TAKE CARE OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS

October 31, 2009 on 7:08 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

It takes a period of continuous exercise before you begin to pull from stored fat.  Therefore, to achieve serious weight loss, you need an uninterrupted commitment.  A time management technique encourages the grouping of like activities (e.g., returning phone calls at one time, reading email at one sitting) rather than stopping and starting work each time a call or email comes.  In this way, you have uninterrupted focus on one activity at a time and get more done overall.  Both the fitness and the time management techniques illustrate the importance of seeing something through to completion in an uninterrupted way.

Yet, in our daily lives, it is difficult to practice this.  We find ourselves rushing to work, to school, to a social commitment, to a family event, with interruptions in between (family calls at work, housework during family time, phone calls at dinner).  We do so many things and not any of them to our satisfaction.  Our to-do list gets longer and more remains unfinished.  This overwhelming and hectic pace can easily lead to disappointment. 

You might think that doing more is the answer.  However, the key is in the finishing, not the doing.  When you play with the kids, don’t answer the phone, don’t fold the laundry, don’t do anything else.  Even if this means that you get 15 instead of 30 minutes of uninterrupted play, the 15 minutes will likely be more satisfying.  You will have finished a quality interaction, rather than started several activities simultaneously. 

Taking care of unfinished business means focusing your time and energy in a quality way.  It is starting and stopping with purpose, rather than haphazardly combining activities.  You will find that you are more efficient and probably get more done, although that is a secondary point.  Primarily, you enjoy each activity more (whether work, play or laundry) because you are present and attentive and able to notice how even mundane activities can actually be fulfilling.

CULTIVATING A LASTING BRAND

October 28, 2009 on 7:04 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Branding is not about putting on a costume and playing a role; that is pretending.  Pretending might work for a short period of time, but can rarely be sustained.  If you dress and talk like management but don’t develop the skills and knowledge to actually manage, you may get one promotion but your shortcomings will reveal themselves in due time.  This does not minimize the importance of the dressing and talking part; that is part of branding.  However, you need to back up the style with the substance.  Only with style AND substance can you cultivate a lasting brand.

McDonalds has a vivid logo with its golden arches, but we go because the product is reliable.  Walmart has a catchy mascot with its smiley face, but we go because its prices are reliable.  Good branding works when its memorable and consistent and all that style-related good stuff.  However, the payoff occurs when it is matched with the substance.

It is important to note that the style can contribute to the substance.  If your style of dress or demeanor suggests management potential, you may get the promotion and thus the chance to actually prove yourself.  Somebody with similar skills but a less noticeable brand may get overlooked.  Your newfound opportunity contributes to your learning curve, and after a while, you have both the style and the substance.  After all, there may have been other hamburger places just as good, but if McDonalds attracts them first and builds loyalty, the others go out of business.

So, don’t dismiss the style factor of branding, but don’t rely on it to the exclusion of building depth and breadth of skills.  Your style can get you in the door; your substance will keep you there.

EVERYONE NEEDS A BRAND

October 25, 2009 on 7:02 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Be yourself is about the worst advice you can give to some people. – J.B. Priestley

Maybe you think you don’t need a “brand” because you can just “be yourself”.  Maybe you think branding is superficial or manipulative.  When it comes to branding, Priestley’s right in that “be yourself” is the worst advice.  While your brand should be a reflection of who you are, it is not an excuse for anything goes.  Being ourselves means good and bad.  We all have our moods, our off-days and our blind spots.  We don’t need to share those with the world just to be authentic; we can do that with our friends and family.  We need a brand to always put our best foot forward.

Research has shown that people weigh negative information more heavily than positive when it comes to first impressions.  This suggests that it is harder to overcome a negative first impression than a positive one.  By managing your brand you manage that first impression.

By managing your brand you are proactive about your strong points.  You can still be yourself, but you lead with your strong self.  Your brand may be reflected in your wit, your fashion sense, your knowledge of pop culture.  Your brand is still authentically you, but focused on the traits that you consciously wish to share.

Think of people with strong brands (e.g., Donald Trump, Michael Jordan), and you’ll think of confident and alluring people.  You may not agree with 100% of who they are, but their message is clear and therefore exudes confidence.  When you go for that job, that raise, that next life step, you want to exude confidence.  Send a clear message:  manage your brand.

RESPECT YOUR PEAK

October 22, 2009 on 7:01 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

There are night owls and morning people, people who flit from task to task and people who spend hours on one thing at a time.  When are you best able to concentrate?  How do you do your best work?  Get to know when you are at your peak, and plan around it.

Look at the natural blocks of time that occur in your schedule.  If you work at home and have school-age children, this may mean that your time blocks are 1 hour before school, 5 hours during school, 3 hours after school and 2 hours after the kids go to bed.  When do you have the most energy?  If morning, maybe you can get 2 hours before school by waking up earlier and schedule less time after the kids’ bedtime by sleeping earlier.  What tasks can be done at what time?  It doesn’t make sense to plan errands for after bedtime when businesses are likely closed.  It doesn’t make sense to do noisy tasks (e.g., vacuuming) for the morning time block.  It may make sense to reserve the long 5-hour block for projects where you need hours of focus.

Reflect on the projects that get done with ease and on time.  Do you work for long stretches at a time on the same thing?  Do you do a little each day till you’re done?  The only right approach is the one that results in your best work.  Once you identify how you best work, plan your schedule accordingly.  Block out whole days if you need a marathon session or just hours per day for weeks if you need variety.  Block out your calendar months in advance for future, as yet undefined projects.  You can always modify when the details are clear, but at least you have your best hours reserved.

If you want to work at peak performance, you cannot be reactive.  Know your peak and plan accordingly.

BALLS AND A BABY

October 19, 2009 on 6:59 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

In improv, Balls and A Baby is a game where the team (typically 8-15) stands in a circle and passes imaginary balls of varying colors to each other in a different pattern for each color, all the while passing an imaginary baby to the person next to them.  So, you might pass the Yellow to person A, the Red to person B, and the Green to person C, while at the same time receiving the Yellow from B, the Red from A, etc.  If it sounds confusing, it is and it isn’t.  It’s a focus game.  There is a lot going on around you (that’s the confusing part) but you only actually have to remember a few things (who do I get Yellow from and who do I give Yellow to, etc). 

Life is like improv.  There will always be a lot going on around you.  But if you shut out the inconsequential and keep your eye on the ball(s) you will be fine.  The questions you need to answer for yourself are: 

what balls do you want to keep in the air;

how many do you want to focus on;

how many can you focus on before you drop the baby. 

Just as balls are not the same in weight, shape, or texture, so do life goals differ in importance, complexity and need.  We may be able to juggle many small balls, but fewer heavy ones.  Likewise, a to-do list of many but light tasks is not equal to a long-term, lifelong dream.  And don’t forget the baby passing from person-to-person.  In life, there are always things handed to you outside your pet projects.  You need to be able to focus on both.  Define your balls, create a plan for getting them aloft, and focus on playing to the best of your ability.

FINANCING BIG CHANGES

October 16, 2009 on 6:58 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

A popular excuse for not making a big change is money.  You don’t have enough money — career coaches, personal trainers, whatever support you need for the big change costs more than you have.  You need the income you have – you don’t have any left over to save for the big change and you certainly don’t have the option of quitting to focus more time on the big change.  However, although money is a legitimate obstacle, there are solutions.  It comes down to the math:  how much do you need and where will you get it.

Think Robin Hood.  Take from one place to give to another.  Look at your discretionary income after the fixed bills are paid.  Can you shave off dollars from dining out, entertainment, travel, clothes?  Can you find cheaper phone service, insurance, groceries? 

Raise your income.  Can you get a second job and use the proceeds for the big change?  The holidays are coming up so think weekend shifts at the neighborhood store, overtime for filling in for colleagues, or offering your services to the neighborhood (e.g., babysitting).  Remember that you need your energy for the big change.  This job is just for money so pick something you know you can do in which you won’t get too invested.

Challenge your assumptions.  Still don’t have enough?  Have you really separated out discretionary income or are non-essentials still in there?  Cable TV is not an essential when you are questioning all expenses.  Are you sure you need this money?  Can you take a group class rather than a private trainer?  Are you sure you have itemized all expenses?  When you are trying to find the wasted dollars, you need to take a microscope to your spending – analyze every bill for 90 days; keep a cash-spending log.  There are gaps between what you actually spend and what you think you spend, so be willing to challenge your memory and actually look.

IDENTIFYING BIG CHANGES

October 13, 2009 on 6:57 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

I read an interesting article on change in Fast Company magazine that featured two fascinating assertions:  1) 90% of people would rather die than make big health changes; 2) it is easier to make radical changes rather than small incremental changes.  I don’t have scientific studies of my own to confirm or dispute these hypotheses, but they give much food for thought. 

Are there big changes that you want to make?  Think of your career, your health, your relationships, your finances.  What are the biggest changes you want to make in these areas?  Do you want to go from accounting to acting (or vice versa as a client of mine did)?  Do you want to drop 50 lbs?  Do not think of what would be realistic at this point.  Just think big.  Are there areas where you can’t even think big, even for this exercise?

What is stopping you from making those big changes?  Do you not know where to begin?  If you know but just don’t do it, why not?  What is it that you get by not making the change?  What would you get by making the change?  Is the former more appealing than the latter?  Don’t judge your answers.  Just ask to get better clarity on yourself and your desires.

Brainstorming on all the possible big changes, what are the ones you must do now, the ones you can wait on but definitely want and the ones that you could take or leave?  All goals, but especially big ones, need to be prioritized.  While you can work on more than one and it can even be helpful and complementary, sometimes there just isn’t the time, money or energy to pursue everything.  So, really, what is the biggest, most meaningful change you want to make now?

YOUR PERSONAL R&D

October 10, 2009 on 9:04 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

You need to take care of your product line.  Companies invest money and time into research, development, and innovation.  So too should you invest in your personal R&D.  Check out your company or local college for training.  There might be classes on general business skills (e.g., time management, presentation skills) or job -specific skills (e.g., accounting topics, effective selling).  In addition, everyone needs to develop the following:

FLEXIBILITY is your ability to stretch in new ways from your comfort zone.  Practice this skill by: taking a controversial topic and defending it on both sides; lunching with unfamiliar colleagues; sampling different cuisines; taking up a sport (if you’re artistic) or an art (if you’re athletic); reading a new genre. 

CREATIVITY is your ability to see possibilities outside of your comfort zone.  Practice this skill by: taking a simple everyday object and thinking of new uses for it (e.g., how many ways can you use a paper clip?); taking a creative class (e.g., art, cooking, writing); reading biographies of inventors, artists and other creative people.

RISK APPETITE is your willingness to do things outside of your comfort zone.  Practice this skill by: doing one thing off of your “I also wanted to” list (go to Paris, scuba dive in Hawaii); learning a new skill; reading stories of people who have beat the odds or made major life transformations.

Everyone can benefit from being able and willing to move outside of their comfort zone.  Change is inevitable, and the quickening pace of change today means that we will frequently be out of our comfort zone.  Preserving your product line also means knowing how to innovate.  Flexibility, creativity and a healthy risk appetite allow for personal innovation.

PUT YOUR PRODUCT OUT THERE

October 8, 2009 on 9:03 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Is there resistance to thinking very specifically about what you offer?  Are you wary of checking your salary — how much you might be valued in the open market?  If you feel underpaid and undervalued, it might be more comfortable to blame your industry (no one values teachers) or your situation (I can’t leave my job because I have a family to support).  It may be difficult to imagine different possibilities or to act on these ideas.

However, not exploring your potential outside of your current job is like a business not exploring all of its product line.  You are not just your job.  Your job is only one representation of your product line.  Your product line is all of your skills (professional and personal), your ideas, your experience.  Some of these may not be utilized in the job you have currently.  Your full product line is what you have to offer to the world.  In this way, your product line is a reflection of yourself.

Not recognizing your full range of products or not offering all that you have is not living up to your potential.  It is not living fully.  There is limited impact in building a better mouse trap if it only stays in your home.  Get involved.  Use all of your gifts.  Put your product out there. 

"To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death." - Jean Anouilh, French playwright

COUNTDOWN TO YEAR-END

October 6, 2009 on 9:01 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

We’re nearing year-end.  You’re busy with calculating fourth quarter results, finishing projects before everyone heads out on their holidays, and solidifying your own personal holiday plans.  As you sprint to the year-end finish, use these tips to maintain your focus:

Update your calendar.  Ask for the time off you need.  Put deadlines for both personal and professional projects in the same calendar so you can identify overlaps.  Put social and professional appointments in the same place to avoid double-booking.  Don’t forget children’s winter concerts, year-end school conferences, and doctor’s appointments you need before your health spending account closes for the year.

Pace yourself.  We have 3 months to go till year-end, but four to six weeks before the holiday parties start.  Remember to budget time for cards and shopping.  Divide your list by four and do an equal amount each week to keep it manageable.  On the work front, you can expect a slowdown before the holidays so make sure that you get what you need on collaborative projects well before mid-December.  Use your slow time to reorganize your office, catch up on filing, and complete other low urgency but useful projects to get a jump on 2008.  Identify those projects now and put them in your calendar for the remaining weeks.

Keep your perspective.  It’s not just about surviving 2009, but also thriving in 2010.  Take time to reflect:  how do you want 2008 to be different?  Take time to plan:  block out self-care appointments on your 2008 calendar now (doctor’s appointments, vacations, days for yourself alone).  Take time to enjoy:  how was 2007 a good year?  Remember what worked and build on that for next year.

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