Monday, February 27, 2006

A bit of Life Coaching Humor

Now no one said it would be easy!




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Professional Life Coach, Barry Zweibel, quoted by CNN.com

Yours truly was recently interviewed about Life Plans for a CNN.com Special Report on Long-Term Planning by Ann Hoevel. Here's the article:
(CNN) -- Long-term planning can help ensure happiness, health and success, but the best-laid plans can be derailed by situations no one can anticipate.

What's the best way to make a lasting long-term plan? CNN.com asked the experts for tips on setting and reaching your goals, and how to stay on track when life gets in the way.

Health Plans

Your current health is key to knowing what kinds of preventative measures you may need to take later in life, according to Dr. Philip Marshall, vice president of product strategy for WebMD.com.

Long-term health care plans should take into account genetic risk factors and life-long conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy. It should also anticipate the cost of one's own and future dependents' health care needs. For people in their 20s and 30s, fitness is central to a successful long-term health care plan.

Marshall said it is critical to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and eliminate risk factors like smoking because the effects of neglecting fitness issues will manifest later in life. "Things happen suddenly in your 40s and 50s because your gradual health has declined," Marshall said.

Because people use the health care system more often during these years, research on the cost and quality of health care providers and treatment options is essential to a successful long-term plan. Cancer screenings, unanticipated illnesses and caring for elderly parents can mean large health care costs for this age group.

Planning for the senior years involves many choices. The amount you save for retirement will affect health care and your health insurance choices. Advanced directives including living wills should be made and shared with loved ones. Maintaining personal health records and keeping them easily available can make a difference in health care quality.

"If health information is not available at the point of care, you can be at risk for receiving poor quality of care and a number of complications that could have been anticipated and prevented," Marshall said.

Career Plans

Creating flexibility and a satisfactory balance between work and personal life is the key to building any successful long-term career goals, according to Monster.com advice columnist John Rossheim. To offset the time invested in your career with life at home, Rossheim suggests developing consultant-type skills that will allow you to work part-time for your company or on your own if you need more time for other things.

To be flexible as a professional, try thinking outside the confines of your training, says Rosemary Haefner, senior career advisor for CareerBuilder.com. She suggests using your skills to work for organizations that you're excited about instead of getting a job that matches your degree. This flexibility is what allowed some computer experts to bounce back after the dot-com bust in 2000.

"They were successful because they could capture the skills and learning they had that were transferable," she said.

Long-term career plans need to allow for unexpected hurdles. The Internet, technology and jobs moving overseas have affected long-term career plans in many professions, Rossheim said. Examples are travel and real estate agents, who have had to specialize in areas of their fields that are not as accessible to their clients working through the Internet. Facing this kind of change or job loss can be especially daunting for those who have had a 15- to 20-year career.
Haefner says the way to bounce back from this unemployment situation is to get over the idea that, "I'm too old, it's too late for me."

"Organizations are willing to take a chance with older job candidates because they're more serious and they usually have more on the line," she said.

Life Plans

What if you're facing retirement and feel like you didn't reach your goal? "Just because you didn't meet that goal doesn't mean you should give up on that goal," Haefner said. "A lot of retirees are coming back into the work force into roles that they always wanted to have.

"The difficult part about making long-term life plans, says Barry Zweibel, a professional life coach and founder of GottaGettaCoach!, Inc., is that people think they should know what they want out of life, when in actuality they have no idea.

"Most people don't know what they want long term," he said. "As much as they've tried, they haven't been able to figure it out. My reaction to that is, 'They haven't figured it out yet'."

Zweibel says the realization of long-term life plans takes patience, honesty, awareness and being open to new experiences. But once people reach middle age, they may find that life gets in the way of their life plans.

"Responsibilities make a difference," said Zweibel. "If you have a family and you say, 'I want to quit my job and sail across the seas,' there are a lot of strings attached."

Those responsibilities don't mean you should give up on your aspirations. Many people assume that the implications of their life plans on their families will be too much to bear. Zweibel suggests having dialogue with your family before you give up on your dreams.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Better Delegation through Lessons Learned

Many managers have a great deal of difficulty delegating work to others. But here's something to remember whenever you do delegate:

The litmus is not whether the person completes the assignment as you would have done it. Different does not mean wrong. What ultimately matters is simply how well the person's actions addressed the issue that they were designed to address.
The key is in making sure they understand exactly what the issue is that you want them to address - before they take action. Once they're clear on that, you can actually encourage them to take whatever approach they feel most appropriate and see what happens as a result.

You may be surprised at how well they do. And if they don't, you already know how to mop up, so do that. Then, ask them:

  • What caused these Unintended Consequences?
  • How might they be avoided in the future?
  • What are the Lessons to be Learned from the experience?
Then - and this is really important - in that same conversation, delegate something else to them so they can immediately apply these Lessons Learned. (It helps if you already have something in mind.)

Taking this approach will likely improve both their performance, and your comfort in delegating to them. Try it and see for yourself.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

In and Around "Zero Point Five" Territory

"If you communicate things late, it automatically puts everyone on the defensive." I knew he was speaking from experience as the meeting he just left went very long - some key people were the last to learn about some important information and, well, things just unraveled from there.

Yet there's a balance between what to tell and when to tell it. After all, you can't just march into your boss's office and announce that there's a problem without having a solid plan for addressing it, can you?

Well, sometimes, you actually can. And sometimes, you actually have to.

Sometimes, because of the profile of the issue, your boss needs to know about a situation sooner rather than later, even though you don't have a solution already in hand.

It's my opinion that 9.5 times out of 10 your boss will thank you for the "head's up." But, in the event your boss lives in the "0.5" territory, try responding by saying something like this:

"I'm already working on it, boss, but I felt it important that you know about this ASAP. And you know what? I'm glad I told you."
Then, as long as you're there, ask your boss for his/her suggestions as to how best to handle the situation. Do a little brainstorming together, if possible. But even if you can't, probability says that your boss will give you some sort of helpful idea and will be duly impressed with your willingness to have a difficult conversation when needed.

And that's the moment when you quickly excuse yourself so you can go deal with the matter that brought you there in the first place.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Curling and the Rules for Success at Work

While I haven't been watching a LOT of the Olympics, one event that has captured my attention is curling - even though I can't seem to figure out the rules for the game.

Actually, I do know a few things. (Keyword: few.) I do know that there are so many of these teapot-looking things called 'stones' - maybe they're called 'rocks' - that are slid across a shuffleboard-looking court made of ice and if, at the end of the round, your rocks are closer to the bulls-eye-looking target than your competitor's, you win points. (I can't figure out how many points you win for accomplishing what, though.) Meanwhile, your competitor can curl some of his teapots into yours to change their placement, so there's some bocce-like strategy needed to prevent that from happening, too. (Not that I know much about bocce, either!) I think each game has a set number of bowling-like frames, but it might also be that you play until so many points are won, like in ping-pong. I'm just not sure.

Oh, and there are these brooms-like things that are used to either speed up or slow down the rocks, when needed. It's a crazy game and I just love to watch it unfold.

The point of this post, though, is not to show off my ignorance - although I've probably accomplished that quite well. My point is that if you want to succeed at work, you can't just be a spectator - you need to know the Rules for Success.

Too many people think that there's just one rule for success, the rule called 'doing a good job is enough.' You really need to be more savvy than that, though. You need to know the Rules for Success for working up, down, and across the organization. You also need to know the Rules for Success when working outside the organization - with vendors and customers, as example.

Do you know you boss' Rules for Success?
  • Do you know what your boss listens for when people speak?
  • Do you know how (and when) to give your boss bad news?
  • Do you know if it's better to ask for permission or beg for forgiveness - and when to do which?
  • Do you know his/her preferred method of communication - email, voicemail, memo, in person?
  • Do you know how often - and on what topics - your boss likes to be updated?
  • Do you know what makes your boss livid? Ecstatic? Bored? Engaged?
  • Do you know what your boss looks for in a go-to person? Are you that person?

In curling, sometimes the slightest nudge is all that's needed to clear the way and enable a score. So too at work. But you need to know the Rules for Success to even have a shot at doing that.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Separating Yourself from Your Problems

How good are you at separating yourself from your problems? Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, suggests that this is yet another thing that optimists can do better than pessimists. Here are some of the distinctions that Dr. Seligman makes between the two groups:

Pessimists tend to see their problems as ...

Optimists tend to see their problems as ...

Permanent

Temporary

Personal

External

Pervasive

Specific


Note that sometimes pessimism is the more prudent perspective to hold, such as when the cost of potential failure is extremely high. But being pessimistic out of habit isn't always in your best interest.
So, if you're bothered by incessant a pessimistic attitude and negative self-talk, try this:

  • Try looking at your situation as temporary and not permanent. "This, too, shall pass" is a good thing to keep in mind.
  • Try recognizing that while the problem you're facing may be negatively affecting you, it's not about you - even if it's still yours to remedy.
  • Try defining the problem as specifically as possible, so that you can recognize parts of the situation that are not the problem. Challenge the assumption that the problem is yet another example of a more pervasive set of problems. (It may well be, but don't just assume that it is.)

Don't worry if the shift doesn't come easy at first. Like anything else of import, sometimes it takes practice. So practice. Practice being optimistic. And if positive thinking seems too big of a leap for you, start by practicing non-negative thinking.

Help the problems you face feel more manageable, more doable, and less burdensome by separating yourself from your problems and you'll have far more energy to deal with whatever problems do come your way.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Just for Fun - Convenience Maximized













Talk about one-stop-shopping!

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Another Way of Working Smarter

The challenge is this: How can you do twice as much in half the time.

Ask most people, and they'll say something like, "Well, I'd just have to buckle down and really get things done." But while that may be able to provide a 15%-20% improvement in productivity (I'm estimating here), I seriously doubt that simply working harder could ever yield twice as much in half the time.

There must  be a better way. I'm thinking there is at least, and a number of clients are using a new approach that's giving promising results. The process is this - start with the assumption that you must  do twice as much in half the time - not just that you'd like to, or that you hope to, but that you MUST. Now, given that, make a list of what's preventing you from doing that. Your list will probably include some, if not all, of the following usual suspects , but feel free to add additional items as you see fit:

  • interruptions
  • needing additional information
  • needing someone's buy-in
  • having to wait for something to happen first
  • not having someone you can rely on as you'd like
  • meetings, meetings, meetings
  • uncertainty about what it is that actually needs to be done
  • cumbersome processes/procedural issues
  • Monday exhaustion, hump day blues, Friday euphoria (This reminds me of a fun little piece I wrote back in December 2003, "What else TV marathons have to offer", that offered a whole new way to organize your work week. Check it out. It's pretty clever if i don't say so myself!)

Okay, now that you have this list, work it first.

What?! Yes, that's right - work this list first because for every one of these 'time sinks' that you can meaningfully address, you get that much additional time back to work on your most pressing projects and assignments. So, if interruptions slow you down, set something up to carve some privacy into your day - even if it's only for a period of time. Too many meetings affecting your time? Send a surrogate, talk to the meeting leader in advance and give him/her your ideas on the subject so you don't have to attend. Procedural processes got you down? Create a better way, or learn how to step through the existing process more fluidly.

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe." Time sinks are like grains of sand. Take care of them first, and see if you can't climb twice as many mountains in half the time.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Checking the Gauges

Problems, of course, are unavoidable. But if you have a way to tell if things are heading in a bad direction - before it's too late to do anything about them - the problems you do experience will likely be less problematic.

A great way to do that is to develop a set of 'gauges' to monitor on an ongoing basis. When driving, you routinely monitor the gas gauge, the speedometer, the trip-o-meter (if, as example, you're following mapquest directions), warning lights for seat belts, engine repair, etc., blinker lights - there are all sorts of gauges available to insure your safe transit from here to wherever.

So too, at work ... and in life, for that matter.

The operative question is this: What's likely to indicate a problem? Once you know that, you can then build a process to track exactly that so you can find out sooner, rather than later, if things are going awry.

Example 1:
  • Potential Problem - Not enough gas in the car.
  • Gauge to Monitor - Gas gauge.
  • Key Adjustment - Instead of waiting for the gauge to reach "E" refill at the 1/4 marker.

Example 2:

  • Potential Problem - No milk for the kids' breakfast.
  • Gauge to Monitor - Milk carton.
  • Key Adjustment - Instead of waiting for the last carton to empty before buying more, always keep an extra carton on hand

Example 3:

  • Potential Problem - Staff's not completing certain work items on time.
  • Gauge to Monitor - Items that are "on hold," waiting for additional information.
  • Key Adjustment - Instead of assuming "on hold" items cannot be worked, look for inherent bottlenecks to address.

The assumption here is that IF you know about a problem that's building, you'll be far better able to do something about it than if you never know there even is a problem ... until it's too late. In other words, it's probably not that you don't know what Key Adjustment TO make, it's more that you don't know that a Key Adjustment has to BE made ... until it's too late.

So take a look at the things that tend to go wrong for you. What gauges would be helpful to start monitoring so that you can get in front of whatever issues you're currently facing?

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Poor Time Management: at the Super Bowl and in Life

Congrats to the Steelers. Even though they were outplayed between the 20's, they made the big plays when they needed to - on both sides of the ball - and showed the world what they were capable of. But I doubt they could have won without the relentless assistance provided to them by the Seattle Seahawks. While the Steelers might have won the game, the Seahawks definitely lost it.

Missed opportunities and penalties aside, the Seahawks were absolutely terrible when it came to clock management - both at the end of the half, and at the end of the game. ESPN called it "poor" clock management. USA Today called it "curious" clock management. Even Sports Illustrated took a swipe at it. Truly, it was just plain awful, regardless of which team you were rooting for.

This post is not about the football game, though. (You probably knew that already) It's about how we manage our own time, at work - and in life. Because the lesson from the SuperBowl is not really about running out of time ... it's about not using the time we have more effectively.

Ironically, this can mean opposite things for different people. If, as example, you're sort of just coasting along, spending lots of time chatting up with your colleagues and coworkers, and not getting much done, it might make sense for you to shorten your breaks from work a bit and dig in a bit more.

On the other hand, if you're feeling really stressed lately, always on the go-go-go, never stopping to relax, or even just pause, then it might make sense for you to lengthen your breaks a bit - or even just take one from time-to-time.

Clearly, one size does not fit all.

So take an objective look at what you're doing with your time. If you need to dig in, then dig in. And if you need to relax, then relax. In other words, drive the way you want to drive, not just the way you already are driving.

After all, you don't want to get caught like the Seahawks did, wanting to hurry, but ending up only going nowhere fast.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Brake or Accelerate?

Things move fast. Sometimes, too fast. When we feel they're moving too fast, our natural inclination is often to try and slow things down. Put to brakes on, as it were.

But bosses often don't like to slow things down - they like to speed them up. They say things like, "The best way to get something done is to finish it," and "In the time it's taking to explain 'why not' you could already be halfway through getting it done."

In times like these, spending time on justifying why a slow-down makes sense may not make sense. A much more powerful conversation would be to discuss what you need so that you can move at a faster pace. In my 4qtr2005 edition of the Not Just Talk! newsletter the feature article was titled, Helping Bosses Help. I suggested that bosses are able to help in four ways:

  1. by providing you with ADDITIONAL TIME
  2. by providing you with ADDITIONAL MONIES
  3. by providing you with ADDITIONAL NON-MONETARY RESOURCES
  4. by providing you with ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.

If the goal is to speed things up, consider which of these four ways would help you accelerate results and then ask for exactly that. Well actually, ask for more than exactly that. Why? Two reasons, really.

Reason One - You've probably underestimated how much ADDITIONAL WHATEVER you probably need; and

Reason Two - If you're given exactly what you ask for, you don't want to have to go back later to say that it wasn't enough.

If the issue truly is as important as your boss says it is, you really DO need to be able to answer the question "What do I need so that I CAN accelerate the completion of this work effort?" With this added information, your boss can decide how important the timeline for the assignment really is.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

"I'm too busy driving to stop for gas."

There's a real thrill to being productive. You versus the work (or you in harmony with the work). Digging in and making a difference can truly be an uplifting - and motivating - experience.
But sometimes we get so caught up in the "moving forward" that we forget to (or choose not to) stop and recharge our batteries, refuel our gas tanks, reconnect with our grounded self, stop and smell the roses, etc. And that's where problems can set in because, as you know,  when a car is out of gas, it just stops ... wherever it happens to be ... however inconvenient it may be.
There are plenty of signs that you, yourself, might be running on empty and are due for a break:
  • you're tired
  • you're irritable
  • you feel particularly stressed
  • you're not smiling as much
  • your favorite foods don't have much taste
  • you're not much fun to be with
  • you've started to isolate yourself from others
  • you've started to isolate yourself from the things you used to like to do
  • you wake up tired
  • you go to sleep exhausted
  • you can't remember the last time you enjoyed the passing of time
  • you feel like a cold is coming on
  • you body parts are complaining to you
  • you have this dull headache
  • did I mention you constantly feeling tired?!
Yet we humans are incredibly resilient beings - a little freshening up from time to time really does go a long way. You don't wait until it's too late to refuel your car. Don't wait until it's too late to refuel yourself. Make a point of doing something to recharge your batteries this weekend. Or even sooner!
You'll be glad you did.

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