Monday, February 29, 2016

Stop Dreaming, Start Scheming

When looking to modify and change behaviours it is not enough to simply identify a bad habit that we want to stop, or to identify a good habit we want to start, we ideally want to link the two. Solely focusing on a bad behaviour we want to stop leaves a void that our brain seeks to fill. Without direction concerning what we would prefer to do, our brain may select a behaviour that proves equally bad at fulfilling our ultimate goals and objectives.

Similarly, merely identifying a behaviour we want to start leaves our brain scrambling to make room for that new behaviour. It will therefore look to eliminate an existing behaviour to clear that room. However, our brain doesn't typically make judgments on 'good' versus 'bad' and may therefore replace an existing good behaviour with your desired new habit, resulting in a break-even proposition before you even get started.

The premise of my last book, Stop This, Start That, was to give you 365 different success tips that highlighted what behaviours to stop engaging in, and what behaviours to replace them with.  Clean and simple.  Although 365 ideas may seem like more than enough to keep you busy for a lifetime, if not the better part of a year, I find that I am often in conversation with clients where additional tips and ideas surface.  This blog post grew from one such conversation.

There are numerous articles, books and videos that direct you to dream as big as possible, to envision everything that you would like to have and attract into your life.  Unfortunately though, they often don't provide further instruction, leaving you with the belief that creating a vision board or replaying a dream over and over is enough to create it as a reality.

I am a firm believer in opening yourself to possibilities and to creating a vision for yourself of where those possibilities can take you, but dreaming on its own is not enough.  A dream without action will lead to disappointment and regret. You can't continue to replay the same dream over and over, without taking any action to make it happen, and expect it to manifest. Dreams need help to come to fruition.

In which case, if you have something that you have longed for, wished for, dreamed for, that has yet to come true for you, it is time to Stop Dreaming and time to Start Scheming.  You need to sit down and develop a plan of action for making that dream a reality.
  • What do you need to make this dream happen?  Are there specific skills you need?  Financing? Contacts? Do you need more information, education or direction? 
  • Who could you talk to, what book could you read, what course could you take?
  • What would be the first step you could take toward turning your dream into a reality?  What's the second, the third, the fourth?
  • What obstacles exist preventing you from taking action?  How could you circumvent them?
Dream big, dream deep, dream wide.  But don't get so caught up in the act of dreaming that you overlook the need to start scheming.  All dreams need a plan to become reality.  Start building your plan now to start living your dream.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

This may seem like a small tip, but if your nerves tend to create 'sweaty' palms then the following
will be invaluable to you in creating a more positive first impression! Running cold water on your wrists for a minute will help you keep your palms dry for roughly 10 minutes.  This is great when you are able to access a rest room just before your meeting.

When in doubt about the availability of a restroom though, consider putting Antiperspirant on your hand.  It is designed to control underarm sweat and can certainly help control a damp handshake too!

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Can Figure It Out

Growth of any kind requires us to do things we've never done before.

  • That new promotion?  
  • That new sport?  
  • That new art?  
  • That new hobby?  
  • That new volunteer experience?
  • That new relationship?

New things can be fun, exhilarating and exciting but they can also be scary and intimidating. Often our move forward may be impeded by the thought that we don't know what to do, or perhaps how to do it.

  • Antonio has a great idea for a new business he would love to start.  Although excited about the concept he hesitates because he soon realizes that he doesn't know how to arrange for manufacturing, he isn't sure about financing options and definitely don't know how to set up online shopping and marketing systems.  He decides not to pursue his idea because he determines that he doesn't know enough to start a business.  
  • Debra has been working in her current role for 4 years and has successes to spare.  She has out performed all of her peers and finds that she knows her current job inside and out.  In fact, she might even be willing to admit that she is feeling a little bored and under-challenged.  A new opportunity has just been posted inside the company that others have said she would be great at.  She's interested, but hesitates to apply because, as she reads over the job description, she realizes that there are aspects of the job that she has never done before.
Although we may tell ourselves that we can't do something because we don't have the skill or knowledge to complete it, recognise that it isn't the lack of knowledge holding you back, but your fear.  In today's world, knowledge and information has never been easier to access.  Need to know something?  Google it.  You will instantly have more leads than you will ever need to follow to find out what you need to know. Someone, somewhere knows what you need to know, knows how to do what you need to do.  Find them and ask them.

All that is needed, in order to move forward is to believe in your ability to figure things out.  Once you have faith in this, that everything is 'figure-outable', then the phrase 'I don't know' is no longer an end to your dream or growth, but a place to start.

  • You don't know how to set up a new business, how to arrange for manufacturing, what it takes to get financing?  Start searching and start asking.  There are lots of people that have done what you are looking to do that would be more than happy to share some of their life lessons with you. There's entrepreneurial training, associations with support systems in place, business coaches, podcasts...  
  • You aren't sure if you have what it takes to be hired into a new role?  Apply and find out. Don't second-guess it.  The worst that can happen is that you find out what you are missing and then eliminate the gap.  The best thing?  You get the job!
Figuring out what to do may prove not to be the biggest barrier.  Finding the courage to step up and take the necessary action may be it.  It is never enough to ask the questions, to seek the answers, if you don't activate them.  True clarity comes through action, for it is out of 'doing' that you truly learn and grow.

If you wait to begin until you know everything you may need, then you will remain sitting on the couch. Just start, by believing in your ability to figure things out as you go.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tip Thursday - Focus

Consider that the need to Focus in on one thing is not dependent upon your simply saying YES to that responsibility. To successfully focus on one opportunity requires you to say NO to all of the other opportunities and ideas that cross your plate.

Dividing your focus is likely to divide your results. Put your energies and attention where they are best able to give you the results you desire most, putting the rest on 'hold' until then.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Key to Accomplishing Anything

No matter what it is that you are looking to accomplish, whether it's to..
  • exercise more 
  • eat less
  • read more
  • watch tv less
  • pay bills on time
  • get to work on time
  • meet deadlines
  • learn a second language, play piano or golf
you won't get there without Discipline.  Nothing is ever achieved without it.  Discipline is the one unifying element that is necessary for any sustainable long term success.  As the common element it therefore makes sense for us to learn to cultivate and develop ours.  According to Brain Tracy, discipline is...
The ability to do what you know you should do, whether you feel like it or not.
 It's our discipline that pushes us to get out of bed when we'd rather hunker down under the covers.  It's our discipline that keeps us on track, working toward our goals, even when we'd rather take a detour... through the cookie cupboard in the kitchen.  It's our discipline that helps us to adopt a long-term perspective and to set aside any short-term gratification that may derail that longer term objective.

It is little wonder then that most high achievers have a tendency to think in a longer-term perspective. They are significantly more skilled in side-stepping any immediate gratification if it prevents them from obtaining their longer term goals.  The good news is that your level of self-discipline is not pre-set.  Like a muscle, it can grow stronger with practice.  And, like a muscle, it can grow weaker with dis-use.

Although many of us would prefer to believe that the most successful athletes and singers and musicians are at the top of their game because of luck or good genetics, the fact is that whatever innate talent they have would be nothing without the discipline it required to cultivate and develop it. Those who are the 'best' at what they do have put in time, every day, to become the best.  They have said 'no' to other activities that would have prevented them from doing what they knew they had to, if they wanted to be the best. It is not always the most talented person who succeeds, but the most disciplined. It is those that that have the discipline to invest the time and energy needed to grow their talent, develop their skills, to work upon their goals.

For those of you willing to do what you must, to obtain what you want, here are a few tips to help you develop the discipline needed to get you there.

  • Know your Why.  In order to push through the discomfort you will experience in pushing toward your goal it is critical that you know What you want, Why you want it and What you are willing to do to get it.  If your why isn't strong enough you'll never get out of bed.
  • Remove any temptations or distractions. There is no need to make things harder than they need to be.  If your goal is to lose weight then ditch all of the cookies and chocolates hidden in the house!
  • Don't wait for the 'right' time to start.  There is no right time, there is only now. The longer it takes you to start, the more excuses you will create and barriers you will build.  Stop talking about it and start taking action.
  • Visualize the long term results.  Keep a clear picture of what the long term results are that you are working for and keep it front and center.  If you want to strengthen your ability to say no to any of the moments of instant gratification that may cause you to stumble, keeping a strong mental picture of what you want to achieve will help remind you of why 'no' is the right answer.  (and to feel proud each time you use it!)
  • Create routines.  The sooner that you build habits that support the actions you want to take the easier it will be to do what you need.  Setting up routines that have you engaging in the same behaviour patterns each day will help you create goal-sustaining habits.
  • Avoid exceptions. Don't allow any exceptions to the behaviours you 'should' be engaging in until they have become habit. If you do slip, start over immediately. You want your brain to recognise the slip as the exception it is, not to accept it as a desire to revert. Your old behaviours and habit patterns will make attempts to reassert themselves. Not allowing exceptions in the beginning will help prevent this from happening. 
  • Define the behaviours.  Once you have chosen the discipline that you want to develop, spend time defining how you would behave if that discipline were already a habit.  What behaviours would you be engaging in?  These then become your target behaviours, the behaviours of your success.
  • Regular review.  Review your progress regularly and celebrate your successes.  Keep your momentum by recognising and rewarding the gains you have made.  Just ensure that your rewards are supportive of your goal.  It should go without saying that you don't reward yourself for refusing to eat ice-cream for dessert by having a bowl of ice-cream!
  • Learn from your bad days.  And you will have them.  Rather than using the bad day as an excuse to toss in the towel, use it as an opportunity to understand what is likely to undermine your self-discipline and work to plug that leak!  Bad days provide insight into areas of weakness that you can then focus on and strengthen.  Welcome the insight and stay on track.
I often have people comment about how disciplined I am about my work, about getting my blog and books written, about my ability to actually get work done while working from a home office.  They typically also comment that they could never do the same, that they aren't disciplined enough. However, the truth is that I actually am not disciplined, so I have to be disciplined.  

I have created rules and routines to help me get the work I want done... done!  The good news is that it gets easier over time.  Where I once had to force myself to sit and write I now write to the routines I have put in place.  What's even better is that the more you persist the more disciplined you will be. As you focus on being disciplined you become more disciplined.  Although being disciplined in one area of your life does not necessarily mean you will be disciplined in all, it does mean that you now have a model of success that you can draw on to develop a more disciplined approach in other areas. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

If you are standing or sitting with your upper body leaning away from the other party, you are likely seen as disinterested or bored.

People will unconsciously lean away from people and things they dislike and lean toward those they like.  To show your interest and support to an idea or a person, your upper body should be slightly angled toward them.  If you lean away from someone you like you are going to be sending them the wrong message!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Great Leaders are Great Listeners

As you move up within a company, it is pretty easy to get caught up giving voice to your own opinions. After all, they gave you leadership responsibility because you know 'stuff'. Important stuff. Stuff about how to get other stuff done.  Stuff that will help the company be more successful.  It's only right to share that knowledge with others.

However, getting caught up in sharing what we know is problematic on two key fronts.  First, it does not provide an opportunity for our people to share what they know, thereby stunting their growth and secondly, it limits us to what we know already, thereby stunting our own.

To be a successful and effective leader, it is important to realize that you can't possibly know everything, or be skilled in everything. Your role is to lead, manage and direct others who do have the knowledge and skills that you need. Therefore, a key skill for a leader to master is the ability to Listen to others.

Just 'Hearing' someone isn't enough.  Hearing refers to the sounds that someone is making, the words they are sharing.  Listening however requires you to pay attention not just to what is being shared but to the nuance of how it's being told.  Truly listening allows you to take in the subtext of the message. Effective listening means that you understand not just what the person said, but how they felt about what they shared.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.  Bryan M. McGill
Richard Branson has frequently attributed Listening as one of his greatest success secrets. However, truly listening isn't easy, it is work. It requires a level of focus, engagement and concentration that merely hearing what is being said does not.  If you find that you are consciously aware of what you want to say in reply or rebuttal to what someone is saying, then you are not fully listening to them. You are not listening, you are waiting to speak.

Use the following tips to help you strengthen your Listening skills...

  1. Give your undivided attention.  If you are focused elsewhere then you truly aren't listening. A person is sharing far more with you than just what their words are telling you.  If you are not paying attention to their delivery then you are missing a significant portion of what they are telling you - both consciously and unconsciously
  2. Maintain eye contact.  Looking at a person when they are speaking to you demonstrates interest and respect.  It also allows you to observe their non-verbal communication which is critical in understanding everything that is being shared.
  3. Be mindful of your body language.  Just as you can pick up significant cues and information from someone`s delivery so too are they picking up messages from yours.  You want to appear open and accepting of their opinions which requires that your body language appear open and non-judgemental.  No deep sighs, eye rolls and turning away in your seat!
  4. Don`t interject or interrupt.  Allow them to give full voice to their thoughts and opinions. Interrupting sends the message that you feel what you have to share is more important, that you`re done listening, that you`re not interested in what they have to say.
  5. Ask questions to clarify - not to challenge. Your questions should be used to help enhance your understanding of their message and position, not to highlight what you view as deficiencies.
  6. Verify what you`ve heard.  Summarize what you've heard to ensure that you have not misinterpreted what they've shared.  Many arguments have arisen simply because someone misinterpreted what was being shared, which could have been avoided had they verified their understanding first.
  7. Encourage new thoughts. You are seeking the thoughts and opinions of others for multiple reasons, one of which should be to test and expand your understanding of the situation. You must therefore be open to listening to new approaches and solutions. Don`t shut the sharing down simply because you don`t like what you are hearing or don't agree with what is being proposed.  Being open to new ideas means inviting them in.
At it`s most basic, communication is broken down into two components; speaking and listening. Most people put their effort and focus into the speaking side of the equation, failing to recognise the effort and skill that is required to truly listen effectively to others.  Great leaders though don`t. They know how important it is to listen to those they want to follow them.  They know how much they can learn and understand about their followers if they simply listen. 

The hopes, dreams, values and motivations of people are out there waiting for someone to listen. What are your people saying?  Are you listening?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tip Thursday - Productivity

Set time limits for all of your scheduled tasks. This ensures that you haven`t listed more than can possibly get done in a day (forcing you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you have failed to accomplish what you set out to do!) and let`s you `add in` tasks that will `fit`.

Have 10 unexpected minutes available?  Add in a 5-8 minute task.  Most activities expand to fill the time available. If you haven`t set boundaries you are likely to find your 10 minute task taking you the full 30 minutes you have open before your meeting.

Scheduling time limits for your tasks not only ensure that you are not OVER scheduling your day, but it also helps you keep on track for the tasks you do take on.  You'll likely find that you accomplish more in a day simply by keeping loose track of how long you are spending on each task.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Learning to Leave at 5 (Without Guilt)

There are many reasons for us to try and end our work day comfortably at 5pm; we have children and families to care for, we want to fit regular work outs into our schedules, we are working on perfecting our skills at outside activities, the need for relaxation.  Although there are studies that highlight the benefits of not continuously working overtime and of leaving work each day on time, the struggle for most of us rests in trying to make it happen.

We may want to leave at 5, we may promise to leave on time but the day often gets away from us, preventing our wishes from materializing.  It seems that merely setting the intention to leave at 5 is not enough.  We need to consciously develop systems that help us make it happen. The good news though is that these 'systems' can become habits over time, helping us to work unconsciously toward ending our work day at a reasonable hour.

The following tips are all designed to help you manage your work and your day to allow you to leave work at 5pm guilt-free.  Sure, we may duck out at 5 now, but we are often walking out the door carrying the stress of the work left behind on our desks.  The trick is to not just set an alarm and race out the door at a set time at the end of the day, but to leave feeling in control of our workload and good about what we accomplished that day.

Tip #1      Start with the End in Mind.  You must start each day with the clear expectation of when you intend to finish that day.  This isn't a wish, hope or prayer, it is a clear fact.  It is absolute. Creating this expectation before you start your day establishes the target that you are working toward. It will influence you unconsciously, even in small ways, throughout your day. You won`t make choices that might negatively impact its possibility, you will focus better and waste far less time... often without even knowing or realizing it.

Tip #2     Know Your Why.  Why is it important to you to leave at 5?  Family?  Fitness? Education? Fun?  Whatever your reason, the stronger your reasons and the more they align with your personal values, the more likely it is to happen.  If it is really critical to you to get ahead and advance your career and your organizational culture is such that leaving at 5pm will make you appear less committed... know you are never going to be leaving at 5pm.  You may create all kinds of reasons 'why' you just can't make it out the door on time but know that it is simply because leaving on time conflicts with your top 'why' - of building your career.  Your needs and values shift over time though. What your valued last year may not be what you value today. Become clear about what is important to you now - and why.  This is the key to walking out the door at 5 guilt-free.

Tip #3     Important Stuff First.   Always start your day getting the most important things done first. This is how the most successful folks start their day.  If the rest of the day goes sideways, odds are you have already achieved what you really needed to get done, eliminating the need for you to stay late to finish things off.  Whatever is on your list that is a 'must get done today item' should be the first thing you tackle.

Tip #4     Have a Plan.   As a corollary to the tip above, you need to have a plan for what needs to get done each day.  An Action list, a To-do list... it doesn't matter what you call it, but it is important that you are clear about how you are looking to spend the day.  Separate the must-get-done items from the if-there-is-time items.  Knowing the difference between the two is what helps you leave without guilt. If all of the to-do items are jumbled together, anything undone at the end of the day weighs on your mind.  However, separating the two means that as long as the must-get-dones are crossed off you're good to go at the end of day, feeling good about any of the items on the if-there-is-time list you managed to also accomplish!

Tip #5     Set the Expectation.   One of the biggest challenges that people working from home often face is the need to 'train' those around them to understand and respect the parameters of their work day. However, those working within corporations also need to 'train' their coworkers.  Your behaviour drives their expectations.  If they always seem to come to you with issues at 5 minutes to 5pm, and you always stay to resolve them, then you are training them to believe that your time is flexible. Letting people know you have a hard stop to your day, and then leaving on time, establishes your boundaries. Others will start to adjust their behaviour around the expectation of your availabilty.

Tip #6     Schedule Transition Time.  Always allow for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of your day to transition your departure.  You might set at alarm on your computer at 30 minutes before leaving to remind you to begin to transition your exit.  This allows you time to wrap up what you are working on, to record and schedule activities for the following day, to send any final messages and reminders. This means that you don't schedule meetings that would end after 4:30, you don't place a final call at 10 minutes to, you don't take a 'quick' question with 5 minutes left to your day.  You want to engage in behaviours that help you reach your target, not work against them.

Continuously working overtime is one of the most common complaints of workers today and one of the biggest sources of frustration and stress.  However, there is often more that we can do to alleviate some of that stress than we may believe.

As much as I have used 5pm as a target, note that your target may be 6 or perhaps 7pm.  Think about when you are typically calling it quits each day and whether there is a personal advantage to you (a 'why') to leave sooner.  Set that target.  If managing it each work day seems impossible then start with one or two days a week.  Whatever the case, make it an absolute for those days.

Using the tips above you may just find that it isn't as impossible as it once seemed.  As you reap the benefits of reclaiming some time for yourself and other activities, you just might begin to see an increase in your productivity while at work!  At the end of the (work) day, it's not about the hours you put in, but what you put into the hours.