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It’s okay to be an odd duck!

Have you heard the phrase, “variety is the spice of life”? That’s true, of course, but it’s also the fuel of the workplace. It’s what drives innovation and creativity. Can you imagine what would happen if we all went quietly along with the status quo and no one ever dared to shake things up a bit? We would have never had the iPhone or the Tesla or the Mars Rover.

In my own life, I’ve dared to take some professional risks that ended up becoming much more successful than I had ever dreamed. For example, several years ago, I decided to advocate for the creation a new branch of my former company. Though I had been nervous to bring forth my idea, and even more nervous to execute it once the idea was approved, I forged ahead. Today, that branch of the company is worth several million, and is a thriving component of the company.

When you dare to contradict the status quo, propose a new idea, or create a bold new innovation, you are engaging the “big picture” side of your brain. Too often, we press ahead with our work, heads down, unable to see the forest for the trees. It pays to look up. Every once in a while, make a concerted effort to step back and question the current way of doing things.

Ask yourself the following big-picture questions and spend time contemplating the answers:

  • Do your goals or end points make sense?
  • Are you (or your company) serving the purpose you’re suppose to serve?
  • Are you working as efficiently or effectively as possible?
  • What changes would benefit the company as a whole?
  • What fresh ideas could be incorporated into your work or others’ work?
  • Have you considered the customer’s perspective and needs?

If you’ve identified areas that could be changed or improved, be BOLD and act! Dare to think differently. Dare to present your ideas to your superiors or co-workers. Your initiative could make an enormous impact.

When you’re preparing to make a bold new change, tap into your reserves of courage. Follow the 5 Ps of Courage (as outlined in my video), and build confidence in yourself and your idea. You can do this! Innovation is built by daring individuals with big ideas.

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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It’s easy to say yes. We naturally aim to please our co-workers and supervisors; we want to look good in the eyes of the company and get that raise or earn that promotion. But saying yes can be dangerous. If you say yes to everything—every assignment, every request, every invitation—you’ll end up stretching yourself too thin and you’ll possibly end up taking on work that isn’t in your sweet spot or doing things that go against your code of ethics.

Though I’m a proponent of trying new things and being agreeable, there are times when it is in your best interest to give a firm N-O. Here are three scenarios where saying “No” is the best course of action (accompanied by three strategies to pull it off):

1. You have too much on your plate.

If you feel your workload growing out of control and can tell the quality of your work is sharply declining, it’s time to say no. How to do it? The next time your project leader tries to assign you something new, do not immediately say yes. Arrange to meet one-on-one (it is much easier to reason with someone one-on-one than in a group) and lay out your reasons for not wanting to take on the project.

Be prepared. Make a spreadsheet that clearly displays the projects you are currently tackling and how much time you spend each day on each project. Also, come into the meeting with a counter-proposal in mind. If you know of someone else who might have the capacity (and desire) to take on the project, suggest that person to your project leader (be sure to get that individual’s approval ahead of time).

Alternatively, you could suggest a future date that would work for you to start the project (i.e. “I’m busy from now until the end of the May, but I could start working on this project in June.”)

2. You are being given work that is not in your “sweet spot.”

This is a tough one, but ultimately, if you are constantly handed work that does not align with your areas of expertise, you are doing both your company and yourself a disservice. Your company won’t receive the best possible work and you’ll be straying from your career goals.

So, how to say no? Again, a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is helpful in this situation. Explain to her what your ultimate goals are and what kind of projects you prefer. One of the best things you can do in this situation is approach it with confidence and decisiveness. Know where you’d like to be heading and explain, confidently, how you’d like to get there.

Ultimately, if your company is not supportive of your career goals (or if you find that the type of work you do consistently does not align with your sweet spot), it is time to start searching for something new, either inside or outside your current company.

3. Saying yes compromises your values.

There are times when it just does not feel good to say yes. Perhaps you agree to attend a late-night strategy session, knowing that your daughter has a piano recital that night. Or perhaps a co-worker dumps several assignments on your lap that are really her responsibility, not yours. Or maybe you’ve had to sacrifice your health or nightly down-time because of all the projects you’ve agreed to do. Whatever the case, sometimes saying yes is simply not the right decision.

How to say no? First of all, know your priorities. Does your family come first? Your health? Your mental wellbeing? When one of the things that’s important in your life becomes compromised, it’s time to say no. Keep an open line of communication with your boss and let him know when you feel like work is tipping the scales of your work-life balance.

And another thing: think before you say yes. Always take a moment to pause, assess the situation, and make a deliberate decision. If that means waiting a day or two to mull over the pros and cons, so be it. Ultimately, you need to feel good about agreeing to do something before you say “yes.”

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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It’s that time of year—the time when illness is rampant and, at any given time, two or three of your team members are home sick. If you’re like most people, you’re exposed to dozens of different opportunities every day to pick up germs—in the conference room, at the grocery store, at your kids’ daycare or in the bleachers of their sports games, at your hair salon, in the gym…the list goes on and on!

How can you possibly avoid germs and stay healthy without having to stop and slather on the hand sanitizer? Try these 7 quick tips:

Be aware

This is probably the most basic and important tip of all. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice where you sit and what you touch during the day. Have other people touched that door handle before you? Have other people handled the grapefruit at the grocery store? Your awareness can lead to better health hygiene.

Keep active

Though it may seem like the gym is swarming with germs (and it probably is!), staying active is a great way to give your immune system a boost and help everything from your circulation to your mood. Just don’t forget to wipe down your machine before and after you use it.

Pack your lunch

Packing your lunch for work is a great practice in general (it saves you money and helps you make conscious, healthy choices), but it’s an especially good idea during cold and flu season. You won’t expose yourself to potential germs when dining out or eating in the company cafeteria, and you can throw in some vitamin C-rich foods, like clementines or leafy greens.

Slow down

If you’re like me, this is the hardest piece of advice on the list. However, it is vital to your health to slow down every once in a while, breathe, and clear your mind. If you don’t have the patience for meditation, try practicing yoga or nightly journaling.

Drink plenty of water

I know you’ve heard this one, but it is SO important. Most people don’t drink as much water as they should, and that can affect your entire system. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly.”

Avoid caffeine and soda

On the flip side of drinking more water is avoiding certain beverages. Though you may love your coffee or sugary drinks, they can cause unhealthy highs and lows that can potentially stress your system. Try switching to herbal or green tea for a while—it’s rich in catechins, antioxidants and a range of other beneficial nutrients (according to PushDoctor.com)

Recognize when you ARE getting sick

Health expert Pilar Gerasimo recommends that we look at illness symptoms as “signals for change.” If you don’t want that sore throat to become a full-blown cold, start getting more rest, cutting back on activities, pumping yourself full of vitamins, and catching up on sleep. Your preventive measures could nip illness in the bud before it fully blooms.

A final note: Your health is vital to your happiness, productivity, and mental wellbeing. If you find yourself over-worked or stressed, take a step back, take a break, and start saying NO to certain projects (click here for strategies to effectively say no). It will be worth it in the long run.

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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What are some of the reasons you procrastinate? Are you worried about the task ahead? Do you think you don’t have the right skills? Or, maybe, you’ve put so much pressure on yourself that you’re certain you can never live up to expectations?

Or maybe, just maybe, you have a thousand other things you’d rather be doing instead?

Whatever the case, we’re all guilty of procrastination sometimes. And that’s a bad thing, right? According to some experts, yes. Psychologist and success coach, Elizabeth Lombardo, tells us that research shows procrastination to be “associated with increased long-term physical stress, weaker performance, greater likelihood of illness and insomnia, less happiness, and diminished wealth.” None of those things sound great, but is that really the full story? Are there ever instances when procrastination can actually be a good thing?

“Yes,” says Adam Grant, author of Originals. “Procrastination is a normal part of the creative process.”

According to Grant, many of “the greats” were also great procrastinators. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all master procrastinators. Evidently, Martin Luther King Jr. “didn’t start writing his ‘I have a dream’ speech until the night before–and he was still jotting notes and crossing out lines right before he walked onstage.”

But, just because some of the great artists, inventors, and activists were procrastinators doesn’t mean procrastination is itself a good thing, right?

Well, not necessarily. Procrastination can actually allow your mind to explore avenues it might not have explored if you had doggedly stuck to your deadline and stayed on task. It’s been shown that moderate procrastinators are more creative than those who complete tasks ahead of time OR those who put things off until the 11th hour.

So, the lesson here is that some procrastination can actually be a good thing, but too much can lead to poor results (or NO results!).

Though it’s not usually a good idea to “play chicken” with a deadline, don’t be too hard on yourself if you do. As Adam Grant says, “Sure, procrastination can be the enemy of progress. But beating yourself up about it only makes it worse. If you’re stressed that you’re stressed, you suffer more.”

Next time you’re bumping up against a deadline, take a deep breath, focus, and let your creative side run wild! Though you shouldn’t necessarily make it a habit, procrastination isn’t the end of the world.

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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questions to build trust in leadership

It may seem surprising, but asking questions can actually make you a more trustworthy leader. Questions do not diminish your authority or make you appear weak. Rather, by asking the right questions, you can gain valuable insight, open the floor for more meaningful conversations, and demonstrate that you respect your team.

Which questions are the “right questions?” The simple answer is: open-ended questions that stimulate conversation and don’t presuppose an answer. A question such as “Don’t you think Client X would benefit from our new product?” is not open-ended and not productive. It is only searching for agreement, not a true dialogue.

Instead, try asking questions that begin with words like How, What, or Why. These question words typically allow for a wide range of answers, not just a yes or no response.

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. Leaders build trust by seeking their team’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and listening closely to the answers they give. This show of respect is integral to building trust

Next time you’re in a meeting (either with your entire team or a single individual) try asking some trust-building questions. Here are 10 to get you started—choose ones that are applicable to your team and situation.

  1. What resources do you need to complete your task?
  2. What is holding you/us back from success?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What are some possible solutions you envision?
  5. Who/what are we lacking to achieve success?
  6. What can I do to help foster more creativity?
  7. Why do you think                            is happening?
  8. What are your current frustrations?
  9. What is our biggest risk in this endeavor? What is the Plan B?
  10. Is this assignment a good fit for your talents? (Why or why not?)
  11. How does this add value to our mission?
  12. What effects will this decision have?
  13. How can we improve                     ?
  14. What opportunities can bolster our business?
  15. What else would you like me to know?

This is just a sampling of the questions you can ask your team. Get curious. Involve them in decision-making. Ask good questions and build trust.

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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Image via Pixabay.com

Do you feel driven by a larger mission or purpose, but you’re distracted by day-to-day responsibilities? Does it feel like you’re only inching ahead when you should be sprinting? Are you wondering how on earth to make a positive impact when you’re so darn busy?

You’re not alone.

Many people want to make a difference in the world, but have trouble finding their footing. They might feel like they’re too busy, distracted by other responsibilities, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or unsure of where to begin. How can you become a change agent when so much is holding you back?

Take heart, it is possible for even the busiest person to make waves. Start with these seven steps:

1. Start thinking conceptually

Conceptual thinkers are able to take a step back from their daily work and explore the bigger picture. They think about widespread, systemic change. They reflect on what kind of action is needed to make an impact at all levels. For example, if a conceptual thinker’s goal is to cut pollution, they might consider local action first—promoting carpooling or biking, participating in local advocacy groups, etc. Then, they might consider statewide action—pollution-cutting legislation, campaigns to build more bike lanes. Lastly, they might consider systemic, nationwide action such as advocating for federal laws that require stricter efficiency in cars.

To become a conceptual thinker, start researching the cause you are passionate about and find out how the local, statewide, and national pieces connect. Figure out who the major players are and what is already being done to help. Then, reflect on potential actions you could take to participate in the “good fight.”

2. Set incremental goals

Goal-setting works. If you’re determined to make a difference, try setting several concrete goals and working backwards—what steps do you need to take to get there? By breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces, they will be more manageable and you’ll be able to celebrate small victories along the way (for more on goal-setting, see my past blog post).

3. Find like-minded dreamers

There’s no need to be alone in your advocacy. Seek others who are as interested in your cause as you are and become a part of their community. You might find these like-minded folks online, through meet-up groups (such as Meetup.com), in local clubs, through work groups, or even among your friends.

Once you find your community, lean on them for support and inspiration. They are the ones who can help you when you’re feeling stuck or unsure of your next steps.

You can also use members of your community to be accountability partners. Challenge them to hold you accountable for sticking to your advocacy goals through regular check-ins. Don’t forget to return the favor!

4. Anticipate resistance…and create a plan to overcome it

Daily life and unexpected troubles are sure to get in the way of becoming a change agent. You might get bogged down by a large project, a family illness, or unexpected financial troubles. Don’t fret! These things happen. If something suddenly gets in the way of achieving your advocacy goals, wait until the trouble has passed, revisit your goals, and rethink them. Reset your deadlines and develop a new plan for making a difference. Everyone has to deal with setbacks from time to time—just don’t let a setback become a defeat.

5. Don’t do everything yourself

The greatest change agents recognize that they do not have to go it alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a project—say, you’re running a blood drive and more people signed up than you originally anticipated—reach out to others and ask for help. Don’t think of asking for help as a sign of weakness; great leaders are also great delegators.

6. Build your resilience

You’re going to feel worn down by work, life events, and all the good work you’re doing to become a champion of change. That’s normal. When you’re feeling exhausted, take a conscious break, unplug from your duties, and give your overworked brain time to cool down. You can build your resilience by stepping away for a while and then facing your challenges once you feel rejuvenated. Part of resilience also involves recognizing that things are not always going to go perfectly, but you can and you will overcome the bumps in the road. Think of each setback as an opportunity to try again, not as a failure.

Are you excited to go out there and make a positive difference? I’m excited for you! Though you are but one person, there’s so much you can do. Start small, develop your plan, build your support group, and start making an impact. The world needs your contribution.

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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slow down amid holiday craziness

Tis the season…of a thousand little tasks! Between holiday get-togethers, cooking, decorating, and shopping for presents, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the holiday busyness. It’s too bad that the season of joy, family, and camaraderie can also be the season of stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In between the hustle and bustle, you can find small ways to slow down and relax if you know how. These tiny breaks are necessary for your emotional and physical wellbeing, your relationships (personal and professional), and your mental clarity. Slowing down can help defuse stressful situations or allow you to step back and have a greater presence of mind when you’re faced with a problem.

Here are 8 ways to slow down amid holiday craziness:

1. Pause, breathe, re-center

You’ve probably heard this before, but allowing yourself time and space to just breathe can reduce stress and help you see the bigger picture. Try different “quick relaxation” techniques like counting to ten, focusing on your breath, or taking a short walk.

2. Stay active

When you’re busy running errands and rushing to get work done before your holiday commitments, you may feel too exhausted to hit the treadmill or attend that yoga class. The truth is, physical activity won’t deplete you, but will help energize you and keep you healthier and happier in the long-term. Don’t neglect your fitness, even if it means buying a pre-packaged dessert for the potluck instead of making one from scratch. Your health comes first!

3. Read for pleasure

Instead of zoning out in front of the TV after a long day, try stimulating your brain in a different way by reading or listening to a book. It’s a great way to relax and spend a little time away from the ever-present screen.

4. Take a walk

When was the last time you simply went for a walk without any destination or distraction? I challenge you to leave your cell phone at home, bundle up, and start walking. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, breathe easy, and let yourself relax. You maybe surprised by how energized you feel afterward.

5. Enjoy time with friends

Pick a no-stress activity and enjoy it with friends! Your friends deserve a break from holiday headaches just as much as you do, so why not unwind together? Hit up a coffee shop or a happy hour, wander around a conservatory, or park yourselves at a local library and read books side-by-side. No need to do anything too elaborate—in fact, the simpler the better.

6. Cherish mealtime

How many times have you scarfed down lunch at your desk? Or eaten dinner in your car? How many times have you cleaned your plate without truly thinking about what was on it?

In our modern world, we have gotten away from making meals the center of our lives. Cheryl Johnson, founder of Box Lunch Lifestyle, challenges us to spend just fifteen minutes each day doing nothing but eating our lunch, appreciating it, and sitting quietly (followed by 15 minutes of “you time”). This time allows us to decompress and be mindful of the food that is nourishing our bodies.

7. Don’t worry about perfection

Though it’s easier said than done, one way to slow down the constant thrumming in our heads is to realize that you don’t have to always achieve perfection. You don’t need the perfect tree; you don’t need to make the perfect holiday meal; you don’t need to buy the perfect gift. Cut yourself some slack and don’t stress if you fall short of perfection. Your honest effort is enough.

8. Ask for help (and accept it)

The entire holiday season does not rest on your shoulders. If you need help, ask for it! Host a potluck, for instance, instead of cooking an entire meal on your own. Hire a cleaning crew instead of stressing about tidying up your house. ASK what others want as gifts (or ask for their Amazon wish list!) instead of trying to guess. Delegation and assistance do not make you any less of a holiday warrior—just an efficient one.

 

My sincere wish for you is that you will enjoy this holiday season instead of stressing about it. Take some time for yourself amid all the hustle and bustle. Pencil it into your schedule if you need to. You shouldn’t have to survive the holidays…you should enjoy and savor them like a cup of gourmet hot cocoa.

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