20 February 2018

Using Your Time More Effectively

Using Your Time More Effectively - humming bird collecting nectar

 Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

Clients often ask, “Can you help me use my time more effectively?” These tools have helped my clients boost their efficiency.  Maybe they can help you too. I didn’t invent any of them: I just recommend them.


Time blocking
The idea here is to schedule into your daily calendar how long you want to spend on your various priorities. For example, if you want to wrap up a project that requires about 10 more hours of work, you might want to schedule a 2-hour block into each of the next 5 workdays, where you can fit it in.  When that day comes around, you’ll need to honor the implicit commitment you’re making to put in 2 hours on that project at the time it’s blocked in.

Yes, of course crazy things happen and things come up and all of that. But if you want to finish that project, time-block it into your calendar and get it done!  Some of my clients now block out all of their workdays, finding that they lose less time, spin their wheels less frequently, and are generally more productive and efficient.  They also do more of the work they don’t love when they use time blocking, which can counter the impulse to say, “Oh, I’ll do that later.” One person reports that time blocking “helps me feel less directionless trying to pick through the endless to do list.” In short, time blocking increases efficiency.

Getting things onto the calendar
Do you have items on your to do list that are just not getting done?  Or worse, do you have important tasks that are not even on your list?  In my world, if an item isn’t on my list, it just doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about things that I do automatically: respond to email, stay in touch with clients, etc. It’s the non-daily ones that can get lost: get quotes for the work we want done on our basement or write my blog post every month. Many of my clients have the same issue.  What works for some of us is to get it into the calendar. I’m writing this blog post now because it’s in my calendar to work on it today.  Writing is hard for me and I’d rather not do it at all.  I’m a big fan of what Virginia Woolf once said when asked if she liked writing.  She said, “I like to have written.”

If you have tasks you don’t do automatically, and especially for tasks that you don’t love doing, get them into your calendar like appointments, even if you have to schedule them some weeks (or months!) out. Not only does this increase the chance they’ll get done, it also takes them off your mind — you no longer have to hold onto them — which frees up your brain for more creative work.

Managing Decision Fatigue
Highly productive people limit the number of decisions they make in order to save their decision-making energy (which is finite!) for important decisions.  They often have the same  breakfast every day or wear the same “uniform” to work (Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama during his presidency) so as not to squander limited discriminatory powers on trivia. They save those powers for higher level decisions. Eventually, decision fatigue sets in, and they’re just not as sharp.  My clients have gotten good results from making some of their daily decisions automatic ones: what time they leave for work, what they have for breakfast, what time of day they return routine phone calls, etc, which lets them stave off decision fatigue.

Do your hardest / most important work when you’re at your sharpest.  When are you at your sharpest?  One of my super-productive clients is, in her words, “not at all a morning person.”  She starts warming up around noon, and by late afternoon (and sometimes into the evening) she is on fire. She has become very strategic about how to use different parts of her day, using her “slow brain” time to do the more routine and low-level tasks that are part of her business: filing, data entry and certain calls. As the day goes on, she moves into higher gear and does her most strategic and high level work. Maybe you’re the opposite. Plan your work accordingly so you leverage your best work time on your most important or complex projects.  Do your dull, lower level work during your off part of the day.  Better yet . . . consider outsourcing those dull, lower level tasks!  Strategically leveraging your best work energy can boost your overall efficiency.

Notice when you’re wasting time or spinning your wheels and do something else.  Take a look at the image at the top of this post. Notice the intensity of the hummingbird. That’s what we’re looking for.  If you’re meandering rather than working, call yourself on the time-wasting behavior, and stop pretending to work. Instead, ask yourself what’s going on, and then deal with it.

  • Are you completely fried from one thing or another? Then take a break, re-charge your batteries, and either get back to work, or be done for the day.  Know when you’re just done. Sometimes I don’t know that I’m done until I find myself sitting at my keyboard being basically useless. Learning to recognize when I’m “basically useless” has given me a lot more free time than I thought I had and made my work more satisfying overall.
  • Do you know how to do what you’re trying to do?  If not, figure out where/how you can get some help and then get it.
  • Are you paralyzed by indecision? Talk it thru with someone if that might help. Give yourself a deadline and meet it.
  • Are you bored by the task? Think creatively about delegating it. Tasks the bore you are great candidates for outsourcing.

Whatever is going on, address it.  You don’t have the luxury of wasting your time.  If you can’t fix it, at least stop trying to work and instead do something that will nourish you in healthy ways so that you can hit the ground running again next time you get to work.

Of course these are not the only tools that can increase your efficiency.  Find and leverage the ones that work for you.

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16 January 2018

Treat the Physiology

Treat the Physiology - Frustrated Woman

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a database developer, I was completely blindsided in a meeting. I was accused by people on the client’s team of not knowing what I was doing. It was so unexpected it took me a minute or two to grasp what was happening — it was as if my mind slowed down as my jaw dropped. I have no memory of the rest of the meeting, but I remember walking out of it with my manager and standing at the elevator when she said, “I know what you’re doing right now — you’re blaming yourself. Stop doing that. You did nothing wrong. This is not about you — this is entirely political. They never wanted us doing this job and that’s what this is all about. Don’t blame yourself, and let’s hope this kind of thing is easier for our daughters.” I was deeply grateful to her, but I continued to blame myself until eventually finishing the project and moving on.

What happened for me in that meeting was a stress response. Once I was “attacked,” my physiology changed. My body was flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, and my brain went into freeze mode (my apparent choice from the cortisol-inspired menu of fight, flight, or freeze). Has this ever happened to you? You’re going about the daily business of your life when some event triggers a stress response?  You flip into survival mode, which is utterly different from your usual way of functioning.

Or perhaps a situation triggers your anger.  In response you draft an email dripping in fury and sarcasm, and maybe have the presence of mind not to immediately send it.  Once things have calmed down and you’ve reclaimed your rational and strategic self, you can revisit the letter and edit or delete it.

Or, something is said that sends you into a full tailspin. You imagine a variety of scenarios that could possibly happen and put these scenarios on rerun all weekend.  On Monday, when you bring up what was said, you find out it was not a referendum on your worthiness after all.  Instead, simply a disappointment in the way things transpired, not a reflection of your performance.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have spared yourself the weekend of suffering?

Knowing how to calm yourself down from an emotional response is a highly important skill to have. Your effectiveness and well-being depend on it.  I’m not suggesting you ignore whatever triggered your response — quite the contrary — those triggering events very often need to be addressed.

But to address them most effectively, you need to come down from the intensity of the reaction, so that you are back in your “right mind” and can use the considerable resources of your whole brain to respond. Typically, we can’t “talk ourselves down” from the upset because it’s not a cognitive recovery.  But if we recognize what’s going on we can treat the physiology and in doing so stage a recovery.  Once returned to our normal physiology, we can be smart about how to respond to the situation.

Are there specific ways to help our physiology return to its usual state or equilibrium?  Yes.  Here are some ideas.

  • Learn to identify when this is happening to you. Often there’s a physical cue you can learn to recognize when your emotional blood pressure is rising or you’re feeling attacked, possibly one of these:
    • you can feel your face get hot or flushed
    • you feel as if you were socked in your solar plexus
    • your mind goes blank
    • time slows down
    • you forget to breathe
  • Once you recognize what’s going on, you can deploy one of many methods for treating the physiology of your own extreme agitation. Learn which methods work for you.  Here are some examples:
    • In the moment you can:
      • Do things that help you feel physically grounded, such as sensing your feet on the floor, your bottom on the chair, your lungs and ribs expanding and contracting as you breathe, the sensation of your inhales and your exhales.
      • Be sure that you are breathing — some people hold their breath when the world seems to be crashing down.
      • Tell yourself that this feels like a disaster (outrage, etc) but it probably actually isn’t as bad as it seems/feels, that you’ll survive this moment and have a chance to revisit it later.
    • Later, when you’re alone, or away from your workplace, you can do things that use your brain or body in a different but engaging way:
      • Run or walk briskly outside, dance, lift weights, or do anything physical that gets you breathing rhythmically, actively, or even strenuously.
      • Practice a breathing technique, such as the ones taught in yoga classes, including ujayi breath, pranayama breath, or left-nostril breathing.
      • Sing: along with your car radio, with friends, alone in your home or in the shower.  When we sing we become a musical instrument, and in using our body and breathing for this purpose, we subvert the obsessing mind.
      • Play a game that engages your mind in some kind of problem-solving, such as: word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or Tetris-like games.
      • Do a low-skill physical activity unrelated to the triggering event. I find that chopping vegetables (dinner prep) is often just the thing for me, and sometimes a real option because I work from home

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having the response or feeling the emotion. But being in the emotion isn’t the best place to respond to the situation from.

Allow yourself to have a learning curve with this whole topic. It’s new for a lot of us, and it holds a lot of promise.

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5 December 2017

The Steep Learning Curve of the New Manager

various citrusWhen Joanna jumped into a supervisory role for the first time, she treated her direct reports in a way that would have been perfect if all her direct reports were exactly like her. One of them was, so Joanna’s managerial style was a great fit for this person and they did really well together. But with the 4 others on her team?  Not so much.

You’re more successful as a manager if you target your management style to the person you’re managing. Or at least understand that not everyone’s like you.

For example, some people like to have lots of check-ins with their manager along the way when working on a long-term project.  But for other people, frequent required check-ins can feel like they’re being micromanaged.  So . . . ask your direct reports how they like to be managed.  Do they like to have regular check-ins on long term projects?  If they do, then do it.  If they don’t, then don’t.  Or if they don’t, but you do, tell them up front that you need regular updates (and be specific: how often, and what level of detail). Tell them it might feel to them like being micromanaged but that’s not really what’s going on. Explain why you need it in terms that assure them that you trust in their work, but you need to be able to give your manager detailed project updates (or whatever it is).

Some people thrive on understanding how their job fits into the bigger picture of the organization’s work.  When someone understands that their data needs to be submitted in time for the visit from the Federal Compliance Officer or the Bank will be fined a lot of money — that can motivate someone to get their data submitted on time.  But for another person, the only thing that makes a difference is being told that their pattern of consistently turning in their data late or not at all will lead directly to their being fired — to be told in no uncertain terms that that behavior is a deal breaker.  YOU might never have needed to hear that as an employee.  You might have understood what was at stake from the get-go.  Or you would have understood it when you found out about the Compliance Officer’s visit.  So to you as a manager, telling them that keeping their job depends on their getting their data in on time might seem unnecessarily harsh and threatening.  But for some people it has to be that clear for them to get the message.

There are many, many ways the people you manage can be different from you.

You have to manage the actual team you have, which may include people very, very different from you.  In fact, with more organizations working with global teams, teams with members spanning 4 generations, teams with people with different native languages, and teams diverse in other ways, it’s inevitable that most people moving into greater levels of leadership will manage diverse teams.

Those of you readers who have managed well, how did you get to know the people you supervise?  Were there any great questions you’ve asked them along the way that helped you manage them better?

Here are some questions that can be helpful for the manager to ask the employee (letting them know you will consider everything they tell you, but that you are not promising to do what they ask.)

  • How do you like to be managed?
  • What’s the best way to give you constructive feedback?
  • If I’m concerned about some aspect of your performance, how should I bring it up with you?
  • How are you generally with deadlines and how can I support you in meeting deadlines?
  • What’s happening with the X project, and what kind of support do you need to meet the deadline?

Becoming an effective manager is a learning process, not a skillset to master once and have for a lifetime, like riding a bike. Allow yourself to be helped in your learning process by asking your direct reports what works for them. You’ll learn more about who you’re working with, and that’s always useful.

*Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

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13 November 2017

Getting Angry At Work

Angry Tigers Fighting

How do you handle yourself when you get angry at work?

My client Candace recognizes when she’s getting angry — she feels her face get hot, she’s aware of something that feels almost physical rising within her body, and she has the urge to erupt in some way. To blow up at someone, to pound something, to yell.  But she doesn’t do any of those things she has the urge to do.  Here’s what she does instead.  She says to herself, “Candace, you’re being hijacked by an emotion. DON’T DO ANYTHING at the moment, because it will be your physiology doing it, not YOU, the larger person who actually owns the physiology. So just hold your horses.”

When she was a moody teenager she was taught to “count to three before you blow up.”  But counting to 3 isn’t a good enough strategy if your mind is still seething from what set you off.  If you’re still telling yourself the story in which you are entitled to be outraged, to speak your mind and set the other person(s) straight.

But the problem with blowing up at work or verbally swatting someone is that it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t contribute to your overall effectiveness or your being seen as an effective person. It doesn’t result in a good correction, if a correction is what’s needed. And if you’re a leader or an emerging leader, it doesn’t contribute to the evolution of your team; in fact it’s more likely to fracture any sense of connection that exists among your team.

So Candace does not swat, yell, or express. She’s actually fully deployed internally, working with herself. She knows her most immediate job is to somehow get herself grounded and centered.To get BACK into a frame of mind that’s not laced with stress hormones and the other chemicals of anger. Back to a simpler, calmer place — not in order to be “nice,” not because the anger is wrong, but simply in order to be the most effective she can be in addressing what needs to be addressed.

She’s had a learning curve with her anger. She’s learned that her anger response is a reliable prompt to pay attention: a boundary has been crossed, an agreement has been broken, something important has gone down. And after she recovers from the physiology — which can be a matter of moments — she can use her many resources — mental and otherwise — to respond in a smart and useful way. NOT with a swat.

She now has a track record (with herself) of turning this situation around. “I know it’s actually not about me, and it’s not about the other person. It’s all about the work we do. If I can re-focus on the work — our mission, the purpose of our work — then I know I’ll find a way to say what needs to be said in terms of the work. That’s my ticket to losing the red face and becoming my larger, more competent self again.” She’s also learned to say, in the heat of the moment, “Give me a minute,” or “Let me get back to you.” This buys her some breathing room. Literally.

Curious to know more about how to interrupt the anger response?  This article has some great ideas. So does this one. (Don’t be confused, in this second article, by the use of the word “reactionary” at the end of the second paragraph. They mean “reactive.”)

Does Candace’s story sound like a fairy tale to you?  This is how one person is working more effectively with anger at work.  It may not be the right way for you to work with your anger at work — you may have to find a different way.  Could you use some help managing your emotions at work?  I encourage you to schedule an initial meeting with me to tell me about your situation and find out what I can offer you. Email me to get started.

 

[*Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash]

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17 October 2017

Body Language, Cortisol, and Confidence

Wonder woman power pose

Your Mom was right when she repeatedly told you to “Stand up straight!”  Here’s why — and  it’s not just about your appearance.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s extensive research reveals that changing our body posture — in the moment — changes our mental state. Check out her Ted Talk if you haven’t already.

Think of the body posture of someone who has just scored a touchdown or won an Olympic gold medal event: arms outstretched or raised above the head or hands on hips, back straight, head high, shoulders back.  We associate this body language with the experience of winning, understanding on some level that the win produces the body language.

But Cuddy has discovered that the process can be reversed.  When you assume a victory pose (or “power pose,” as Cuddy calls them) and sustain it for a full minute or two . . . your body chemistry assumes the body chemistry of someone who has just won Wimbledon — or at least of someone with great self-confidence and sense of personal power.  For more descriptions of power poses, see this transcript of an NPR podcast with her.

But that’s not all it does, as one of my Linked In connections reminded me in a response to my blog post, You and Your Lizard Brain. Body language also impacts the level of cortisol — the stress hormone — in your body.  When you spend as little as two minutes in a power pose, your stress level (cortisol level) decreases. High stress levels have been shown to impede work: we work more effectively without high levels of cortisol coursing through us. And we certainly feel better.

As Amy Cuddy herself says in this NY Times article, “Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself.”

A Huffington Post article sums it up nicely: “Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares an easy way that anyone can change not only others’ perceptions of them, but the way they feel about themselves — spending two minutes ‘power posing’ with their arms or elbows out, their chin lifted and their posture expansive. Cuddy’s research, done in collaboration with Dana Carney, has shown that adopting the body language associated with dominance for just 120 seconds is enough to create a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, adopting these postures makes a person feel more powerful.”

Full disclosure, there’s also evidence that her findings are based on flawed research, and that power poses do not deliver these results.  See what you think.

But here’s what I suggest: try it for yourself.

The next time you’re about to have a difficult conversation, present to an audience, or do something else that’s a challenge think about your body posture. Before you pick up the phone, walk into the meeting, or walk out on stage, spend 2 minutes in a power pose.  Do it somewhere private so you don’t have to explain it to anyone —  even a stall in a bathroom will do.  It may feel ridiculous but it will send “good chemicals” coursing through your body — chemicals that are your friend for the next challenge.

Or better yet, start your day with a power pose every day for a week and see what happens. I promise it will not turn you into a jerk.  But it’s likely to reduce your stress levels and allow you to experience more self-confidence.

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12 September 2017

You and Your Lizard Brain

When under stress your lizard brain takes over

Some situations can’t be resolved from within them. If you’re having cortisol-fueled stress response to some trigger, you’re not going to be able to simply talk yourself through it. You have to change your state of mind in order to get perspective and regain your equanimity. Then you can address what needs to be addressed. This is a key factor in stress management.

Say you’re in a downward spiral set off by an event: your great idea was publicly shot down during a meeting today, in a way that felt dismissive and mean-spirited, and you’ve been reeling from it every since. Your primitive fight-or-flight-or-freeze stress response got triggered, and your brain and body are suffused with cortisol, the stress hormone.  You are not in your “right mind.”  Your lizard brain is in charge.  And your lizard brain isn’t up to the task of helping you recover from the emotional hit you took today.

In this cortisol-laced state, you just can’t access to the range of internal resources you’re used to accessing. Your physiological response to the upsetting event is the same response your long-ago ancestors had when they encountered a sabre-toothed tiger: everything in your brain shuts down except the sense of immediate threat, and you focus on whatever you can do to save your own life. At that moment, your ancestor didn’t need sensitive, nuanced thinking — he just needed to get away from the tiger. So that’s the response that evolved: our more primitive, “lizard-brain” takes over.

The lizard brain stays in charge until your brain state changes, until you’re no longer engaged in fight-or-flight energy. But as 21st century sophisticates, we think we can effectively respond to the stress spiral by “talking ourselves down” from it.  But the reality is we don’t have the resources at that moment to do so.  Our brain and body are suffused in a cortisol bath: a physiological state unlike any other. We won’t be effective working with ourselves the way we can in a more normal state.

THIS state, the state of the lizard brain, requires something different.  First and foremost, we need to recognize it for what it is.  If some situation has flipped you out of your normal state of mind into a paroxysm of humiliation, shame, fear, anger, or other such intensely negative emotions — that’s a good indication that you’re in cortisol-land.  Once you recognize what’s going on, you can help yourself out of it.

How can you help yourself out of it? By resisting your powerful urge to do what you always do and instead choose the solution of using your brain in a completely different way. I have a friend who loves crossword puzzles and other word games. When she needs to deactivate her lizard brain, she goes to her puzzles. Working the puzzles uses her brain in ways that result in the creation of a different chemical bath, which translates into a different felt experience. Or maybe it goes the other way: working puzzles makes her happy again, and the happy brain cranks out serotonin or oxytocin, or some other happy chemical we love.  As she migrates into a calmer, clearer brain state, she becomes able to more effectively process the precipitating event from earlier in the day. And meanwhile, she’s had a break from it. She’s recovered from the physiological impact.  Now she can deal with the rest.

I learned by chance that I get relief from chopping vegetables. When in a downward spiral I would sometimes conclude that since I couldn’t get any work in that state, I might as well make dinner. And by the time I’ve finished chopping the onion and setting it to brown slowly in some olive oil in my good non-stick pan, my mood has begun to shift. And once the carrots and celery are cleaned and chopped and added to the pan — I feel OK again, even happy.  I now have perspective on what happened earlier and can figure out what action I should take, if any.

Can’t do word puzzles or chop vegetables at the office? Try leaving the building and getting outdoors for a brisk enough walk that your breathing changes. Focus on your breathing or the muscles that are firing as you walk.

Talking with a trusted person can also be a lifesaver at times like these, but it has to be a good enough friend who really understands what’s going on and what you need. You need to have some shared language and understanding, established long before the crisis.

As I’ve written in a recent post, there are many ways to change your brain state and in doing so, change the particular Kool-Aid your brain is sloshing around in, which eventually stops the downward spiral of the profoundly negative experience.

The best way to try this yourself is to come up with a real-world short list of tactics that might work for you, and plan to try them out when you recognize that your lizard brain has been triggered. See what works for you.

Does this sound new or interesting to you? Would you like some help recovering more quickly from injuries sustained in the hardball game played in your profession?  Or the interpersonal jungle that is your life?  Let’s talk.  My initial consultation is a no-fee meeting.

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21 June 2017

Resilience: Part of Your Job

Woman working shows resilience, works to recover professional miss-steps.

Picture the scene. You have a client who’s so upset with you, she’s taking her business elsewhere.  You’ve tried your best to work it out with her, but you just can’t seem to make it right and she’s gone. You’ve never lost a client before. You’re horrified, you go into an emotional tailspin, your self esteem plummets, you feel shame, and you start seeing yourself as a failure.  There’s a voice in your head that’s saying something along the lines of, “You’re a loser.”   The voice then goes on to document every mistake or instance of bad judgment you’ve ever made.

You may be someone for whom this tailspin can last weeks and weeks, decimating your productivity and making you miserable the whole time.  Or perhaps it’s only hours.  However much or little productive time you lose to emotional nosedives, it’s more time than you can afford to lose. That’s why it’s essential that you know how to recover quickly from the painful things that can happen in the course of an ordinary workday.  Skills that support resilience are enormously important!  AND THEY ARE LEARNABLE.

In the case of the departing client, you need to first see if this incident has anything to teach you. Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently with this client if you had it to do again?  Is there something new you would like to implement going forward, to be used with at least some clients?  Identify what (if anything) there is to learn from this, implement whatever changes that result from this learning, and MOVE ON. If there’s nothing to be learned from this, just MOVE ON.

For some people, this mental exercise is enough to pull them out of their emotional tailspin and return them to a state of being balanced and grounded.  For others, additional work is required to shift the mood.

Here are some of the tactics that can help get you to a more “grounded and balanced” state of mind:

  • Do something physical like:
    • 20 jumping jacks
    • leave the room
    • go for a walk — outside is best, but if that’s not a good option, walk wherever you can — inside your building is fine.
    • take a couple of deep breaths
    • try a one of the ancient yogic breathing technique for quieting the mind. Try this before you need it.
  • Get in touch with something you’re grateful for, and FEEL the gratitude. It doesn’t work to just think it or say it or make a list of the things you’re grateful for.  You have to actually FEEL the gratitude.
  • Don’t engage with the voice inside your head that’s telling you want a failure you are — you can’t quiet that voice by arguing with it. Arguing just makes the blaming voice get louder.
  • Do something completely distracting or delightful such as: watching cat videos or a Seinfeld episode, or whatever lightens your heart and mind.
  • Talk to a very trusted friend who knows how to “talk you down” from the place of “I’m such a loser.”

I recommend trying each of these until you find one that works for you. Then use that one relentlessly every time that state of mind occurs.  If none of these work, find something that does. You really only need one. And you have to really work it.

The thing to remember is that when this state of mind hits, it feels like the content of it is true and that’s what you have to wrestle to the ground.  But really what you need to deal with is the state of mind So find ways to change that state of mind and get back to being grounded and centered.

Does recovery sometimes elude you? Could you use some help developing more resilience skills?  Consider working with me in a focused way to address that?  Contact me to schedule an initial meeting, and let’s see if we’re a good fit to work together.

*Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam

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16 May 2017

Six Useful Strategies for Navigating Career or Job Change: #4, 5, & 6

In a previous post I covered the first 3 strategies for navigating a successful career or job change.  In this post I will cover the last 3.  Here are all 6 of them:

  1. Know this: IT’S NOT A LINEAR PROCESS!
  2. Network, Network, Network!
  3. Be Generous With Self-Acknowledgement and Self-Care
  4. Choose Expansive vs. Limiting Beliefs
  5. Build and Use Support Systems
  6. Stay on the Plus Side

Let’s look at the last three in more detail.

  1. Choose Expansive vs. Limiting Beliefs

We love to be right. We love to see our beliefs proven true. Those of us who think that people are basically good tend to see the world through that filter. Take a good hard look at the beliefs that are your filter.  Particularly where they pertain to work, money and opportunity.  Do you believe you’re too old to get hired?  Or that as a woman, the odds are against you in your profession?   If so, then you are stacking the deck against yourself. You actually won’t recognize some of the opportunities out there for you. Instead you’ll be proving that you’re right (in your belief).

How do you change a belief? A belief is a lot like a habit. The first step is to recognize that you have it, and for many of us, this is the hardest part. You can develop awareness of your beliefs by noticing when you’re feeling bad, when you’re feeling good, and when you’re feeling neutral.  When you’re feeling either bad or good, stop for a moment and write down what you believe about yourself in that moment. These are your beliefs in that moment.  Most of us have a different set of beliefs depending on how we feel.  The way to change a belief is not to talk yourself out of it, but rather to replace it with a more constructive one.  You’ll need to practice, practice, practice the replacement action — but it really can be done. Over time, the new habit/belief will take hold.

  1. Build and Use Support Systems

Don’t do this alone. Hire a coach, join or form a group, find a success buddy, create a structured arrangement with a friend. Here are the important elements you want in your support structure: you want people who will believe in you and in your quest.  And you want something structured, so that there is a routine to the support.

In a structured arrangement with a friend for example, you could set it up so each of you gets a 10-minute check-in to report on what you have accomplished since the last time you spoke. And you need to end with each of you getting clear on what your next steps are for today and until the next time you meet and when you will take those steps.

If you live in a large metropolitan area, it’s possible there are job-seeker support groups that you can visit and see if you like them.  In the greater Boston area, there is an organization called WIND, which sponsors regular meetings every other week at three different locations.  I was the guest speaker at one of those meetings earlier this month.  I recommend WIND meetings to my job-seeking clients who are not currently working.  It can be so extremely helpful and validating to look around the room at other smart, capable professionals who are in the same boat.  The networking can be very powerful.  Someone in the room may know someone at a company you are interested in.  Even getting one new idea from the meeting can make a difference for you. Plus, it gets you away from your screen.

  1. Stay on the Plus Side

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Then start climbing out.

There will be some days you feel inspired, excited, and pumped. There may be other days you feel discouraged, tired, even depressed. You need to develop a strong witness to these ups and downs: develop a part of you that is able to stand outside the feelings and simply observe. When you can observe your feelings as well as experience them, you have power and options.

When you’re “up,” use the time constructively – this is a great time to take risks, talk with people, or be bold. Leverage this time shamelessly!  If you are feeling low, it is critical that you recognize it for what it is – a feeling – and use your skills to get yourself into a more constructive and energetic space. Start developing an inventory of activities and strategies that get you out of these low places. Everyone’s inventory will be a little different. Some people can pull themselves out of a slump by an immediate change of scene: go out for a run in the park or take your laptop to Starbucks. Others get lifted out of discouragement by sharing with friends what’s going on for them and letting the friends help them. And even when you’re feeling low, you can stay in action. It may not be the time to make phone calls, but it can be a great time to do research on the internet, or pick up your suits at the cleaners.

In summary, job and career changes are challenging life events. Take very good care of yourself during this process – don’t take yourself for granted. Let others contribute to your quest in a variety of ways.

If you’re considering hiring a coach to help you with challenges like these, or if there’s a habit you really want to replace with a better one, contact me for an initial consultation at no charge.

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20 April 2017

Six Useful Strategies for Navigating Career or Job Change, Part 1: Strategies 1, 2, & 3

Chess strategy board - career change

Photo by Michal Parzuchowski

Through my own two major career changes, and after coaching many people through successful job and career change, I’ve found six useful strategies  for navigating this challenging life passage with self-compassion and patience.  Both of these support a successful outcome.

I will cover the first 3 of these strategies in this post, and the last 3 in next month’s post.

First of all, know up front that few people feel skilled at figuring out a career or job change. Most people find the task daunting. If you are someone who is used to feeling on top of your game, be willing to be out of your comfort zone on this one – chances are, this is not your game. And if you are usually a not-too-confident person, know that in this context, you are not alone in feeling unsure of yourself.

These are the first three strategies:

  1. Know this: IT’S NOT A LINEAR PROCESS.
  2. Network, Network, Network!
  3. Be Generous With Self-Acknowledgement and Self-Care.

Now let’s look at each of these in more detail.

  1. Know this: IT’S NOT A LINEAR PROCESS!

You will experience less frustration and waste less time if you accept this and don’t expect your left-brain (your analytic, linear, spreadsheet mind) to figure out the whole thing in advance. You can’t just think your way to a solution. Allow for surprises, serendipitous connections, and intuitive hits.  Learn to tolerate the state of not-knowing.

Be very clear on your intention, stay in action, and listen to the feedback. By “listen to the feedback,” I mean observe your results. Notice what’s working and what isn’t. Keep doing what’s working. Stop doing what’s not working — but get some help with it.  Try to figure out WHY it’s not working, and fix it if it’s fixable. Some things are not fixable — let them go.  And continue with the activities that produce some movement.

Did you ever play the board game Clue? Remember the secret passage from the Kitchen to the Ballroom? In a career process, you never know when or where you’ll find a secret passage!

  1. Network, Network, Network!

Let everyone know what you are up to, and let them know how they can help you. I mean everyone. Not just your closest friends and your siblings, everyone! That means the people you run into, your neighbors, your hairdresser, your colleagues, your doctor, dentist, accountant, attorney, the folks who service your car, and so forth.

Have you ever been able to be helpful to someone who wanted to make a connection of some sort? Have you, for example, ever been able to give someone the name of a great house painter (electrician, accountant, chiropractor) when they asked? It’s an easy and delightful thing to do for another person. Let the people in your life have that opportunity with you. Let them know how they can help you. Is there a company or an industry you wish you knew somebody in so you could talk to them? Ask around.

During my own career exploration that eventually led me to coaching, there was a point at which I wanted to deliver some corporate training on issues pertaining to personal and organizational change. Although I knocked directly on corporate doors, my breakthrough opportunity came from a student in one of the music classes I was teaching at the time. She asked me to do training for her multiple staffs on “Managing Change.” She knew of my interest because I had told the class what I was up to.

Of course, if your exploration needs to be confidential, you’ll need to be discrete in the way that you do it. Do your networking quietly, but do your networking.

  1. Be Generous With Self-Acknowledgement and Self-Care

Two kinds of self-acknowledgement are required during a career or job change process.

First, you must regularly acknowledge yourself for the hard work you are doing.  There’s a 4-part cycle that your work is part of:

1. Set a goal.

2. Do the work.

3. Meet the goal.

4. Acknowledge and celebrate. This fourth part is equivalent to a paycheck and a boss saying to you, “Good job. I appreciate the work you’re doing!”    Your self-acknowledgement can be simple and sweet.  Keep it private — from you to you.

The second kind of self-acknowledgement involves getting very clear on as many of your skills and gifts as you can and taking full ownership of them. You really need to be in full command of what it is you have to offer “out there” in the marketplace. Many people have a hard time owning and claiming their expertise, but it’s essential that you know who you are and what you have to offer – not inflated, not deflated, but accurate.

In addition, extreme self-care is called for, above and beyond the usual level. Career change and job search are hard work, which can be very depleting. You need to keep yourself nourished.  Do more of the things that fuel you. Be sure that there are no places where energy is leaking – you need all your energy for this work.

In summary, job and career changes are challenging life events. Take very good care of yourself during this process – don’t take yourself for granted. Let others contribute to your quest in a variety of ways. And whenever possible, enjoy the sheer adventure of it.

If you’re considering hiring a coach to help you with challenges like these, contact me for an initial consultation at no charge.

In next month’s blog post, I’ll discuss the last three of the six strategies.

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14 March 2017

Dealing With Regret

Woman covering face thinking about regret

Regret punishes you in two ways. First, you suffer from feeling the regret, which is usually some form of beating yourself up: “I should’ve (fill in the blank).”  But also, while you’re suffering, you’re not fully present to what’s in front of you. That means you’re missing out on opportunities you might otherwise notice and seize: professional opportunities, ways to develop stronger connections with other people, or simply doing your work efficiently and effectively. Instead, you’re locked into a conversation with yourself, in your head, about what you “should have done” (or shouldn’t have done) 20 years ago, or yesterday.  You’re simultaneously getting pummeled and getting locked out of enjoying and making the best use of what’s possible for you today.

Wikipedia describes regret as: “a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. . . .”

Here are some thoughts about how to manage regret so that you are not hostage to it.

  1. Awareness. Like other feelings, regret seems to arise randomly, of its own accord. You can’t control that.  But the most important thing we can do is to recognize when we are feeling regret. With practice, we can get very good at this. Part of our consciousness is always witnessing our experience. We can learn to tap into that witness so that we can say, “I’m feeling regret right now. I’m sorry I . . . (didn’t tough it out and go to medical school, didn’t realize I was in love with X and make more time for that relationship, said what I said yesterday to my direct report, ate the whole thing, etc).
  2. Action. Once you’re aware of the feeling, you can ask yourself, if there is anything you can DO NOW, in the present and going forward, to address whatever it is you are regretting.  If so, TAKE ACTION as soon as you possibly can. For example:
    a) If you regret that you consumed half a cheesecake yesterday, you can throw the other half out right now, commit to healthy eating today, join Weight Watchers or get help in some other way.
    b) If you regret what you said to your direct report yesterday, you can think through how to clean it up with that person and then do it.
    c) If you regret that you didn’t go to medical school 20 years ago, don’t just blow it off as “too late” the way you always do. Think through and understand what’s driving these thoughts. Are you longing to have more science in your life? Looking for a way to have a more stable income?  Fascinated with new developments in medical treatment and wish you could be on the front lines? Once you understand your motivations, you can examine what your real options are in the present. You may want to get some help with this. Consulting with a career counselor, career coach, or a friend or colleague who’s capable of objectivity can be extremely helpful.  If you regret that you didn’t pursue a love relationship way back when . . . what changes can you make in your life now that can open possibilities for greater love and connection in your present life?
    As people are living and working longer, many change careers two or three (or more!) times over the course of their lives. Once you understand what’s driving your feelings, you can take action.  I know people who went to law school in their 50s, finished their PhD many years after leaving school, or published their first novel while working as a CPA.  People reinvent themselves in realms outside of career too.
  3. Other action. If there’s nothing you can do now to address the specific thing you regret, there may be ways you can use the new information about yourself (gleaned from your process in step 2) to inform your choices going forward.  Are you hungry to have more art-making in your life even though you’re not going to change careers?  Take a sculpting class at an adult ed program somewhere locally, or find a course at a museum school. Some public libraries have free craft-making evenings where you can bring your own project and work alongside other crafters.

If there is no action for you to take, your task is to turn your focus to something else: something in the present that will take your mind off the regret. Many people find that doing something physically engaging is very helpful — go for a run, get to that Zumba class, do yoga in your living room.  Going to a movie is another great way to change the state of your mind, and take you out of yourself.  What works for you?

Regret is complicated and can be difficult to dislodge. If you find that you are unable to wrestle it to the ground on your own, getting some professional help can be extremely useful, both in reducing your suffering and in making better choices for yourself going forward.  Working with a psychologist or psychotherapist can help you unpack the emotional complexity of your regret, if there is any.  A career, life, or health coach can help you implement whatever practical changes you want to make, if any.

The most important thing is not succumbing to the double suffering of regret!  Help is available, and it doesn’t have to be long term.

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