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Category Archives: Changing Your Life

hand writing on paper with coffee

Our nation is going through a time of unprecedented hardship and fear. In an effort to quell the COVID-19 virus that is spreading like wildfire, many of us are hunkering down at home and only going out for necessities. Though some of our activities might be moved into the virtual space, we all know that isn’t the same. All this alone time can feel isolating and downright scary, but it doesn’t have to be totally terrible.

You have the power to make alone time YOUR time.

Think of it this way: What other time in your life has allowed you to have so much autonomy and control over your schedule? You don’t have to make a long commute; you don’t have people popping into your office every five minutes and interrupting your work flow. Sure, you might be dealing with babysitting your kids at home or working alongside your significant other, but I would still argue that you have an unprecedented opportunity.

How will you use all your newfound “home time?”

I am a big proponent of setting aside time for yourself. Even though you inevitably have other responsibilities, be sure to allot a few minutes every day (even an hour, if you can) that’s dedicated to YOU.

Practice reflection, journaling, or meditation. Think about what you want your personal and professional life to look like after this is all over, and make plans for how you’d like to get there. Perhaps, your plans involve self-improvement steps, such as reading professional development books (I’m planning on putting together a list for my next blog post) or taking online courses.

If learning a new skill (such as coding, video-making, or writing) is part of your personal development plan, you might consider doing a little research to see what, exactly, you need to learn and how you can learn it. Reach out to those who already have these skills, and request resources. Or, you might try combing through an online course bank, such as Udemy or Teachable.

If leadership is part of your personal development plan, try interviewing leaders in your community OR start taking an online leadership course (My 10-Minute Leadership Challenge course is now 50% off to make it more accessible during this troubling time).

No matter which personal development skills you choose to pursue during this time, it is important you make a plan AND stick to it. When you’re at home, it’s easy to let the days drift away in clouds of social media or television. Don’t let that be you! I want you to emerge from this time period, feeling empowered and equipped with a new set of skills to further your professional goals.

If you’re going to be stuck in isolation, you might as well make the most of your time. You’ve got this!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Mossy trees on hill

In my last post, I discussed the fact that many people’s career paths are not straight and linear. We don’t necessarily “climb the ladder” anymore. Instead, many modern careers resemble a lattice or a tree—branched out and spreading in many different directions. While some may think such a career lacks focus, I would argue that it makes people more well-rounded and gives them a wealth of experiences.

But, how can you possibly map out your goals if your path isn’t straight and linear?

Start by assessing where you are today and where you’d like to be within a few years. Think big-picture. What, ideally, would you like to be doing? What kind of role or roles? What responsibilities? How much money would you like to be making?

Once you have your big picture goal in mind, start thinking about different skills and experiences you will need to get there. Think of these like the branches of a tree, shooting out from the main trunk. To get to where you’d ultimately like to go, you might need to improve your grasp of PowerPoint or become a better public speaker or learn a new type of accounting software. List all the different things you need to learn or experience that will help guide you to your big-picture goal.

Then, break down those items into smaller branches. For instance, if you’d like to become a better public speaker, what do you have to do? Do you need to take classes? Practice in front of a group? Take improv classes? Join Toastmasters? List each of these smaller steps, then add them to your career goal tree.

Remember: Build some flexibility into your plan. It’s possible you’re missing a crucial “branch,” and will need to add it to your tree later. Leave some blank areas in your plan, and fill them in if you happen to get additional insight from others or realize you’re neglecting a certain area.

When you’ve filled out your career goal tree, share it with your boss. [NOTE: This might go with out saying, BUT only share your plan with your boss if your ultimate goal involves your current company.] Explain the different steps you’d like to take to reach your destination, and demonstrate that you’re committed to getting there.

On a personal note, I would be blown away if one of my team members presented such a comprehensive and thoughtful plan to me. This type of visual helps create a fuller, richer picture of what someone needs to do to navigate from Point A to Point B. It’s much more than “I’d like to become a team leader next year.” It’s a well-thought-out plan on how to get there.

If you have any questions about creating your own tree-like career map, please do not hesitate to ask. Let’s get you to where you’d like to be, one branch at a time!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

There are times in life when we feel lower than low. These are the times when your car fails, your plumbing breaks, you get sick, and your boss hands you a bunch of extra work…all in the same week. Or, you might be trying to cope with a traumatic event or a soured relationship. Regardless, life has a way of turning belly-up when you least expect it.

During such troubled times, how on earth can you find inner peace?

1. Remove yourself from the situation

Literally stepping away from the situation gone-wrong (whether it be a tense meeting, a failed dinner recipe, or a laptop with a mind of its own) can help give you space and perspective. Granted, you can’t step away from every situation immediately, but when you can, relocate to somewhere peaceful so you can clear your head. There’s nothing like a little space to give you perspective and time to think things through.

2. Let go

For the things you can’t control (and that includes many things in life), practice letting go. Your frustration over crummy weather, a traffic jam, or a client’s decision to take their business elsewhere won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn from the situation and move on.

3. Practice gratitude

When things are going awry, it’s often useful to focus on the good things in your life. No matter how bad things get, there will always be one or two things (at the very least!) that are going well. Focus on the positive—your talents and abilities, the healthy relationships in your life, the roof over your head—and let those things carry you through the day.

4. Free write

Journaling or free writing can help you work through your problems and, perhaps, find a solution. At the very least, these activities will help you vent. Find a quiet space, grab a notebook, and go to town. The act of writing is a healthy release, and can help you work through your troubles in a constructive way.

5. Calm your mind

Let your mind release and let go of all that tension you’re carrying on your shoulders! Practice meditation (several different apps, such as Headspace or Calm can help you get started), focus on taking deep breaths, or do something a little more active, like going on a walk or practicing yoga.

6. Treat yourself

If things are really tough, make a point of treating yourself. Schedule a spa day or massage, get a new haircut, or plan a weekend getaway. Even taking yourself out for a nice meal will help. If you have the time, and a little cash to spare, you might even plan a bigger trip for yourself. Studies have found that simply planning a vacation can elevate your mood.

7. See yourself on the other side

Even though things are tough right now, things can and will get better. Picture yourself on the other side of your troubles. Imagine that future you—the one who made it past all your current hardships, and emerged wiser, stronger, and ready to step forward into a brighter world.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

I know how it goes. You attend a professional conference (either by choice or because your company sent you), you learn a few things, you become motivated to make changes…and then you leave and neglect to follow up on any of it.

What good are these events if you never implement anything you learn?

It’s time to change the way we approach conferences. Start with the following four steps:

1. Do Your Homework

Before the conference begins, be sure to look up the schedule and note anything that appeals to you—relevant break-out workshops, lectures on interesting topics, events that might build your network. Going in with a plan helps you be more efficient with your time and prevents you from being roped into a lecture or workshop that might not actually suit your interests.

2. Ask Questions

Once you determine which sessions you’re going to attend, jot down questions you could ask the speaker/presenter. Keeping these questions in mind helps to deepen your relationship with the subject matter and keeps you engaged (if your questions are answered, great! If not, find time to ask them, if possible).

To dive deeper into a topic, ask follow-up questions to fellow attendees as well. Asking open-ended questions such as, “What did you think about [SUBJECT]?” or “What were your take-aways from the presentation?” will stimulate conversation and help keep the topic top-of-mind.

3. Find an Accountability Partner

There’s nothing like a little accountability to help you follow-through on committing to change. If you’re attending the conference with people you know, ask a trusted colleague (or colleagues—the more the better!) if they will agree to be your accountability partner. Say something to the effect of: “I’m really hoping to implement some of the things I learn this coming weekend. Are you hoping for the same? Would you want to do brief check-ins after the conference to make sure we’re both on track?”

Then, follow up! Schedule weekly or bi-weekly check-ins on your calendar (a simple chat over a cup of coffee will probably suffice).

If you’re feeling self-conscious about asking someone to be your accountability partner, try holding yourself accountable by scheduling—and committing to—self-check-ins. Set aside fifteen minutes every week, retrieve your conference notes, and see where you’re excelling and what areas need improvement.

4. Take Notes

Speaking of notes…take them! Jotting down your take-aways (and going over them shortly after the conference) will help you retain the information for longer.

Remember: Many speakers who present at conferences have valuable advice to share. You just have to be willing to listen, absorb it, and act.

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Two people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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person jumping at sunset

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many people reflect on the past year, examine their life paths, and resolve to make meaningful change. Though you may start the year with the best of intentions (earning a promotion, losing weight, learning a new language), it’s easy to quickly lose steam after a month or two have passed by.

You might slip up once, then twice, then you toss the whole resolution out the window and tell yourself you’ll do better next year. But that doesn’t have to be the drill. It IS possible to commit to the resolutions you’ve made and actually make positive changes in your life.

Try these three steps:

1. Try 90 Days Instead

While this may seem like cheating, it is actually a good idea to commit to a goal for 90 days rather than an entire year. According to David Horsager, author of the Trust Edge, the attention-span and commitment of most people doesn’t usually stretch beyond three months.

However, he argues that most people can make huge strides in just 90 days. If you map out a plan for that stretch of time (outlining not just what you’re going to do, but how you’re going to do it), you can do everything from losing 20 pounds to writing a novel.

2. Lean On an Accountability Partner

Whether a trusted friend/co-worker or a professional coach, it’s a great idea to use an accountability partner. This is a person who knows about the commitment you’ve made, and agrees to hold your feet to the fire. Ideally, you and your accountability partner will have regular check-ins, so they can keep tabs on your progress and you have an added incentive to get things done.

3. Break Down Your Goals

When I’m coaching individuals or teams, I often advise them to take their goal and break it down into “bite-sized pieces.” When you only look at the end state you’re trying to achieve (write a book, get a raise, eat healthier, etc.), it can seem daunting or downright impossible.

Instead, set incremental goals that lead you to the BIG goal you’re trying to achieve. Whenever you hit one of your incremental goals, don’t forget to celebrate! This will give you a little extra incentive to keep at it.

It’s the New Year, and you want to start it out right. No matter what big-picture change you’re trying to make this year, you CAN get it done. Follow these steps, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have an off day, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. Happy 2020!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Post first published in 2016.

It’s Thanksgiving month, so you’re likely seeing constant reminders about gratitude and giving thanks. A lot of it may seem fluffy, but there are actually concrete benefits to being grateful.

Studies have shown that moods lift, outlooks become more positive, and relationships are healthier when we practice gratitude. From a business perspective, showing appreciation for your clients, co-workers, support staff, or employees helps to foster a more pleasant atmosphere, boosts morale, and slashes employee turnover.

But, gratitude shouldn’t be treated as a one-off thing. We shouldn’t get through Thanksgiving and go, “Well, that was fun. Now, on to Black Friday!”

A grateful mentality should be a sustainable one. We’re talking about an attitude shift here, not just a temporary state of mind. Why change your thinking for a month, when you can change it for a lifetime?

The trick to sustaining an attitude of gratitude? Practice every day.

The moment you wake up, instead of dreading the day ahead, think about the many blessings in your life. These could be simple things–the hot coffee in the pot, your friends and family, the roof over your head. Think about three things that bring you joy, comfort, or stability. You can choose to write about these things in a gratitude journal, or simply meditate on them for a few minutes.

Then, see where your day takes you. This morning burst of gratitude should help give you a positive boost and, if you confront rough patches throughout the day, you can always think back to your morning meditation and remember the three things that you were grateful for.

(It is worth noting that being a grateful person doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative aspects of your life. If the negative parts get too overwhelming, it may be time for a significant change. But that’s a topic that I’ve addressed in other posts.)

When you’re grateful and appreciative, the world changes. Your personal outlook becomes brighter, the people around you seem more pleasant (or at least tolerable!), and your relationships become more amiable and love-filled.  Try adopting a gratitude-filled lifestyle and watch your world transform!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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