Monday, February 17, 2020

How to Stop Email From Running Your Life

Well, here's a depressing statistic: people on average spend more than five hours a day checking their email, according to an Adobe survey.

When you think of what you could get done in five hours a day if you weren't checking email -- well, it boggles the mind. You might get to leave work on time every day. You might not be forced to work nights or weekends just to catch up on your work. You might even be a nicer, happier person.

Of course, not all that email checking is for work reasons -- the survey finds that more than two hours (143 minutes) is spent checking personal emails. Some of you might not realize that the time you spend entering the HGTV dream house sweepstakes or responding your Mom's email about your high-school bestie getting divorced eats into your day -- but it does. It really does.

Everyone complains about email. We fume about the colleagues who send too many messages and CC's everyone, we whine about the boss who can't go more than 20 minutes without sending an email and we go crazy looking at an inbox with hundreds of unread messages.

But what if the problem is really closer to home? What if we don't take the advice to turn off our email alerts seriously, or we just have to open the Netflix email to learn about the documentary about flaming underpants that we cannot miss? 

Look at it this way: Could you turn off your email alerts for 30 minutes to work uninterrupted if it meant you could leave work earlier than usual? Could you slap "spam" on many of your personal emails and stop opening them? Or, could you set up a second email account that will only be for personal emails and stop checking them at work? Could you start picking up the phone and calling someone if you need to write more than a handful of sentences since that would be a more efficient give-and-take conversation?

You may not think any of these strategies will work for you or claim you've tried them before and they don't work. But try this: Track the number of times you open an email during a day. Be honest -- no trying to change your numbers by refusing to open the latest Fantasy Football email from a friend.

My guess is that you're going to be unpleasantly surprised by how your life is being overtaken by your bad email habits. You're also probably going to see how you're blaming the lion's share of your email overload on others, when it's really something much more under your control.

This isn't a difficult problem to solve. If you want hours of your life back, just use common sense. Decide what's more important -- spending time with your family or friends or checking out the cruise offer you can't afford. I think you'll probably figure out pretty quickly that it's worth it to exert more control over your inbox and get work done instead of letting your inbox run your life.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Tom Rath: How to Create a Better Resume

I recently had the chance to interview Tom Rath, who has written one of the most popular books ever to hit Amazon: StrengthsFinder 2.0. In this Q&A, he discusses how anyone can write a better, more compelling resume....

Q. What do you think is the biggest mistake someone makes when putting together a resume?
A. I think people use far too many impersonal and generic words to describe things that are actually very meaningful and important to them personally. For example, the easiest thing to go in resume are your functional skills and how you’ve mastered formulas in Excel or you’re a certified project manager in a certain area. But, that doesn’t get into the heart of what you’ve done, the lives you’ve helped develop or the people you’ve helped.
I would challenge people to think about how to bring the emotional and tangible impact you’ve had on other people into their resume. Human resources is looking for those 

Monday, February 3, 2020

3 Ways to Stop Feeling so Overwhelmed at Work

We're barely into 2020, and a lot of you are feeling overwhelmed at work.

You had such great plans for this year. You were going to get organized. You were going to network with those in other departments. You were going to come up with an innovative idea and present it to the boss.

So far, the most you've accomplished is whittling your inbox down to less than 300 unanswered emails and finally removed the rotting coffee grounds from your coffee cup.

You don't feel like you've accomplished anything meaningful and that feeling of being overwhelmed is growing. Is it time to look for another job? A new career? A new coffee cup?

First, keep in mind that before you take any such actions, you need to realize that you're not the only one feeling overwhelmed. A Gallup poll finds that of 7,500 full-time employees, some 23 percent say they are feeling burned out at work very often or always while another 44 percent report feeling burned out sometimes. That means that a lot of people aren't feeling like they've got it all figured out.

Second, there are strategies you can use to help you feel better about your job and your career. Just because you don't feel super successful right now doesn't mean that you can't turn things around and jumping ship isn't always the smartest decision (especially if you're going to wind up feeling just as overwhelmed in the next job).

Here are some ideas to try:

1. Remember that you're not alone. I've been covering the workplace for a long time, and the one thing I always hear is this: "I thought I was the only one who felt this way. I thought I was the only one going through this." Nope. You're not. Not everyone has it together, and if they do, you can bet they're covering up things that aren't working. That's OK. Just know that you're not the only one who feels overwhelmed.

2. Grab some control. It can feel pretty terrible to look at your "to do" list for the day or the week and realize you didn't get any of it done. When this happens, you can start to lose your confidence. So, set your phone timer for 15-30 minutes. Ignore your emails and texts and phone calls. Instead, focus on getting one thing done. That will help you feel more on track and give you the confidence you need to tackle something bigger.

3. Get help. It's no secret that workers are being asked to do more than ever before. Employees have to act as their own office managers, travel agents, tech gurus, communications strategists, marketing analysts and a host of other things that used to be divvied among other people. Stop making yourself crazy by trying to do it all. Ask people you work with what strategies they use. Tap into your network and ask, "What tools do you use to stay organized?" You may not only get some great ideas from other people, but you may also find that they offer support to help you feel less alone and overwhelmed.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Never Accept a Job Offer Without Doing These Things

Congratulations! You've been made a job offer and you're pretty excited.

Before you make an "I quit" cake for your current job and present it in a staff meeting, are you really happy with the offer you've been made? Are they offering you the salary you believe is fair?

Chances are, you weren't made the "best" offer, which makes sense. Why would an employer offer you the highest amount they can pay if they can get you for less? It's a simple business decision, and that's how you need to approach it -- it's business.

The reason I say this is because too many people take a salary offer personally. They think it's some kind of social commentary on their worthiness, along the lines of "that haircut makes you look like a Wookiee."

So, they end up accepting whatever they're offered without even trying to counter (CareerBuilder finds that 56 percent do not negotiate for better pay.) Then, a few months or years down the line they begin to feel they're underpaid. They feel resentful or angry or depressed. That's when they start to job search again.

See where I'm going with this?

It makes much more sense to negotiate your salary when you're made the offer. That way, both you and the employer feel like you're on the same page and begin the working relationship on a good note. Remember this: CareerBuilder finds that 53 percent of employers say they are willing to negotiate salaries on initial job offers and 52 percent say they typically offer a lower salary and are willing to negotiate.

Here's some things to remember:

  • Know your worth. Do your research through sites like or Glassdoor so that you know the average salary for your position and experience. Make sure you consider regional factors -- salaries are often higher in metropolitan areas than in some less-populated areas.
  • Be respectful. This isn't a negotiation on par with establishing peace in the Middle East. This is possibly your future employer, so convey your appreciation for the offer and signal that you'd like time to consider it.
  • Get out the calculator. If you don't feel like you're good at taking a steely-eyed look at your expenses, then enlist someone to help you. Consider what you really spend (not what you'd like to believe your spend) and what you need to live comfortably. (Does is really make sense to take a job where money will be so tight that one minor financial issue will upend your world?) Look at things like your rent or mortgage, but also your local and federal taxes and other expenses such as child care, car payments, student loans, etc. Once you get a handle on what you need to really live, you'll have a much better idea of what you need to negotiate.
  • Consider the entire offer. Sometimes the base salary is not what you want, but the employer is offering other benefits that improve the overall offer. For example, maybe you only work four days a week, which will cut your child care bill. Or, the health benefits are generous, which will help improve your overall financial picture. 
  • Perks. Gym memberships, flexible schedules, remote work and tuition reimbursement are all perks that you may consider important enough that you're willing to take less pay if they are offered. Just because they were not offered initially doesn't mean they don't exist -- ask if they're available.
Once you've been made an offer, ask if you can have 24 to 48 hours to consider it so that you can crunch the numbers and talk with your family. Then, be respectful enough of the employer to respond in that time frame.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Research Shows How to Be More Creative

Is there anything more frustrating than to be told: "Come up with a really creative idea/solution to this problem. Oh, and we need it right now."

Creativity often isn't something that you can turn off and on like a switch. Sometimes the best ideas don't hit you until you're taking a shower or doing something really inane to have an "aha!" moment.

But new research from Stanford Graduate School of Business provides some insight into the creative process, which might prove useful when we're under pressure to find creative ideas or just want to come up with something innovative on our own.

First, the research shows that we're not really very good at knowing the ideas that are worth the time and energy necessary to develop them. The good news, however, is that we don't absolutely suck at it.

It comes down to this: When we have an initial idea, we see it as the most creative. But, it's really our second favorite idea that can become the most creative when we take the time to flesh it out.

Justin M. Berg, an assistant professor at Stanford who studies creativity and innovation, says that if you've got a bunch of ideas -- 10 or even 20 -- then the most creative idea might not be simply the second idea. But it probably will be somewhere in the top half of what you consider your best ideas.

But this is where it gets tricky: Many of us are quickly kill out ideas we don't deem as creative early in our process -- and that may mean knocking out the very ideas, he says.

Berg offers these tips for your creative process:

  • If you're under a deadline, go ahead and opt for initial ideas that are more well defined as those ideas will have the chance to reach their potential the fastest.
  • If you've got more time, try to consider other ideas more thoroughly early in the process. Consider why the ideas may be promising before deciding to which ones to pursue. You can also decide to develop two ideas -- one safer and one riskier. (Do the riskier one first so you don't become so attached to the safe bet.)
  • If you think an abstract idea is the best one, flesh it out first before revealing it to others.

Monday, January 13, 2020

What to Do If You Have Imposter's Syndrome

No matter how successful you may be in your career, it's not unusual to feel like an imposter.

"Imposter syndrome" is a real thing, and I've met many (very successful) people who have it.

According to Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome "can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success."

Those who suffer from this condition have such chronic self-doubt that they see themselves as intellectual frauds, failing to enjoy their successes or external proof of their competence and accomplishments. It's not that they have low self-esteem or self-confidence -- they just have this driving perfectionism (especially true for women and academics) that makes them focus on how they don't deserve their success.

While imposter's syndrome may find it roots in childhood family dynamics, the end result is someone who feels like a fake, like he or she absolutely cannot fail. Such people attribute their success to luck -- or contend that their success is really no big deal.

Dr. Valerie Young, a recognized expert on imposter syndrome, says there are ways to deal with the issue:

  1. Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing. 
  2. Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
  3. Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. If you’re one of the first or the few women or a minority in your field or work place, it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider. 
  4. Accentuate the positive. Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most, without persevering over routine tasks. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens. 
  5. Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on. 
  6. Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance. 
  7. Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” 
  8. Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress. 
  9. Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking °© and then dismissing °© validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
  10. Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

3 Ways to Deal With Toxic People at Work

If you're like me and would like to begin 2020 by eliminating negativity from your life, then you're going to have to deal with those people at work who get on your last nerve.

You know exactly who I mean: the colleagues or bosses who love to manipulate others or are uncivil. They never say "please" or "thank you" and if they can find a way to insert a discouraging or mean-spirited thought into any discussion, they do it.

You've tried to be nice. You've tried to kill them with kindness. You've even tried to spar with them in a lighthearted way. But none of that works -- you often find yourself dreading work and the reason can be traced to the toxic person (or people) at work.

It might be funny if it wasn't so serious. Unlike some characters from "The Office," research has shown that such toxic people in real life can hurt your mental and physical well-being. They cause sleepless nights, damage your personal relationships and may even lead to bouts of depression.

Here are some ways to eliminate the influence negative co-workers or bosses have on your life:

1. Let it go. While it might feel good at first to have an after-work bitch session at the nearest pub, that isn't going to solve anything in the long run. All you're doing is wallowing in your misery -- and thinking about it more instead of less. Stop letting toxic people control you when you're not even at work. Find something else to help you channel your feelings -- take your dog on a walk, take up a hobby you've always wanted to try or go to a comedy club. Do things that make you feel positive about life.

2. Keep a journal. Instead of writing in your journal about how much you dislike the toxic person or negativity at work, instead write about the positive things that happen each day -- no matter how small. "The woman in the parking garage gave me a wonderful smile. " "The new client is really a funny guy and made me laugh." "Mark offered to get me coffee when he saw how busy I was."

3. Don't sink to their level. Nothing makes me feel worse about myself than to get into a disagreement or interaction with someone and I behave in a way that my Southern mom would term "ugly." Think about who you are and what you value and how being snide or negative is not in line with how you want to live your life. Then, find other ways to deal with someone toxic at work. If you become frustrated and angry with them, simply walk away or respond, "I'll have to get back to you" or "I really don't have anything to add" and leave. You cannot cut this person out of your life, but you can limit the time you spend around him or her.

Finally, be good to yourself. You're not going to always avoid negative people or negative emotions. But the more you practice staying positive and being true to yourself, the less impact such people will have on your work life.