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Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

Energy Management

Time management is not solving anything.

Why? Because we can set aside time to work on specific projects, but if our hearts are not in it, we’ll end up drifting off or doing something completely unrelated (checking Facebook, browsing through new recipes, catching up on the latest news…).

Instead of managing blocks of time, it’s better to manage energy.

It’s more advantageous to work in short, productive bursts than in long blocks of time in which your attention wanders. When you set aside everything else (including your smart phone!) and focus on a single task, you’ll find that you’ll work better and faster than you would if you simply reserved a block of time and let your attention be captured by new emails, other projects, and social media.

The reason it’s better to work in shorter allotments of time is because human beings are not meant to slog through an entire work day without breaks. As Tony Swartz, founder of the Energy Project, says, “human beings are meant to pulse.” We work in cycles. Our concerted attention can only last for so long (typically 90 minutes, according to Schwartz).

There reaches a certain point where no amount of schedule-shuffling will enable us to stay on top of things. We may do our best to manage time, but if our energy isn’t also managed we can suffer from burnouts, stress, and unhappiness (which can bleed into our personal lives).

The lesson is: Don’t focus on your time management–just assume you’ll be busy. Instead, take care of your energy levels throughout the day.

Schwartz outlines some tips for tending to your energy levels during the day in a book he co-wrote with Catherine McCarthy called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

The authors point out that your time is finite, but your energy levels can be replenished if you attend to them closely. They offer a few ways for you to do this throughout the day:

  • Take a break every 90-120 minutes. Physically get up from your desk and enjoy a brief change of scenery.
  • Eat light meals and snacks throughout the day, every couple hours.
  • Dedicate time every day to focus on what you’re best at and what gives you a sense of fulfillment.

They also suggest that leaders pay attention to their employee’s energy needs:

“To effectively reengergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them…”

  • Keep a room devoted to taking breaks and relaxing
  • Subsidize gym memberships
  • Encourage staff to move around every so often

And I’ll add a suggestion of my own for leaders:

  • Energy is directly related to feedback. Positive feedback energizes folks and helps them keep the momentum going. Negative feedback, if delivered well, can also motivate people to make improvements. The point is, I find that giving specific, frequent feedback is one of the best ways to help people manage their own energy levels

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Learning agility and using fear as a catalyst

When learning something new, we instinctively keep it close and secret until we feel confident that we’ve got it down pat. Usually this is because we feel embarrassed by our clumsiness with new skills. However, we can’t learn until we apply our skills, which means a bit of screwing up. You’ll find that even though screwing up might be hard on your ego, it’ll increase the rate at which you learn and respond in unique situations.

This is because of a special nerve in our bodies, called the vagus nerve. As Christopher Bergland explains in this article on Psychology Today, “When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.”

Bergland goes on to say that we can teach ourselves to respond positively to the “gut-feeling” we get from the vagus nerve by being in tune with the loop between our bodies and minds and using this awareness to our advantage. Instead of choking under pressure, which comes from a negative response from the vagus nerve, we can control its signals and stay calm under stress.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and look for the most stressful situation you can find and purposely make your learning experience as intense as possible. Many people thrive under pressure, while others do much better using more gradual methods, and I understand that. I do want to encourage you to push the limits you think you have when you’re taking on something new, because:

  1. Most of us underestimate ourselves.
  2. Most of us overestimate the thing we’re learning.
  3. You won’t really know how true either of the above are until you go out and see for yourself.

Examples of diving in:

-Giving a presentation using material you’re new to. Of course, don’t do this at your next big, job-on-the-line presentation, but do try out new materials, approaches and styles when you have a less career-defining presentation.

-Teaching yourself a skill that is outside your normal set of skills. If you’re a numbers wiz, try out some of the good literature. If you’re an extrovert, try meditation. If you’re shy, try the above suggestion!

-Wearing your mistakes as badges, knowing that each falter invariably pushes you closer to mastery.

How do you deal with handling pressure? How does it impact your ability to learn?

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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quit saying no problem

You’ve rearranged your schedule, taken the time to prepare, and said “no” to other commitments. You’re just about to head into the meeting for which you’ve worked so hard to get ready and then…you get an email: “Something came up. Can we postpone the meeting to next week?”

Many of us have the tendency—even if we’re frustrated by the situation—to respond, “No problem. We can do next week.” But the thing is, there is a problem.

Sometimes people have legitimate excuses for not showing up, canceling something at the last minute, or not getting an assignment to you on time. BUT, if you tolerate this kind of behavior regularly, you are essentially giving other people permission to walk all over you.

Not to mention, many people cancel or postpone meetings simply because they don’t feel like going. They see the meeting as a low priority item—something that can be blown off. And THAT is a huge problem.

So what do you do?

How can you convey your frustration to your client, co-worker, or boss without coming across as a complete ogre?

It’s a tricky situation, especially in my Midwestern home base where politeness is the norm (even at the expense of your own discomfort or annoyance!). But, the issue must be addressed. Otherwise, this kind of cavalier attitude toward meetings will continue. You will be at the mercy of someone else’s whims.

Start putting your foot down. Try these four different approaches (or a variation) and begin holding others accountable.

1. Express that you’ve been inconvenienced.

Try responding with: “Actually, I rearranged my schedule and was counting on this meeting to direct the rest of my week’s work. Next week is pretty packed for me, so I won’t be able to meet then. Is there any way you can make today’s meeting, even if you’re a few minutes late?”

2. Tap into the other person’s emotional side by telling them how the situation made you feel.

Try: “This is the second time we’ve pushed back this meeting. That makes me feel as if my time isn’t valued.”

OR: “We’ve had to reschedule this meeting multiple times. I’m beginning to get frustrated, since I end up wasting time each time we reschedule. Can we make a firm commitment to meet next Tuesday?”

3. Tell your side of the story.

“I spent most of the morning preparing for our meeting instead of working on the XYZ project, which is due next week. This cancellation really throws a monkey wrench into my schedule. Is there any way you can shuffle some things on your end and make at least part of today’s meeting?”

4. Come up with an alternative plan.

“Since it seems like you’ve had to cancel several in-person meetings, why don’t we aim for a phone meeting next time? Say, tomorrow? 10 a.m?”

 

Your time and presence are valuable. If others tend to drop appointments or not follow through with their commitments, it’s time to take a firm stand. Let them know, as tactfully as possible, that yes, there is a problem.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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There you are, day in and day out, punching the clock. Suddenly, after many dedicated years at an okay job, you are laid off. Unfortunately, that seems to be the story for so many individuals over the last few years. What to do now?

Most people dive into the traditional job search, seeking out something similar to what they had done before. But, that’s not the only option. You could take your experiences and acquired skills and strike out on your own! Or, you could go back to school, even taking just a few classes, and gain new skills for a flourishing business.

Here are a few resources to help get you started when you find yourself thinking about entrepreneurship (running a business), or even becoming a solopreneur (running a business on your own, such as freelancing).

Program Specifically for Laid Off Aspiring Entrepreneurs:

Here in Minnesota, the government offers the Dislocated Worker Program to laid off employees. If you want to start your own business, you can take advantage of their Converting Layoffs into Minnesota Businesses (CLIMB) sub-program. CLIMB allows you to work toward building your business full-time while still collecting unemployment, eliminating the “regular” job search stress. They offer counseling, training, and financial help to guide you on your self-employment journey.

Programs for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: 

  • S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers counseling, classes, loans, and special services for minority and women-owned small businesses.
  • WomenVenture provides women with classes, counseling, and loans for successfully starting a small business. Their Guided Business Plan course is a six-month long program intended to help you complete your business plan and strategize every aspect of your business.
  • SCORE is a free mentoring program for small business owners. They also offer workshops and tools to get started and thrive.

Training and Development for Aspiring Entrepreneurs:

 Bolstering your education or training can give you a leg up for starting a thriving business. I know one woman who was laid off after eight years on the job. Because she felt that her skillset was outdated, she decided to take advantage of the classes offered in the programs mentioned above. The classes renewed her confidence and gave her the courage to start a freelance writing business, something she had considered doing for a long time.

Another option to brush up your skills is to take classes online or complete an online degree. Many universities and colleges also offer continuing education certifications if you want a shorter time commitment. The CLIMB program can help pay for these classes.

Use any of the above resources to see if they offer training that may help you move forward in your quest for self-employment. There are many other resources in Minnesota; check out this website for further information on starting a business in this state.

 

It can be scary to suddenly find yourself jobless. But it can turn into an exciting journey toward entrepreneurship, and this state has excellent resources for successfully starting a business. Don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled toward a new career where you call the shots. Contact me if you would like support with your self-employment goals.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Don't let inexperience stand in your way

There you are, sifting through the LinkedIn ads, searching for the job of your dreams. You find that listing that speaks to you, and you get excited as you read through the list of responsibilities. You even start picturing yourself exceling at each task, getting promotion after promotion, becoming the next CEO…then, bam! You hit that long, seemingly endless list of requirements, including three unrealistically specific degrees, and one hundred years of experience – for an entry level position. You feel defeated. And maybe you shrug your shoulders and instead apply for a different job that only makes you feel “meh.”

I’m here to tell you that the magical person who has all those qualifications does not exist. Perhaps those mile-long job requirements come about due to inexperienced human resources workers who have never written a job description before. Or maybe some employers are hoping to find the best and brightest pool of talent to dip into later by listing a million requirements. Either way, don’t let it discourage you from applying, and here’s a couple reasons why:

  • Interviewers are human. This means you can use your sparkling personality to win them over. Be personable and be yourself. People want to work with people who seem easy to get along with and who are excited about the job.
  • Your qualifications do not have to be so literal. Maybe you have never managed a team before. But I bet you have coached a co-worker through a tough time, or managed a project. Think through scenarios that relate to each qualification in the job posting.

Of course, there will be times when more experience may be required. Huge career shifts may involve going back to school for an entire four-year (or longer) degree. But often there are more subtle ways to gain the experience to help you land the job:

  • Harness your network – Get to know the industry or the company you want to work for by asking your network for help. A friend may be able to land you some informational interviews at her friend’s company, or a former colleague may be working in your intended industry.
  • Volunteer or Intern – Look for opportunities to help in the area you want to work in. That could mean writing newsletters for a friend’s business if you are looking for a communications gig, or interning at a farm for the summer if you are looking at agriculture or horticulture.
  • Freelance – Have you thought about going solo? If you have knowledge in a particular field, like writing or graphic design, for example, and are finding it hard to land a traditional job, freelancing may be for you. According to Freelancer’s Union, there are over 53 million Americans working freelance, and it is continuing to grow as workers seek alternative ways to make money.
  • Take a class or two – There are so many ways to educate yourself without having to go back for a full degree. Sometimes you just need a refresher, or you want to expand your knowledge base. Most areas offer community education classes. And universities have continuing education programs and certifications. Even learning from home can take you far; there are so many classes and professionals offering training online.

 

Don’t give up hope when you see a lengthy job posting. Think through your options to make that dream job a reality. How can you translate your current experiences into the right requirements for the job? It doesn’t have to take a complete overhaul of your life to get the career you deserve.

I am happy to provide guidance along your journey to a fulfilling career. Contact me to learn more.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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everyday legacy

When you think of the term “Legacy,” you probably think of the grand achievements that people are remembered for. It’s the scholarship fund that you founded or the football stadium that’s named after you.

Sure, those are Legacies. But they are the big-picture results. They’re the long-term Legacies that you leave behind. I urge you to focus on your living legacy—the everyday things you do that impact others and the world.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t think about your long-term Legacy (or your “capital L” Legacy). It’s great to think about the future and work toward lofty goals. However, this kind of thinking sometimes causes people to lose sight of what’s in front of them. How can you make an impact through a conversation with a co-worker? Or by showing up to your child’s basketball game? Or by visiting a lonely neighbor? Or by donating a couple of hours to a soup kitchen?

Your “little l” legacy is just as powerful (if not more) than your “big L” Legacy. All those small actions and interactions add up. You never know how your words, behaviors, kind gestures, or attitude will affect those around you.

This concept of “little l” legacy versus “big L” Legacy is something we explore in Insights® Deeper Discovery. Deeper Discovery is an interactive workshop that utilizes science-based tools to explore participants’ personal paths as they relate to leadership, teams, communication, improved self-understanding, and much more. As a Deeper Discovery facilitator, I have worked with individuals who were experiencing anxiety or frustration because their big L Legacy wasn’t falling into place. They weren’t where they thought they would be at this point in their lives and they were having trouble figuring out which direction to turn next. In other words, they were feeling utterly lost.

Focusing on your little l legacy can help illuminate a path.

If you start to focus on what matters during your day-to-day, you start making the very best of what is currently around you. And that can open opportunities that you might not have noticed when you were busy being distressed about your lack of progress toward your Legacy.

How will you start to shift your focus to making a daily difference? What legacy will you leave tomorrow? Today? In your next conversation? Start making small positive impacts today and see how your world will change.


If you’d like more information on the Insights® Deeper Discovery program, please feel free to reach out and contact me.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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three types of bad bosses

It happens more often than it should. A person rises to power who doesn’t have the interest, inclination, or skills it takes to be a good boss. It’s not always that person’s fault—many companies do not invest time and resources in training their managers and force many people to learn through “trial by fire.” And then there are those who are simply not interested in engaging with or developing their team. They would rather be doing office work than investing time in their staff.

Whatever the case, you’ve probably encountered the dreaded “bad boss.” I’m going to look at three different behaviors that your bad boss might exemplify and show you ways to overcome each scenario. Ready to grab your own success and jump over the bad boss hurdle? Read on!

1. The Micromanager

This is the boss who is always looking over your shoulder and checking in to make sure you’re doing things just how s/he wants them done. This person is a perfectionist and might go as far as giving you daily or weekly checklists. Such a boss can make you feel claustrophobic and limit your growth potential.

What to do:

First of all, understand that you micromanaging boss is likely acting the way she does because she cares deeply about the good of the company. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it! If your boss is approachable and open to communication, consider scheduling a meeting in which you request to take on a project by yourself. If your boss waffles, ask if there is something about the quality of your work that is holding her back. You might learn some valuable insight from your conversation!

If, however, your boss is not the approachable type, consider a different tactic: Accomplish tasks and check-in before she tells you to. Anticipate the next item on her to-do list and do it before you’re directed to do so. This demonstrates that you are a go-getter and are perfectly capable of going above and beyond expectations without being directed to do so. You may even consider sending your boss your daily or weekly plans so you can gain even more control of your schedule.

2. The Unengaged

On the opposite end of the micromanager boss is the boss who is simplify unengaged. This is the boss who is largely absent or who rarely bothers to check-in with their team. This bad boss might think it’s a waste of time to invest in team-building activities, training, or one-on-one meetings.

What to do:

Initiate engagement. Schedule a meeting with your boss or, if he’s hard to pin down, make a point of stopping by his office when he’s around. Make sure you keep your meeting brief and bright—unengaged bosses often feel like they don’t have time for small talk. In your meeting, be sure to express your thanks to the boss for meeting and let him know that it made a big difference. Such encouragement will help him realize the value of such meetings.

If you’ve tried in earnest to get your boss involved in office life, but he hasn’t taken the bait, try going a different route. Engage your co-workers. If your boss isn’t lending much support, chances are your co-workers are just as frustrated as you are. Connect with them and use each other for brainstorming, problem-solving, and as mental or emotional support. Seek resources together and work on building a more collaborative atmosphere.

3. The Gossiper

“Did you hear about…?” The boss with gossiping tendencies can lower morale and create an atmosphere of distrust. What’s more, if you’re not buddy-buddy with this boss, you may wonder if you will be the next victim of their gossip.

What to do:

This is a tricky one. Although you might not be able to stop your boss from playing favorites and spreading rumors, you can make a personal commitment to rise above office gossip. Harvard Business Journal recommends setting firm boundaries with gossipers (whether your boss or a co-worker). When you see a conversation headed toward gossip, put a stop to it and say, “Please do not put anything in my head that you expect me to not act on. I will not carry around a conclusion about another person without sharing it with them.”

Your integrity carries weight. By refusing to participate in gossip, you build credibility and trustworthiness. And remember, silence is the same thing as complacence. If you are silent, you are promoting gossip.

And if your boss continues gossiping? You have a couple of tough decisions to make. Either you could choose to confront him about it and offer a solution (This article by Vital Smarts goes into establishing ground rules revolving around gossip), OR, If your quality of life is being severely affected by the gossip, you could seek employment somewhere else. If that’s the case, you might want to consult a career coach before making any major decisions.

 

There are, of course, many other types of “bad bosses” out there, but hopefully this list gave you some ideas for how to deal with your own troublesome boss. Feel free to add your own experiences and advice in the comments section (no name dropping, please!) or contact me for more advice.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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