Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
If you’re planning to make a career resolution this year, you’re in good company. According to one statistic almost half of Americans make a resolution yearly. And, while admittedly, not all of them follow through, with some persistence and planning, you can increase the odds that you will successfully achieve yours.
If you’re trying to figure out the perfect resolution that will take your career to the next level, consider one of these possibilities:
1. Pick up a new skill
In my work with executives, many talk about a desire to continue their learning. However, fewer actually make it enough of a priority to do something about it. Instead, they get caught up with their daily demands, letting their desire for professional development fall by the wayside. If that sounds like you, resolve to take action this year. And remember, small steps count – sign up for a conference, read a book, work with an executive coach, experiment with new behaviors, or enroll in a class. Next year at this time, you’ll be able to look back with a sense of pride for the progress you made.
2. Seek Feedback
If you’re not sure the areas you could be working on to develop, then set the resolution to seek feedback. If you have the opportunity to go through a formal 360 process then by all means, sign up to get in-depth perspectives from a wide range of people. If that’s not possible, then select 3-5 people you trust and ask them for candid feedback regarding your strengths and areas for development. This might help you to uncover some blind spots, and also give you some ideas for further resolutions that you can set. One research study found that leaders who ask for feedback are more significantly more effective than those who don’t. So, if you want to improve, don’t be shy about asking!
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Across the years, I have found myself a little envious of people who are naturally organized. For example, I remember being in awe of one of my coaching clients who mentioned that her closet is color-coded, her pantry is alphabetized, and that her filing system that includes printed labels, dated ticklers, and elaborate and systematic use of sticky notes. I have also occasionally found myself looking through Real Simple magazine, fascinated by the pictures of makeovers of refrigerators, closets, and even bulletin boards (and have you seen Khloe Kardashian’s pantry)?
Why the fascination, you ask? The truth is, I am someone who wasn’t born with the organization gene. (My new year’s resolution to keep my bedroom clean dates back to elementary school). Although the demands of graduate school, work with senior executives, and having a family have definitely caused me to up my game in the organizing department, the truth is, these are skills that I consistently have to work on.
Intuitively, something always told me that there were benefits to organization and a lack of clutter, and recently, I’ve discovered that science also backs up what my gut was telling me. So, if you, like me, could benefit from some additional motivation to stay organized, read on to learn what the research says:
1. Clutter reduces your ability to focus
In one study, Princeton researchers conducted fMRIs on the brains of research subjects as they completed tasks requiring attention. In the different experimental conditions, the amount of visual stimuli to which people were exposed was varied, to see how it would affect their ability to perform the task. The researchers found that the more visual distractions that were present, the more the subjects’ attention was hampered. In other words, having to ignore visual distractions took mental energy, and this caused the subjects to perform more poorly on the task. Bottom line? If you need to focus, you will likely be better able to do so in a calm and clean environment.
2. An uncluttered environment can cause you to make healthier choices
In another study, subjects completed questionnaires at either an orderly desk or a messy desk, and then were offered the choice of an apple or candy on their way out the door. Those who had been at the clean desk were three times more likely to choose the apple, suggesting that the clean environment promoted other desirable behaviors.
3. A clean desk is associated with more generous behavior
In the same study, subjects were also given the opportunity to donate to charity. While only 47% of those in the the cluttered environment donated their own money, 82% of those in the clean environment made charitable donations. So, if you could stand to be more giving, an organized environment might help you out.
4. Clutter can be related to stress
A UCLA study of families found that increased clutter in the home was associated with higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in women. (Men, however, were unaffected). For me, the results of this study beg the question as to whether the clutter itself was associated with the stress levels, or the different sexes’ attitudes about a messy environment (and perhaps, who was supposed to clean it up) caused the different reactions. Still, the takeaway is that for women, cleaner surroundings are associated with greater wellbeing (so, even if it doesn’t bother you personally, if you are a man in a relationship with a woman, make sure to pick up after yourself)!
5. Clutter can decrease productivity
While I don’t have an article to back this one up, I think we can all intuitively agree that clutter can frequently cause inefficiency. The time you are spending looking for a lost email or misplaced file is time you could be devoting to other constructive work (or even relaxation). Having organized surroundings reduces the odds that you will find yourself spending unnecessary time tracking down your things.
What to Do About Clutter
With the caveat that I make no claims of being an organizing guru, here are a few strategies that work for me:
1. Get rid of unnecessary clutter
Periodically, I will go through my closet, desk, or other offending area and get rid of items I no longer need. I have found that asking myself the question “Does this still serve me?” and answering honestly lets me know if I should toss, donate, or keep each item.
2. Declutter in phases
My husband has 14,583 unread emails in his inbox (Unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration). As you might imagine, the thought of sorting through those emails is a pretty daunting task for him. If however, he decided to go through, say, 2,000 a day until he got through them all, that would make the task seem much more doable. So, to avoid overwhelm, break down your decluttering projects into manageable sections, and before you know it, you will have dealt with the mess. (As an aside, I also just discovered an awesome website called unroll.me that allows you to unsubscribe to unwanted emails in one fell swoop. Needless to say, he put that to good use)!
3. Have a dedicated space for important items
While organizing experts suggest having a place for everything, I have found that it is more practical and realistic for someone like me to ensure that my high use or important items have specific locations. That way, I can easily find my keys, essential files, and official documents.
4. Do it now
While it can be nice to rationalize that you will “get to it later,” odds are that if you let the stack of files pile up on your desk, you may not get to them until much later (like when you are engaging in step two above, dealing with a much bigger job). Guard against procrastination by taking the few seconds required to hang up the sweater, throw away the piece of paper, or put the file in its place. Doing so will keep your environment cleaner, which as we learned above, promotes healthier, more constructive behaviors.
Finally, if you’ve read all of this information, convinced that it would be a good idea to deal with your clutter, but are unsure if you will be able to keep it up, take heart! Although orderly environments encourage people to stick with convention and do what is expected of them, research has shown that messy environments are associated with more creativity. So leave your desk messy, innovate, and call it a day!
As new year’s resolution season approaches, people from all walks of life will be looking forward to the new year, eagerly thinking about the goals they will set that will transform their lives. Unfortunately by about March or so, for many of them that excitement will have turned into disappointment, as they wonder why yet again, they have been unsuccessful in their self-improvement attempts.
Is this scenario a bit more familiar than you care to admit? Don’t worry – I’ve got just the thing for you! The next time you set a goal for growth, I encourage you to create a development plan.
Development plans are, as they sound, plans in which you map out the steps that you will take to grow in a particular area. And, whether you would like to develop in a technical area (like getting further education, training, or experience) or soft skills (like assertiveness, confidence, or relationship building), they can be a powerful tool for increasing your odds for success.
Let’s face it – if personal development were easy, we would all magically accomplish our goals. We would all manage our time effortlessly, become outstanding public speakers, and listen attentively to others – all while being at our ideal weights! The reality is, however, that making lasting changes frequently requires focused attention – and that’s where development plans come in.
How to Create a Development Plan:
To create an effective development plan, make sure to include the following elements:
1. A Clear Goal
Your goal should be as clearly outlined as possible. What would success look like? How will you know that you have achieved it? The more specific you are when describing your goal, the better you will be able to assess how well you are doing with respect to moving towards it.
2. Specific Action Steps
Now that you have the goal in place, break it down into the specific action steps you will take to move towards it. For example, if you want to work on your relationship building skills at work, one of your steps could be to go out to lunch with a co-worker every other week. Or, if you want to become more assertive, perhaps you could take an assertiveness training class. Or, if you want to become more organized, perhaps you will go through all the clutter on your desk.
Set deadlines for your various action steps to create a greater sense of urgency for yourself. The act of personal development very often includes pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. And, given that a lot of us prefer to stay comfortable, it can be easy to procrastinate with respect to taking various actions – even when we know they are in our best interests. As you are setting your deadlines, make sure to be realistic about the amount of time you have to devote to the various action steps – remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
4. External Accountability
We tend to be more successful in accomplishing our goals when we build in accountability mechanisms. Therefore, if you’re really serious about making progress, make sure to recruit an accountability partner. Whether it is your significant other, a close friend, or your boss, getting additional feedback and encouragement will definitely help you.
5. Anticipation of Obstacles
Development usually doesn’t occur as a straight upward trajectory. Instead, setbacks or slip ups are usually par for the course. Thus, it can be helpful to anticipate obstacles that may arise so that you can plan in advance for how you might deal with them. Think of previous developmental efforts that went awry – what went wrong? How can you guard against that result this time around? Taking the time to learn from your past mistakes can help you avoid making them again, and keep you in the sort of mindset in which you focus on progress and the journey, in addition to the outcome.
Make sure to think of your development plan as a living document that you may change or refine across time. For example, once you get started executing it, you might find that you have new ideas about steps to take. Or, you might find that your original timeline was too aggressive, and you need to change some of your deadlines. By adapting the plan to your needs, you will be able to ensure that it continues to work for you across time.
If your instagram or Facebook feeds are anything like mine, they’re filled with inspiring quotes about living the life you were born to live by pursuing your passions and following your dreams. (Heck, I’ve posted plenty of such things myself)!
Here’s one to chew on by Quincy Jones:
“The people who make it to the top – whether they’re musicians, or great chefs, or corporate honchos – are addicted to their calling … [they] are the ones who’d be doing whatever it is they love, even if they weren’t being paid.”
In my own personal life and work with clients, I have found this to be entirely true. It may seem like a cliche, but when you love what you are doing, you feel exhilarated, excited, and eager to create. In turn, you put in more effort and energy, and often enjoy greater success.
But, what do you do when you’re in a job you’re not passionate about? What if you dislike or even hate it? And, what if this realization also happens to coincide with the reality that you have plenty of bills and responsibilities that won’t get attended to if you quit on the spot to become an artist, or run off to Bali, or even just put yourself out of your misery while you look for another position that you’ll like a whole lot better?
Despite what your instagram says, sometimes the best thing to do is to make the most of the job you have while looking for the one that will stoke your passions. After all, a lot of us have hard time feeling blissful when we’re concerned about being evicted or don’t know where our next meal is coming from! So, if you find yourself in this position, here are some tips that can transform the way you look at your work while you are in the midst of getting ready for your next move.
Take a hard look at yourself. Are you one of those people for whom the grass is always greener? Have you gone through a string of jobs and been miserable in each one? While it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that you’re just having a hard time finding something that’s the right fit for you, it’s also worth exploring whether something else is going on. After all, the common denominator in all of these situations is you. If you’re someone who makes a habit of pointing the finger at other people and circumstances to explain your dissatisfaction, it might be time to do some inner work to get happier. In turn, you’ll likely put yourself in a better position to appreciate your future professional opportunities.
2. Make a Plan
Being in a job you hate can feel paralyzing. It’s not uncommon to feel hopeless, stressed, or just plain stuck when you’re working in a position that you know isn’t right for you. To deal with this, I encourage you to fight the urge to succumb to helplessness and instead, take your power back by creating a plan.
Consider what would you prefer to be doing. What steps could you take to get there? Unsure of the steps to take? Make a list of people you talk to in order to get more information, and reach out to them. Completely at a loss for what fields interest you or how you can best use your strengths? Look into working with a career coach.
3. Work your Plan
Once you have your plan together, it’s possible you could feel overwhelmed. After all, getting more education or building a business from scratch, for example, are no small feats! To make things more manageable, think of one thing you could do right now that would move you towards your goal and do it. Whether it’s reading a book, conducting an online search, editing your resume, saving money, or talking to someone in the field, moving forward can break your feeling of inertia. Continue taking these small actions, and not only will you feel much more empowered, before you know it, you’ll have some serious momentum going that will propel you forward to your next adventure.
4. Don’t “check out” of the job you have
I once worked with a client (I’ll call Sarah) who was sick of her job. She respected her boss and was good at what she did, but she was at a place at which she could work on autopilot. Instead, she dreamt about being assigned to an international position in which she could do bigger and better things career-wise. But, since it looked like that wasn’t about to happen anytime soon, she became disengaged – showing up late and putting in less effort. She felt justified in doing so because she was “in a rut and hated her job.”
Now, the average person reading this might think, “If you want a promotion, what the heck are you doing slacking off?” However, Sarah was entirely blind to this point. It wasn’t until I said to her, “If you were leaders in the company, trying to select the person who should get a great assignment, would you pick someone who is constantly late and doesn’t seem to be trying that hard?” Once she acknowledged the irony of her situation, she got her act together and became much more productive.
And, even if you have already decided that you are going to leave the company, this advice still applies. After all, is there a possibility that you might need a reference in the future? Make sure to keep the long game in mind, and put in your best effort as you prepare for your next move.
5. Change how you look at your job
As you’re planning your next move, it’s certainly not in your best interest to continue to feel overwhelmed with misery in your current job. After all, what if your next career move is a few years in the making – is it worth it to be unhappy for that whole time?
To address this, it can often be helpful to reframe how you are looking at your work. One way to do this is to consider what there is in your professional life for which you can be grateful. Do you have a funny co-worker? Has the work helped you to develop new skills (even if it’s the emotional intelligence to deal with your ornery boss)? Does the job keep food on your table and a roof over your head? We often take these sorts of things for granted; however, acknowledging them can help you to better appreciate your work.
Finally, consider how your work aligns with your values. For example, if you’re someone that enjoys helping people, think about how your job contributes to a better world for others. If you love learning, think about where there are opportunities to learn in what you are currently doing. Being more mindful of how your values can be expressed in your work can increase your level of satisfaction. And, it might even give you some ideas about projects to pitch to your boss.
Finally, when all else fails, you know there’s always an inspirational Maya Angelou quote for you: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Hmmm…might just put that on my instagram!
“One of these days I’m going to start my own business!”
How many times have you heard someone make this pronouncement ? Perhaps a colleague said it in response to a complaint about her boss or her working conditions. Maybe your significant other has an idea for an invention that he just knows is going to make him a millionaire. Or, perhaps you have said it because you long for the perceived freedom and flexibility that accompanies working for yourself.
Regardless of the motivation for embarking on a new business, it is important to consider that while entrepreneurship is a path that allows many people the opportunity to live out their dreams, the reality is that not everyone is up to the challenges of this less stable way of life.
If you are thinking about taking the leap into being your own boss, read on to learn some qualities you will need to possess. And, if you are already an entrepreneur, check out this list to see if there are any aspects of your personality you should be developing to boost your chances for success.
1. Risk Tolerance
Let’s start with the obvious – having a tolerance for risk is a necessity for being an entrepreneur. Working for yourself lacks the security of a regular pay check, paid vacation, benefits, and the like. And, there’s the chance that things may not turn out as well as you had hoped. If you can’t stomach the risk of potential failure, entrepreneurship is not for you.
2. Emotional Resilience
An entrepreneurial lifestyle is one that can be quite stressful. In addition to the lack of guarantees regarding income, the path can be fraught with disappointments, like products or services not taking off like you had hoped they would, losing clients, or unexpected expenses. And, unfortunately, when the buck stops with you, you’re the one who has to ultimately figure out how to solve the problems. In order to manage the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial life, you will need resilience so you can move on from mistakes, setbacks, or failures without dwelling on them.
3. Learning Orientation
In addition to being able to bounce back quickly from setbacks, the ability to learn from them is important. Instead of beating yourself up when things don’t go as planned, you will be better off if you take a step back and figure out the lessons learned. Being open to feedback, willing to change direction when strategies aren’t working, and receptive to mentoring by others with more experience will increase the odds of your success. If you are not open to learning and trying new approaches, the entrepreneurial life may not be for you.
While I wouldn’t recommend being blindly optimistic, a positive attitude is a necessary ingredient for an entrepreneur. Without a sense of optimism, how will be able to put yourself out there to face possible rejection? Without optimism, how can you keep trying in the face of “no’s?” Without optimism, how can you innovate? An ability to see the glass as half full will take you far in your journey, and keep you motivated when the going gets tough.
Think being conscientious is important when you’re working for someone else? It’s even more important when you’re the person in charge. To run a successful business, you have to be self-directed and self-disciplined, with the ability to structure yourself and manage your time. Without these qualities, your ideas may remain just that – merely ideas – that aren’t being executed on.
To be a successful entrepreneur, self-awareness is essential. Knowing your strengths and areas for growth enables you to position yourself appropriately to leverage your strengths, and either work to develop in the areas in which you are weaker, or augment yourself with others who can complement you in those areas. Having allies who will tell it to you like it is will help you to guard against blind spots so you can make sure you are performing at your best.
Given the time, energy, hard work, and risk associated with being an entrepreneur, having a sense of passion for what you’re doing is a necessity. Research shows we are more productive and engaged in our work when we see it as a calling, and given the high stakes involved, having a high sense of drive and purpose about what you’re doing will gives you a sense of purpose that will help you to persist.
Finally, to keep your spirits up, reflect on these inspiring words from Mark Twain,
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.”
Are you an entrepreneur or entrepreneur-to-be? What other qualities are needed for success?
“If you want something done right, do it yourself!”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a client say this (or something very close to it), I would be one wealthy woman! While on the surface, this statement sounds like the kind of “take the bull by the horns” sort of self-reliance that many of us admire, the reality is that if you are a leader, this sort of approach could lead to your eventual demise.
Although delegation is a critical skill for leaders, my experience in coaching hundreds of executives across the years has shown that it is a behavior with which many leaders struggle.
Here are some of the common excuses I hear that prevent people from delegating, along with my rebuttals to these arguments:
1. “ I don’t have time”
People who make this argument express that delegating a task to an employee, checking in on progress, reviewing the person’s output, providing feedback, and having that person (potentially) do it again to correct any errors is too time-consuming. As a result, it is easier to just do it themselves.
Rebuttal: While delegating a task the first time around can be time-consuming, and you probably shouldn’t choose to do it when you have a tight timeline, the fact is that in the long run, delegating will actually save you time. The better trained your team is (as a result of having practice with delegated activities), the more you can off-load onto them. And, this will give you more time to spend on higher impact activities. So bite the bullet, and take the time to allow them to learn new skills through delegation.
2. “I can do it better”
Some leaders who have high needs for control or perfection can be reluctant to delegate for fear that the work product they get back won’t come out exactly the same as they would do it. Instead of risking this (guaranteed) outcome, they opt to do it themselves.
Rebuttal: If you’re a strong leader, you should have composed a team of people who have diverse talents and skills. As a result, you should actually respect your people enough to want to see their approach, and perhaps learn from it. Assuming that your way is the only way to accomplish an objective is likely to squelch their creativity and limit the opportunities for your horizons to be expanded.
3. “I don’t have anyone to delegate to.”
In this case, I am not talking about people who literally have no one to delegate to. Instead, I am talking about the cases of those leaders who suggest that their team lacks bench strength, and as a result, there is no one up to completing the task at hand.
Rebuttal: While this may be true in some instances, it is your job as a leader to develop your team. So, your goal should be to (a) coach the people on your team by giving them stretch assignments and/or (b) deal with those who (after being coached) are showing that they are unable to fulfill the demands of the job by repositioning them or letting them go. If you feel that you don’t have time for this, review excuse #1.
4. “I don’t want to over-burden them.”
I often hear this argument from well-meaning and compassionate leaders who, instead of asking their team to do more, would rather fall on the sword and take on everything for themselves.
Rebuttal: While this is a noble sentiment (and I’m not suggesting that you become the sort of leader who delegates everything then sits back with your feet on your desk), it may actually be holding your people back. If there are people on your team who actually want to grow into bigger jobs with more responsibility, then they will need to figure out how to prioritize, manage their time, and juggle multiple tasks. Plus, my experience has been that if you are burning the candle at both ends, but encouraging others to live perfectly balanced lives, your employees will judge expectations based on your actions as opposed to your words. In other words, they often conclude that their boss expects the same dedication and long hours that she or he is putting in, and as a result, they end up working hard anyhow. So, spread the wealth and follow the adage “many hands make light work.”
To close, consider this wise quote from legendary leadership expert, Stephen Covey, “People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation and completed staff work because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.”
Are you limiting yourself and your organization by your unwillingness to delegate? Delegate, and enjoy the contributions of everyone on your team.