Need new energy? Clear some clutter!

A little bit of tidying

can bring you a big boost

Are you feeling stuck, bored or besieged?

A good strategy for getting out of the doldrums can be to attack the clutter that is clogging up your desk, your office, your home or your life.

You have a clutter problem if you don’t have enough room to get your work done; if your things always look muddled; if you can’t quickly find what you need; or if you have too much paper or other stuff to neatly stow away.  Clutter can waste your time, drain your energy, repulse your friends and colleagues, and block your efforts to move forward. Even if most of your belongings appear to be in good order, you can generate fresh energy by getting control of the excess that may be piling up in drawers, closets and secret corners.

Untidy office (c)trekandphoto fotolia

Untidy office (c)trekandphoto fotolia

Here are reasons that it might be time to do some tidying:

  • To increase productivity. A chaotic workspace is not an efficient workspace.  One reason is simply that you waste time whenever you have to search for the papers or tools you need. More profoundly, clutter can distract you, repeatedly pulling your attention away from wherever your focus should be.
  • To reduce stress. Clutter can make it difficult for you to relax. It can bombard you with too many distracting stimuli, and send the message that your work is endless and out of control. And if you’re surrounded by things you’re not using anymore, you many find it harder to let go of past struggles and shift attention to your bright future.
  • To clarify priorities. Sometimes people like to have key projects within sight, to remind them about their most important goals. But if files and reports are stacked across your office, nothing stands out. When you limit visible projects to the ones that are most urgent today, you’re forced to think about your goals and make decisions about how to spend your time.
  • To project a positive image. Although you may feel comfortable in your disorderly office, your boss, colleagues or clients may be disgusted by your mess. If you want to come across as an organized professional your workspace should look shipshape.
  • To generate fresh energy. It can feel liberating to purge stuff you don’t love, aren’t using or are unlikely to finish. Tackling clutter is a keystone of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of balancing natural energies in our surroundings to create harmony and well-being. Practitioners associate clutter with stagnant energy, saying that it leads to many forms of disharmony, like lethargy, depression and repressed creativity.

Once you decide it’s time to tidy up, give some thought to the best way to go about it. Three key steps to banishing clutter are to:

  1. Purge. Gather up stuff that you aren’t using, that you don’t truly value, or that’s taking up more space than it’s worth. Then decide which items to toss and which to immediately give away.
  2. Sort. Organize remaining items by placing them in categories.
  3. Store. Assign storage places for each category and put documents and objects away, keeping similar ones together and placing frequently used things close to where you’ll need them.

Many writers recommend some variation of the purge/sort/store approach to banishing clutter. Where there’s considerable disagreement among the experts, however, is on the question of whether to clean up everything at once or do it gradually. For myself, I prefer to break a de-cluttering effort into small chunks, and to create change a little at a time.

Author Marie Kondo has a different view, however.   Her wildly popular book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” urges that you “tidy up in one shot.” She urges that you “concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time.” She advises you to make tidying a special event, not a daily chore.

Whether you’re ready to try Kondo’s sweeping approach, or just start getting rid of one item a day, a de-cluttering effort may bring you surprising benefits, including new oomph in your career. Are you ready to give it a try?

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Being aware of your time focus can boost your career

How you live in time —

yesterday, today and tomorrow

— helps shape your career

I felt refreshed at the end of a phone call with a client I’ll call “Mark.” It wasn’t just because Mark, like many of my clients, is smart and likeable. What made the conversation energizing was listening to a person whose orientation to the continuum of time is so nicely balanced.

Mark is comfortable with his past and has fond memories of growing up within a big family. Of course, he has experienced career bumps over the years, and has faced discrimination and other types of unfairness. But he has come to regard his tougher moments as opportunities for learning.

For the future, Mark has a dream job in mind, and he seems remarkably confident that he’ll reach that goal when the time is right. It will take a while for him to get there because so many people are ahead of him in his organization’s hierarchy. But, he said, he’s in no hurry to move up the ladder because his “work/life balance is so perfect today.” Even though Mark cares passionately about the mission of his nonprofit employer, he sticks close to a 40-hour workweek because, for the moment, his top priority is being with his young family.

Past Present And Future Signpost Shows Evolution Destiny Or Aging
photo by Fotolia

Not everyone has Mark’s healthy attitude about the past, present and future. As a coach, I often encounter clients whose focus on the timeline of life is impeding their career:

  • “Elaine” cannot distance herself from earlier career situations where, in her view, she was dealt with unfairly. Elaine often complains about past mistreatment, and her bitterness limits her ability to pursue current opportunities. And when she gets bogged down in endlessly recycling yesterday’s disappointments, Elaine bores her colleagues and has trouble engaging in the projects on her desk today.
  • “Jack” lives today fully, but doesn’t prepare for tomorrow. While Elaine’s coworkers tend to avoid her, Jack is popular wherever he goes. He is playful, funny and interested in whatever you’re doing right now. But Jack’s career is stalled because of the way he avoids assignments involving a lot of planning or tedious, front-end work.
  • Ambitious “Harry” is focused on the future but neglects the present. He is determined to rise to the top of his field and he’s a master of networking and self-promotion. But Harry spends so much time chasing opportunity that he often is sloppy about tasks on his plate right now. And despite his broad circle, Jack has few close friends because social activities without a professional focus strike him as a waste of time.

Executive coaches understand that, although you may not be conscious of it, the way you think about time can impact your behavior and attitudes, and profoundly influence the course of your career. Coaches often ask questions intended to help clients develop a clear, hopeful vision of their future, as well as a realistic sense of their priorities for today.

People with a positive and balanced perception of time tend to be effective performers in the workplace. And simply noticing ways that you focus on the continuum of time can help you to better set your perspective. The relationship between performance and time orientation is one focus of The Time Paradox, a fascinating 2008 book by psychologists Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. According to these authors, research suggests that for a happy life and a successful career, the best time orientation is one that features:

  • A high past-positive and low past-negative time perspective. You can’t change your past but you can adjust your attitude about it. An upbeat view of the past can help you feel rooted and stable, but a negative preoccupation with old events can make you suspicious, risk-adverse and driven by guilt or a fear of all that is new or different.
  • A moderately high future time perspective. Being oriented toward the future means you are more likely to engage in appropriate planning and scheduling and better able to anticipate to challenges. This perspective is associated with strong reasoning, patience and self-control, and with a focus on goals. It allows you to envision days ahead filled with hope, optimism and power. The down side of an over-the-top preoccupation with the future is you may be unable to enjoy today’s activities and experiences.
  • A moderately high present hedonistic perspective. The authors say, “A hedonistic present gives you energy and joy about being alive…Present hedonism is life-affirming, in moderation.”

If you’re interested in seeing how your time perspective compares with the authors’ view of the optimum profile, you can go to their website and take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory. If you don’t feel like answering their 56 questions, simply try noticing, for a few days, how much attention you focus on the past, the future and what’s happening right now.

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Learn how to accept tough feedback

You can become more at ease

with criticism of your work

During my first coaching session with “Jodie,” a talented scientist, she expressed frustration about not getting the challenging assignments she thought she deserved. She theorized that she might be a victim of gender discrimination. Or perhaps she wasn’t respected because her Ph.D. was from a university some regarded as second-tier.

I heard a different story when, with Jodie’s permission, I interviewed some of her current and former colleagues. It was clear that Jodie’s accomplishments and credentials were widely respected. But people were reluctant involve her in demanding or innovative projects because she was so overly sensitive to criticism.

One colleague liked Jodie personally but suggested it could be exhausting and time-consuming to work with her. “When we start something new, it’s normal to make false starts. Somebody comes up with an idea, we try it out, and if doesn’t work the team gets together to pick it apart. But when Jodie’s on the team she’s so defensive that we all have to walk on egg shells.”

As we spoke, Jodie became aware that her inability to accept negative feedback was limiting her professional growth. And she acknowledged that she had long found it difficult to accept criticism, not only at work but also with her friends and family. A harsh comment could make her feel physically ill, and might send her mind racing with protests and catastrophic predictions.

Jodie found that her employer’s family assistance program would subsidize the cost of weekly counseling to help her learn how to better manage her visceral response to any disparaging comment. She felt some relief when she understood that it’s normal for people to react more strongly to just a bit of criticism than they might to lot of praise. Soon she was learning to manage both the angry, defensive voice in her head, and the physical pain she felt when it seemed like she was under attack.

Meanwhile, in the context of coaching, Jodie developed this plan to overcome her reputation as someone too delicate to be part of a problem-solving team:

  • Recruit support. Jodie scheduled individual meetings with several trusted colleagues to let each know that she was working to get better at accepting negative feedback. She said she was becoming more comfortable in an environment where people typically make well-meaning but blunt suggestions about each other’s work. She asked for both patience and suggestions about how to engage in the give-and-take normal among the high performers in her group. And she requested that colleagues not to try to keep her away from situations where they thought her feelings might get hurt.
  • Pause before responding. During counseling, Jodie noticed how her defensive reaction to criticism tended to quickly build until she couldn’t seem to contain it. As she became better at spotting her emotional build-up, she learned to take a few deep breaths instead of immediately expressing her anger. She found that if she waited a day or two, criticism might feel less like a personal assault and more like a useful suggestion. And if she felt particularly wounded, she might soothe herself with a treat, like arranging for a massage, or taking her husband out for a nice dinner.
  • Stand in the speaker’s shoes. Once Jodie slowed down her quick response to criticism, she then tried to look at it from the standpoint of the critic. Sometimes she would write an analysis because that helped her to be objective. She would address questions like:
    • Who made the comment? Did it come from her boss, who might be typing to help her? From someone with expertise different from hers? And does the speaker have goals that are valid, although not the same as hers?
    • What might she learn from the comment?
    • Was the remark truly about her work or idea, or did it say more about the mood of the person who spoke? If it was just a casual comment from someone having a bad day, she might just let it go.
  • Define the goal of any response. Once she paused and thought about the criticism, Jodie would decide whether something could be gained from answering back. She wouldn’t indulge in venting. But if an important point were at stake, she would frame her arguments in a positive and strategic way.
  • Practice accepting corrections. To become better at remaining detached from the emotional impact of criticism, Jodie decided to practice in situations where the risks were low. She signed up for a creative writing course and learned to keep her cool when it was her turn to have an assignment critiqued by the class. And she joined a knitting group where more experienced knitters helped her to untangle the mistakes she made with her needles.

Bad review (c)zagandesign fotolia #52338633It’s normal to feel defensive when people criticize you. But feeling insulted is painful and doesn’t get you anywhere. With practice you can develop a thicker skin. You can choose to let go of your hurt feelings and refocus on the work product or concept under discussion.

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Moving past an error of judgment

How to bounce back after

 a poor decision at work

Recently I wrote about Ira Chaleff’s fine new book, Intelligent Disobedience, that explores situations where ignoring your supervisor’s command may be an act of wisdom and courage. In response, a friend told me a story about an executive who kept pushing on a proposal after her boss had nixed it. In this case, the CEO not only forgave the executive, but also had a transformative leadership experience as a result of his team member’s challenging behavior.  In this post I’ll share that story, modified to protect identities, and then offer my own suggestions about how you can recover from a poor decision at work.

That CEO, who I’ll call“Tony,” ran a large medical technology company, and “Sarah” led one of the company’s research and development units. Sarah had teams exploring a variety of tools for delivering more effective patient care. Personally, she was particularly interested in devices addressing cardiac disease because she had friends and family members with heart problems.

Sarah sent Tony a detailed proposal for an innovative device with a high likelihood of helping patients suffering from a certain kind of heart defect. She made a strong case that the device could save patients’ lives and that it had a good chance of moving quickly through the regulatory review process.

When he received Sarah’s proposal, Tony was preoccupied by a corporate merger. Although normally a thoughtful and thorough decision-maker, this time Tony just took a quick look and fired back a note saying that the proposal was a non-starter because the defect was relatively rare and the impacted patients didn’t represent a big enough market to justify the cost of introducing the product.

Despite Sarah’s appeals for further consideration, Tony made it clear that he didn’t want more resources to be invested in the device. But Sarah was haunted by the thought of the people who might die without it. So she ignored Tony’s wishes and authorized continued work on her pet project, quietly folding the costs into a much larger cardiac initiative.

Sarah kept pushing forward without seeking permission. Eventually the device was approved and did indeed start saving lives. Soon the technology was attracting attention in the medical community because it held the potential for additional applications. Then one day Tony called Sarah to his office and handed her a letter from his college roommate. It said, “Tony, your new device saved my life.”

Soon after that, at an annual meeting of the company’s top 400 leaders, Tony told the story of Sarah’s defiance. And he made three statements that won respect from his team and shaped the corporate culture for handling future errors of judgment:

  • He apologized for being wrong and acknowledged that he had told Sarah “no,” not once but three times.
  • He commended Sarah for having the courage and strength of her conviction to approach leaders repeatedly and finally buck the system because it was the right thing to do for patients.
  • He committed to doing something “exceptional” to make amends and create a process that would make future errors in judgment less likely.
Sometimes ya gotta say "sorry"

Sometimes ya gotta say “sorry

In an environment where innovation is encouraged, professionals must become comfortable with taking risks. And where risk-taking is the norm, it’s inevitable that some decisions won’t work out well. Savvy leaders support the creative culture by modeling a method of accepting responsibility and moving forward after a mistake has been made. One smart way to manage judgment errors is the three-part approach I call “Plan A”:

  • Acknowledge that you made the wrong choice and accept responsibility for the consequences. At the same time, thank anyone who helped you to recognize or overcome the problem.
  • Apologize for the damage you caused, or the opportunity you missed. Be specific so that people can see how you recognize the result of your choices and actions.
  • Identify Action Steps that will rectify or make up for your mistake and make it more likely that good judgment will prevail in the future.

We all make decisions that don’t work out well. Next time you make a blunder, face it straight on, try handling it with Plan A, and quickly refocus on doing excellent work in the future.

To explore more career issues, please check out my book, Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, coming soon from Career Press.

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When “intelligent disobedience” is the best choice

Sometimes the right decision

is to ignore a bosss orders

Guide dogs undergo intense obedience training to prepare them to lead visually impaired people around obstacles. But what happens when a blind woman doesn’t hear the approach of a quiet electric vehicle and directs her dog to step off the curb? At that moment, the dog must make a life and death decision: does he block the woman from going forward, even if it means disobeying a command?

Ira Chaleff, author of Intelligent Disobedience

Ira Chaleff, author of Intelligent Disobedience

“Intelligent Disobedience” is the term trainers use to describe the quality that enables a dog to resist a command that would put his human in danger. In his new book, leadership expert – and my friend — Ira Chaleff explores how a similar quality may be needed in the workplace, when a team member sees that a leader is about to make a dangerous mistake.

In Intelligent Disobedience Doing Right When What Youre Told to Do Is Wrong, Ira explores how ignoring a command can become an act of heroism. A compelling example is the story of Rick Rescorla, VP of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, who was working at the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. When a public address announcement directed people to stay at their desks, Rescorla refused to obey. Instead, he marshaled employees to follow the escape drill he had devised. He led thousands to safety, then lost his own life when he went back to the building to rescue others.

Ira says that enjoying the benefits of an organization does require obedience to the norms. And there are three factors that make obedience appropriate:

  1. The system is reasonably fair and functioning.
  2. The authority figure is legitimate and reasonably competent.
  3. The order itself is reasonably constructive.

But what should you do if you see your boss about to step off a curb? Ira suggests this practical test for Intelligent Disobedience: “Based on the information we have and the context in which the order is given, if obeying is likely to produce more harm than good, disobeying is the right move, at least until we have further clarified the situation and the order.”

Obedience tends to be a habit and it’s challenging to create an organizational culture where professionals don’t just habitually say “yes.” But so many scandals or tragedies might be prevented if a leadership group empowers followers to push back against ill-advised orders. Ira draws on guide dog training for lessons on developing the human capacity for Intelligent Disobedience:

  • Refusal skills can be developed through carefully designed training and practice. Exercises should involve identifying risks and early questioning of inappropriate order.
  • Training can begin with simple simulations and move toward more complex exercises.
  • In addition to practicing resistance to a poor or dangerous command, participants can practice the equivalent of a counter-pull, to bring the leader back to a safer position.
  • Acts of Intelligent Disobedience should be praised.

Ira’s book creates an intriguing picture of a culture where, instead of just following orders, people hold themselves accountable to do the right thing.

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Smart entrepreneurs know the power of communities

Being active in communities

can help your career to thrive

When I meet new clients, it’s sometimes easy to spot the ones who’re enjoying resilient careers. Whether they’re solopreneurs creating their own thing, or professionals making their way through large organizations, people with thriving work lives tend to share some of the same characteristics, like a positive attitude and an ability to listen.

As I chat further with clients, one thing I want to know is whether they consciously manage their networks. While most people know that networking means building strong personal and professional relationships, the most well connected people go even further. They not only create and care for individual relationships, person by person, but they also understand the power of their broader communities.

A “community” is a group that has members, rather than a collection of unconnected people. While membership may be informal or unacknowledged, the members of the community are linked by common values, interests or history. And often they have some feeling of belonging, as well as a sense that they matter – that they can make a difference to the group.

Among your communities are your neighbors, people with a background or interest similar to yours, professionals who share your training and expertise, and members of the clubs and associations you’ve formally joined. Your communities are packed with people you haven’t even met. But when you approach someone as a part of your group, it’s unlikely that he’ll treat you like a stranger. Your communities are a source of business intelligence, clients, customers, mentors, introductions and friends.

There’s a growing body of research that links good health with your degree of social connection. That reflects not just relationships within your inner circle, but also your interaction with far-flung communities. Reasons for the health impact might be that supportive communities can help us to manage stress, gain perspective and maintain healthy habits.

Beyond that, your emotions and behaviors can be influenced by the emotions and behaviors of those in your extended communities.   Research on human networks suggests that your attitude and habits may be shaped not only by your close contacts, but also by your contacts’ contacts and their contacts, as well.   If the people in your communities are energetic, accommodating and creative, their positive vibes can be contagious, assisting you to stay upbeat as you push your boundaries.

Successful entrepreneurs are often particularly attuned to their business, customer and social communities, looking to them for inspiration, technical knowledge, referrals, and empathy. Photographer Molly Peterson, is a fine example of a modern entrepreneur who is investing in her communities as she continues to invent her multifaceted career.

Molly Peterson on the farm. Photo by Mike Peterson.

Molly Peterson on the farm. Photo by Mike Peterson.

Molly’s documentary-style photos are beautiful and authentic, and have been widely published. She’s known particularly for her food and farm shots, and she took the pictures for “Growing Tomorrow,” a new book with portraits of 18 sustainable farmers. Photography is only one of Molly’s professions. She and her husband run Heritage Hollow Farms, where they raise grass-fed livestock and also operate a farm store in Sperryville, a village in Rappahannock County, Virginia.

Although it seems like two active careers would take up all Molly’s time, she’s one of those natural givers and connectors, active both in community nonprofit groups and in online networks. Everything seems to work together. It was through customer and online communities that Molly came up with one of the Farms’ distribution channels. She noticed that many Washington, DC, residents care about the benefits of sustainable meat but can’t always make the two-hour drive to Sperryville or be available for a scheduled delivery. So she arranged for meat orders to be delivered to freezers installed in Washington area Crossfit Gyms.

When I asked Molly why she’s so active around the County, despite her heavy work schedule, she said, “I

Heritage Hollow Farms Store, Sperryville, Virginia

Heritage Hollow Farms Store, Sperryville, Virginia

was taught from a young age from both of my parents to be curious, connected, and ‘well rounded.’ They were both entrepreneurs… I’ve always been curious and interested in a world outside of my own: why do people do what they do, is there a deeper reason for it, what makes them ‘tick’. I also feel it never hurts to ask; nothing frustrates me more than when I’m told that something can’t be done simply because that isn’t the way it’s usually done.”

Molly also said, “Outside of my careers I have a genuine care and concern for my community and the Earth and how to make it better, more joy-filled, healthier – whether that’s through my photography as art, through the way we raise our livestock that ultimately feeds families, or through my time.”

Staying in touch with a range of supportive communities can be key to building your resilient career. These strategies can help you to build stronger community involvement:     

  • Identify your communities. Start by listing groups of people with whom you’re already associated. This might include your college or other alumni groups, professional associations, neighborhood committees, and even online groups. Then think about your interests or favorite activities, and search for additional organizations of like-minded people. If you’re an Italian-American who likes to raise herbs and cook, look around for a garden club, a gourmet group, or an Italian-American association.
  • Become active. Consider organizations where you are now a member, as well as others you might join, and target several where you’ll raise your profile and build relationships. Next, watch for opportunities where you can make a contribution. This might mean volunteering for a service project, joining a committee, or simply attending functions.
  • Care about an issue. Many communities are built around causes or local needs. If your family has been touched by cancer, you may want to join a committee that raises money for research. The best way to get to know people can be working with them to address a problem you all care about.
  • Be a mentor. To connect with a younger crowd or make your network more diverse, offer to serve as a mentor. Contact a professional association, or get in touch directly with someone who is starting something new and volunteer to share your skill set or serve as an advisor.
  • Give money. If you’re overwhelmingly busy right now, you can quietly begin to build name recognition by making contributions to nonprofit groups. If your name shows up repeatedly on donor lists, group leaders may eventually beg you to become more actively involved.

Maintaining your connections with multiple communities is not just about your career. By investing in your communities you’ll be forging a support system that can help you through the tougher times and make the good days even more enjoyable.

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8 vital tips for starting a new job

 To launch a new job

you need a good plan

Are you looking forward to your first day in a different job? Or maybe you’re preparing to welcome a new colleague?

My worst first day at work was 30 years ago, but I still remember it vividly. I was a few years out of law school and shifting to a new firm in the nation’s capital. The title on my business card read “partner,” instead of “associate,” in deference to the clients I was able to bring along with me.

Well in advance, I caught up with all my own client activities. On the day, I arrived in a new suit, with an empty briefcase, eager to make a good impression in the Washington office of this Virginia firm. But the attorneys who had interviewed me all were out of the office that day, and nobody else seemed pleased to meet me.

Welcome Aboard! (c)thinglass fotolia.comI found my way to the most senior Washington partner and introduced myself. Before quickly dismissing me he said, “At the interviews they all thought you were so great, but frankly I don’t see it. You’re going to have to prove yourself before anybody here gives you work.”

The first friendly word was from the kind firm administrator, who took me to lunch and warned me about a few things. She told me that there had been controversy over my title. And she hinted that, in this male-dominated firm, both attorneys and support staff would need some time to get used to the idea of working with a woman lawyer.

The cool welcome was a challenge, but the most uncomfortable part of the day was that I had absolutely nothing to do. This was back before there was a web to surf, and I struggled to look busy. Instead of hustling over the weekend to finish my client work, I should have prepared a long list of things to do.

That night, I called my father, holding back tears. Thinking to cheer me up, he described his experience with new jobs: “The first day is always the worst day. The first week is always the worst week. The first month is the worst month. And the first year is the worst year.”

I don’t buy into the pessimism embedded in Dad’s view of new jobs. But in that case he was prophetic. In successive days, weeks, months and years my life in the firm continued to improve, and I soon felt fully accepted. But things got better partly because I learned a critical lesson. I went to work on my second day with a plan of how I would keep busy, and I never again assumed that the firm leaders would carry the responsibility for my success.

These days I find it hard to imagine even a law firm making so little effort on employee orientation. Often, in a process human resource experts call “onboarding,” organizations develop elaborate plans to assure that a new hire can quickly get to know key insiders and stakeholders, learn about performance expectations, and become familiar with the culture. Leaders may work hard to help recruits get a feel for the environment and develop realistic expectations about their roles.

But even when you’re supported by onboarding pros, at the start of a new job it makes sense to have your own plan. And whether you are joining a new company or changing slots in the same outfit, you can ease your entry into a new position by focusing on basic principles of workplace success:

  1. Learn what your boss wants. Perhaps at the start your boss will be vague about what she needs from you. Of course, you should ask about your expected deliverables and the best way to report on your progress. But don’t count on clear, complete answers. Do some detective work as well. Notice how your boss interacts with her other direct reports, what she typically wants to know, and how she sends information up the line. Get a sense of what she must do in order to be successful, and look for ways to help. Study the organization’s mission and consider how your contribution — and hers — fit within the big picture.
  2. Get to know people. When managers and professionals run into trouble with new positions or projects it’s generally not because they don’t have the technical skills. They are more likely to fail because they misunderstand the culture or don’t establish working relationships with the right people. During your first months be methodical as you reach out to teammates, customers and anybody else with information to share.
  3. Listen and learn. When you meet individuals and attend meetings, ask questions and actively listen to each new person. Resist the urge to talk about yourself and your successes in the old job. Keep an open mind, avoid offering criticism before you understand the history, and be cautious about choosing sides among warring factions.
  4. Set short-term goals. As you start to feel that your feet are on the ground, create realistic objectives for your first few months, then for the first year. Reconfirm your understanding of your boss’s expectations, focus on areas that seem to be high priority, and identify some relatively easy near-term achievements. Don’t try to do everything at once, but identify specific preliminary steps — like introductory meetings — to move you in the right direction.
  5. Do what you say you will. One of the worst ways to start out is to create a trail of broken promises. Deliver on every commitment you make, no matter how small. For example, if you offer to make a phone call or send along information, do so immediately.
  6. Be on time. A simple way to demonstrate respect and enthusiasm is to meet all deadlines and show up on time for every meeting and appointment. This can be more challenging than usual if you’re following a different schedule and in an unfamiliar environment. But it’s worth the extra effort.
  7. Adjust your attitude. It’s not unusual to experience a letdown soon after you start your job. Once you are beyond the excitement of the move, you may realize that not everything is meeting your expectations. If you get the feeling that the honeymoon is over, it will be time to make an important choice. You can give in to your disappointment and become preoccupied with how they’ve let you down. Or you can choose to focus on the positive aspects of your situation and commit yourself to doing what it takes to reach your goals.
  8. Manage stress. Recognize that the process of adjusting to your new assignment will involve moments of uncertainty, which can translate into a high level of stress. Have a plan for managing anxiety, and be sure to include a fitness program. You may feel like you have no time to work out, but that’s shortsighted. The time you spend on keeping your cool and boosting your energy is an investment in success.

It’s more common than it used to be to have an onboarding program and first year roadmap. But even if that’s the case, keep your personal objectives in mind as well. Ask yourself: what do I need to do to get off to a great start? And what are the next steps?

image credit: © thinglass –

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Posted in Career management, career resilience, career success, First day at work

6 ways to get more from meetings

Stuck in endless meetings?

Make better use of that time.

How much time do you devote to meetings? Your first answer might be: “Too much!” But seriously, do you have any idea what percentage of your work life is spent meeting with people? Try calculating it. And if meetings take just 20 percent of your time, and you work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s a whopping 400 hours annually.

I often talk with coaching clients about how to cut down the number of hours they spend sitting at a conference table. You can reduce meeting time by:

  • Agreeing with your colleagues to maintain shorter default times. For example, if your team always gathers on Monday mornings for an hour, commit to a new time limit of 45 minutes.
  • Say “no.” Sometimes your presence isn’t all that important, and you can be excused simply by explaining that you have another commitment.
  • Run better discussions.       Particularly if you’re the leader, you can recapture wasted time by establishing good group habits, like always having an agenda, and insisting on punctuality.

Business meeting, brainstorming in flat style.But no matter how adept you are at managing your own meetings, and avoiding some others, you probably still spend a big chunk of your work time convening with colleagues.

You may sometimes feel like my client “Sharon,” who was frustrated because she felt stuck. Sharon wanted the chance to lead a team. But Jenny, her mentor, warned that some senior colleagues felt Sharon wasn’t ready to be a manager.

Sharon complained, “If I didn’t have to waste so much time sitting in their useless meetings I could really show them what I can do.”

Jenny countered, “You can’t get out of those meetings, so why not make better use of them? Read more ›

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Tips for talks that keep them engaged

 Have a speech coming up?

Want to sharpen your style?

Finding more opportunities to make presentations can bring new energy to your career. Public speaking allows you to stand out, show what you know, and connect with a wider group of people. The more talks you give, the more you build your confidence and polish your style. And the prospect of presenting helps you identify what’s important and work harder to know your stuff.

I often encourage clients to raise their profiles by finding speaking venues. This might mean offering remarks at a company meeting or sitting on a convention panel. Or it could involve inventing an event that gives you the chance you need.

If one of your goals is to do more speaking, take note of how successful delivery styles have evolved over the years.

LibbyheadshotMy favorite expert on public speaking and workplace communications is Libby Vick, who once worked on Capitol Hill and is now a member of the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. When I asked her about recent trends, Libby (who also is my sister) said, “Speeches are shorter and the audience of today is much more visually oriented. And, for better or worse, the younger the audience the more they expect an element of ‘entertainment.’”

A format Libby now uses in her classroom is based on the increasingly popular Ignite talk videos, where the motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick.” Ignite presenters talk for exactly five minutes, and during that time the audience sees 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Libby said, “The idea of having visuals – without words – throughout the speech is a new concept, and it seems to work.”

“Another interesting aspect of Ignite is the premise that storytelling is the key to a successful presentation. And this can be applied to any subject,” Libby said. “For example, business audiences are often bored by PowerPoint charts and graphs, even in pretty colors.”

“So let’s say the ‘story’ you want to tell is that a once thriving industry is now suffering layoffs. Instead of a graph, you can have a slide that’s a photograph showing a plant at full production, followed by a slide that shows the same plant half empty. The story is told and the point is still made, but in a way that holds the audience’s interest,” Libby said.

If you want a fresher approach for your next talk, Libby’s advice is: Read more ›

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Celebrations support a healthy workplace culture

Build your team & boost productivity

with 13 ideas for workplace celebrations

Celebrations can enhance your workplace culture and help team members do even better work. Sharing appreciation for success and good fortune can support the well-being of individuals, foster a sense of community and promote the health of your whole organization.

open book with ribbonCreating a celebration can be a wonderful way to acknowledge achievements and encourage people to continue to excel. Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator and a celebratory event can be a smart way to offer good feedback.

Celebrations provide times when colleagues come together, get to know each other better and develop a shared perspective. Enjoying festive occasions helps workers become friends, and having friends at the office helps you do your best.

Arranging celebrations can provide a moment for reflection, allowing people to develop a collective focus on the right stuff. It’s a way to draw attention to the organization’s goals and values, and to remind participants that they work at a great place.

Consider these 13 ways to celebrate at work: Read more ›

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Posted in leadership, motivation, organizational techniques, team building, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,