you’ve never managed a project or run a meeting.  Or you’ve never given a professional presentation or conducted a hiring interview.  Trying something for the first time can be terrifying, and no one wants to screw things up right out of the gate.

But I’m here to let you in on a little secret:  Most things just aren’t that difficult.

In the words of Marie Forleo“Everything is figureoutable.”  Or as my Dad used to say,  “You can learn anything in the world from a book.“  (Or, these days, a book and the Internet.)

Sure, some tasks are harder to pick up than others.  If you work in hospital reception, you’re probably not going to jump into the operating room and just wing it.  But let’s be honest – most of what we do isn’t brain surgery.  You can probably figure it out.  It just takes a little initiative and a healthy dose of confidence.

Here are some things to remember:

When you first dive into a new topic, it will seem like there are a million different resources and perspectives out there.  But as you drill down, you’ll usually find that there are a handful of themes and core concepts that repeat themselves over and over.  With practice, you get better at spotting those key points and with a concentrated effort, you can learn the basics of most things relatively quickly.

Most topics have a steep learning curve.  In the first focused hours of your study you learn a lot.  Then, over time, your progress slows as you work to absorb all the nuance and detail that makes you a master of the subject.  But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a master.  You just need to avoid looking like a clueless rookie while you’re learning.  It takes years to become an expert at anything and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t worth putting in the time and effort.  But if you’re just starting out, don’t underestimate what you can pick up in a short amount of time.

And don’t forget to ask for help.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to talk with an expert.  And “expert” could mean that guy in IT you talk to at lunch or your friend over in Marketing.  Anyone with experience can point you in the right direction, so use the resources you have.  It’s also often a good idea to figure out the basics with a peer offline.  There may be no “dumb questions” but you don’t want to repeatedly test that hypothesis in front of your boss.  So work out the kinks with a friendly sounding board first and save your higher level issues for your manager.

 

Three tips for surviving corporate life.

surviving corporate life

Sunset Girl via Unsplash

Sometimes the corporate world can feel like career Heaven, with loads of challenging projects and an awesome benefit package.  And sometimes it can feel like cubicle Hell, where you endlessly grind away at something you don’t believe in and are powerless to change.

Maybe your career priorities have shifted over time, or maybe this gig is just a pit-stop on your way to better things.  Whatever has put you in corporate survival mode, here are 3 things to remember to help you get through the days:

You are not your job.  Of course you want your work to align with your personal mission and beliefs, and maybe this isn’t exactly the career you imagined.  But sometimes it takes awhile to get there.  In the meantime, focus on who you are outside of work.  Good health, positive relationships and engaging interests are just as important as your day job.  Volunteering also has surprising time and energy benefits.

You are in control.  Maybe not every minute of every day, but unless you work on the production line, there is likely some flexibility in how you arrange your time and activities.  You definitely control when get to work, how you look, what you do during breaks and lunch…you get the idea.  You chose to be here (yes, you really did) and you get to choose how each day will go down.  Choose wisely.

You are here to learn.  You are in the best place to observe organizational dynamics and to absorb how businesses really work.  Bureaucracies can be mind-numbingly slow to change, but the upside is that it gives you a chance to learn what really moves the needle.  At the task level, having a variety of departments around you gives you the opportunity to explore what interests you and start growing your skill set accordingly.

 

How about you?  Are you in corporate Heaven or Hell?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

P.S. Are we Twitter friends yet?  Find me @TheMgmtMaven

 

How to make time for the work that matters.

how to make time

Sonja Langford via Unsplash

Stop for a minute and think of all the people you work with.  Who would you say is the busiest?

I bet one person pops into your head immediately.  Because every office has that one “busy” person – the person who always has too much to do and makes a big, passive-aggressive production about it.  The person who responds to tasks with a resigned sigh but, because they have a lot of institutional knowledge, are respected and even seen as an expert at their job.  Which isn’t surprising, since they’ve been doing that same job for years.

So why hasn’t the Busy Bee been promoted?  Because being busy is career quicksand.  You can work yourself silly, but if it’s not right kind of work, you’ll never get anywhere.

In order to move up, you have to do the kind of work that makes you management material – understanding your industry, effectively prioritizing, creative problem solving, learning to lead a team, and so on.  You have to do more than just your core tasks.  You have to take on the projects that will help you grow as a professional

But how?  You already have a full day of assigned duties and you can’t simply stop doing them, right?  Of course not.  I’m not suggesting you neglect your work.  You have to do your job and do it well.  But leaders identify ways to get what they need.  If you need more time, you’re going to have to create it.

Waste is a concept I became familiar with during my time in manufacturing.  Every process we do is full of waste – actions that take time and energy but don’t create real value.  Maybe it’s moving material from place to place.  Or sitting idle while you wait for your next task.  Or finding a defect and having to scrap your work.  Eliminating waste is key to reducing costs, improving quality and decreasing production time.

You probably don’t work in manufacturing but I believe the concept of waste is valuable in any field.  If you look closely at your day, you’ll likely see that you expend time and energy on things that aren’t really necessary.  If you can reduce or eliminate that waste, you can get more work done in a shorter amount of time and, in essence, create more time.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Are your tools in the wrong place?  The things you use to do your job should be readily accessible, when and where you need them.  If you find yourself reaching, stretching and searching for things you need, you’re wasting time and energy.

Are you in the wrong place?  If your tasks are repeatedly taking you outside your work area, consider whether your workspace should be closer to the people you support.  Think in terms of process flow rather than department or function.

Are you doing more than is necessary?  By this I mean adding extra administrative steps for no reason – like printing reference copies of things that are readily accessible online.  Save your energy for going above and beyond in ways that actually matter.

Are you reworking things that weren’t done right the first time?  Sometimes things come to us broken and we just fix it as part of our process.  Taking extra time now to address the problem at its source will save you time over the long term.

Are you inconsistent in your processes?  Find the best way to do a repetitive task and stick with it.  The speed and accuracy you gain will free up time to do more glamorous work elsewhere.

Each of these individual examples may seem trivial, but considered together, they add up to a significant amount of wasted time – time that you can be using to do the right kind of work for your career.

 

Four tips for having a better day.

lemon ginger water

Dominik Martin via Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I find it often takes hearing the same advice many, many (many?) times before it actually sticks.  But eventually, I internalize good ideas and am the better for it.  Here are a few oft-cited “make your day better” tips I’ve recently adopted:

Hydrate in the morning.  One reason we often feel tired and icky in the morning is because it has been several hours since our last drink of water.  We wake up mildly dehydrated and drinking coffee first thing just exacerbates the problem.  I enjoy reading about productive morning routines and this advice pops up frequently.  As does…

Don’t check email or social media first thing.  It sends you down a productivity rabbit hole and puts you in reactive mode for the whole day.  It’s better to tackle your most important, meaningful work before anything else.  Which ties into this next one nicely…

Utilize your peak energy.  For me, this is the first two hours of the day.  If I “ease in” to my day with Facebook and Bloglovin’, I miss that important energy window.  My energy drops dramatically in the afternoon and I rarely feel like doing focused or creative work.  And of course…

Pay attention to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Seriously, I just did not see the attraction for the longest time.  I was vaguely aware of him from the Sherlock series (and found Watson more interesting).  But now I get what everyone is talking about.  This interview with Fast Company is good and this episode of Graham Norton is better.  (Plus, you get Miranda Hart, who is just beyond hilarious.)

 

How about you?  Is there any good advice that you’ve been slow to adopt?

 

True confession: I tune out when you talk about your Myers-Briggs type.

personality type

lee Scott via Unsplash

I’m an INTJ.  I’m detail-oriented and set high standards.  And you’re a…oh, sorry, what?  I was checking my Facebook feed.

Yep, that’s me.  I enjoy learning about my own personality type but lose focus when it comes to the other…15?… types.  It’s like reading someone else’s horoscope: it’s mildly interesting but it doesn’t really resonate.

But Penelope Trunk recently wrote about teaching kids to identify personality types being a key factor in their ability to navigate relationships and, ultimately, find the right partners, personally and professionally.  I like this because it offers a tangible way to help kids build a very intangible skill – a sort of curriculum for teaching emotional intelligence.

And THAT resonated.

I can be hyper-analytical and demanding, so I know I have to flex my communication style to be more approachable and supportive.  That knowledge gets me a long way, without giving much thought to personality type.  But I can do better.  And helping my kid navigate the world is my number one priority.  If Myers-Briggs will help me do that, I’m in.

How about you?  What’s your experience with Myers-Briggs or other personality typologies?