4 Ways Distraction Threatens Your Career | Fight Back

Distracted? Never, you claim, always fully tuned in, just multitasking.

It’s a popular self-deception. We’re all guilty to a degree.

Research has long debunked the notion of multitasking, our claim of being engaged in multiple things (aided by our digital tools) at the same time.

We’ve just become compulsive about requiring our brains to toggle between one thought or awareness and another. The faster we do it, the more we self-approving we become.

Faster makes winners, right? Until, there’s a wreck.

Distraction as enemy

Keeping up with the pace of change and career demands is wearying. So many swirling expectations and so little clarity about what really matters…to our progress.

We take a stab at one thing and then another, often deciding what’s important based upon what others are or seem to be doing or that text, post, news flash, or broadcast email we receive. Our biggest challenge at work is figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.

If you let yourself become distracted by all the inputs that come your way, you’ll more than likely spin your wheels and find yourself stuck in an ever-deepening rut.

You need to separate distraction from meaningful direction. That starts with recognizing how certain distractions can hurt you.

When distractions run amok, they can become:

  1. Career saboteurs–Success at work is about staying focused on the tasks at hand, providing updates to your boss, and working collaboratively with coworkers. When distractions caused by extraneous inputs obstruct your focus and productivity, your career will take a hit.
  2. A safety hazard–Inattentiveness is one of the main causes of accidents in the workplace. You don’t want to get hurt on the job and companies are upset when you do. When distracted, we slip, trip, and fall…or worse…whether we work in an office or outside. Distractions take make us vulnerable.
  3. Relationship eroders–Most of us want to matter at work…to our coworkers, bosses, and customers/clients. People you interact with want your undivided attention as much as you want theirs. Distractions that you respond to while with a colleague screams, “You aren’t more important to me than….” [fill in the blank...this text, email, person who caught my eye]. You may not get much future support from those you make feel less important.
  4. Confidence drains–Distractions interrupt your thought processes, often introducing extraneous points of view, declarations, positions, and news that derail insights that are uniquely yours. Your ideas lose momentum and you start to question their value and relevance. When distractions steer your thinking off course, you put your hard-earned self-confidence at risk.

Be on guard

There’s a relentless onslaught of information coming at you, often causing confusion and clutter in your life. You necessarily must be able to separate the useful from the useless, engaging in a a kind of distraction due diligence.

You need to take charge of the world around you, avoiding the tendency to follow the herd. This means you should:

  • Stop second-guessing what you believe is important to your career success
  • Refuse to fear being wrong, out-shined, or outplayed by others; instead just do what you do best
  • Be willing to differentiate yourself by showcasing your talents and commitment to quality work
  • Expect to be seen and heard, not to be kept faceless and at arm’s length
  • Build meaningful relationships with colleagues that mirror what you want from them

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a guarantee that you will. It’s impossible to be in tune with everything that’s going on around you. Most of it doesn’t matter to your career plan anyway.

What you don’t want is to miss out on the relationships, creative sharing, emerging insights, and depth of thought/experience that comes from focused engagement with the people you work with.

Resist with courage

It takes courage to resist distractions, especially when you’re surrounded by others addicted to them. Distractions become a cop out, an excuse for putting off decisions, completing work, and reaching out to others. It’s time to fight back.

Being busy being busy is the road to nowhere. Beat the traffic and take the undistracted route.

 

 

The Mystery of the Aha Moment and What Solving It Means to Your Career

First there was “aha,” a term used to express surprise, pleasure, or triumph. So sayeth mystery 13318545_f743938571_mThe American Heritage Dictionary.

Then there was the “aha moment,” a phrase meaning  “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension,” first known to be used in 1939 according to Merriam Webster, well before the Oprah Show.

Had any aha moments lately? The kinds that give you big clues about:

  • how you’re doing at your job
  • what next steps you should take
  • what lies ahead for you
  • who cares about your growth

If “no” is your answer, not to worry. Aha moments are neither plentiful or crystal clear.

Start with, “I wonder?”

You’re more likely to experience an aha moment when you ramp up your curiosity.

When your career starts out, everything’s a mystery. You wonder:

  • Am I doing things right?
  • Do my boss and coworkers like me?
  • Is this job what I really wanted?
  • Is this a good place to build a career?

A few timely aha moments would likely come in handy to influence your answers and build your self-confidence, optimism, motivation, and self-belief,

“I wonder” questions can be a gateway to “aha moments.”

Connect the dots.

Career aha moments can be enigmatic, easily missed or dismissed, until we stop and think.  At least that’s how it was for me.

I came to a staff job at a Fortune 500 energy company after ten years teaching high school. With no business experience, it felt like a big adventure. I had zero career expectations, other than wanting to make a difference.

I started out in consumer education working with community educators to develop energy conservation curriculum materials. The company considered me their resident expert and gave me lots of freedom.

As a result, lots got done and that got noticed. However, I never directly connected my work with career advancement.

One day I was invited by the department manager to ride to a company event with him and his VP. I didn’t think much of it at the time, sat in the back seat, and was privy to their conversation. They were very open about lots of subjects that seemed,…well…executive.

On the way back, we stopped at the VP’s mother’s house. She was elderly and needed to have her storm windows lowered. She served us beverages and cookies. Then we headed home.

On the return drive, I had my “aha moment.”

“Really.” you ask? Yes, really.

Until that trip, I wondered why I, a former school teacher, was given so much freedom and access in my job. Now I knew.

The big reveal

They simply trusted me.

They trusted that I would:

  • hold confidential their conversations
  • conduct myself as a peer while respecting their positions
  • support the direction of the business
  • be open and honest, reliable and consistent in my work

Aha!

But one aha does not a lasting realization make. That moment was only a beginning, a foundation. It revealed how important trust was in that organization.

So I started to watch for other signs of their trust in me and found them. Each renewed aha moment affirmed how trust, along with capability, can give your career a marathoner’s legs.

As I moved up, I came to see how trust drives results when:

  • Employees trust their boss will be fair
  • Coworkers trust their peers to be supportive
  • Bosses trust their managers to set achievable goals
  • Executives trust their teams to stand together

Trust matters.

Trust comes from doing what you say you’re going to do and non-attribution, particularly not telling stories out of school.

When you can be trusted to hold confidences, perform ethically, and uphold the right values, you may discover more career aha moments than you can fathom and create some too.

Photo by DerrickT via Photoree

Respect, Recognition, and Appreciation Matter. | Assessing Your Give and Take

Self-esteem can be pretty fragile.appreciation 4759535950_7bca6684c8_m

Each of us has the ability to pump up another person’s self-esteem or scar it.

A lot goes into developing and maintaining pride in ourselves, especially considering our personal and situational obstacles.

So we need to be caring.

Make others matter.

Most of us crave positive feedback. We want to know in concrete ways that our bosses and coworkers:

  • respect our talents, good intentions, and integrity
  • recognize the contributions we make to the success of the team and company
  • appreciate our efforts, kindnesses, and selflessness

Others want what we want. The question is: “Are we giving it?”

  • To everyone?
  • Just to people we like or who are like us?
  • To those we feel we need to “repay”?

The esteem we show to others is good for us. It’s how we create a bond that:

  • builds dependable relationships
  • helps coworkers try harder
  • develops confidence to overcome challenges
  • buoys up courage to take risks
  • creates community

In all likelihood, the esteem we show to others comes back to us in subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

Respect, recognition, and appreciation are equalizers. They say to the recipient, “I value you” for your:

  • skills and work quality
  • honesty and integrity
  • kindness and generosity
  • dependability and decency

Value is personal not positional.

None of us can do every job that needs to be done. Just look around where you live and count the number of things you can’t build, fix, or solve.

Then look around your company and count the number of jobs you aren’t qualified to do from the top of the organization chart to the bottom.

The only way all of us can live the lives we want is for everyone around us to do their jobs well. For that we all need to express our gratitude.

Assess yourself.

Consider the way you engage with craftsmen you hire at work or at home. Assess the amount of effort you put into expressing respect for their expertise, recognition of the challenges of the work, and appreciation for the outcome.

In my experience, a unique alliance forms, a strategic partnership, and shared engagement in the work where the results exceed the expectations of you both.

I recently accumulated a pretty long list of big and small jobs long overdue at my farm where the buildings were built from 1780 to 1900. The jobs ranged from releasing a frozen pocket door in the house to replacing light fixtures in the barn; from painting and repairing a large shed to replacing slates with shingles in the back of the house. There was other “little” stuff too.

Kirk, the expert in charge, is a one-time home builder, an inventor, and one of the most well-read people know. He took on my work solo because I was his last client in PA before moving to the mid-west.

There was nothing about this work that was easy. At every turn there were problem-solving challenges and surprises. It required:

  • electrical work and some plumbing
  • remodeling and construction
  • roofing, painting, and repair

Kirk says what he thinks, never sugar-coating anything. And he’s not a big giver or receiver of compliments. But he accepted my communicated regard for his expertise and willingness to help when needed.

I had been his customer before, so he knew that I respected him. Ultimately, he told me that he wouldn’t have taken on this wild array of jobs for anyone else. That was a gift for my self-esteem.

It was not about what I was paying him: It was about my respect, recognition, and appreciation.

 As you sow…

Treating people well is about recognizing their value and making that known. At work it’s easy to see our coworkers as just another pair of hands. Any time you treat others in a way that says, “You matter,” you are giving them a priceless gift which will, in time, come back to you.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Photoree

 

 

 

Caught in a Mess at Work? 3 Ways to Get Untangled. | Avoiding Drama

It’s easier to complicate things than to keep them simple. That’s why most of us periodically find ourselves in a mess at work.untangled 3632105088_bdaf9ebab1_m

There comes a time when we realize that we’re:

  • Too aligned with the wrong coworkers
  • At odds with our boss
  • Parked in the wrong job
  • Part of a doomed project

Situations like these creep up on us.

Pay attention.

Each day we’re faced with decisions and options that take us down one path or another, usually believing we’re advancing our careers not putting them at risk.

I’ll write it here again: Things are rarely what they seem, and that’s especially true at work. The closer you are to where the real work gets done, the farther away you are from the decisions and decision-makers affecting the organization’s direction.

The less you really know, the more careful you need to be about your choices. This is why developing business savvy is so important.

We often make a mess our of careers by getting tangled up with the wrong people or by putting ourselves in places where we can’t meet expectations.

Here are a couple examples:

  • You get hired by a boss who once worked with you as a staff professional and where you were also friends.  Now you’re expected to  support his wrong-footed policies. If you buck the boss,  you lose all around.
  • You’re new on the job and the boss isn’t training you. You turn to coworkers for help which they give gladly along with their “rules” for getting along, so there are no “problems.” In time you realize that you’re in the wrong camp.
  • You eagerly accepted a role on an important project team to gain some visibility for your technical talents. The forceful team leader has a predetermined result she’s promoting. You realize that her basic premise is wrong, the team is going in the wrong direction, and the result is going to be a bust with your name on it.

We get ourselves into these situations through our own naiveté. As much as we want to be optimistic about opportunities, we need to stop and weigh the potential downsides.

5 ways to disentangle

It is much easier to get situations tangled up than to untangle them. (If you’ve ever tried to get the knots out of a necklace or a fishing line, you know.)

When you need to extricate yourself from a complicated  situation at work,  consider these approaches:

  1. Avoid getting in deeper: Assess the people and/or decisions that are exacerbating the problem and figure out how to start distancing yourself from them. That may mean changing the way you communicate, reducing personal (not professional) sharing, and developing relationships with others who represent your viewpoints.
  2. Resist the “lures”: Step away from the temptations that may have drawn you to the situation in the first place like special access to the boss, the need to make “friends” with everyone, associations with “big” players, and egoism. Instead, refocus on doing your best work for the right reasons, even it if means accepting a short term setback.
  3. Plan and activate an escape plan: When you’re in a mess, you have to get out of it, slowly and carefully in most cases. This takes careful planning and a bit of finesse. You may need to craft a special bit of face-to-face communication, build new alliances, reduce your level of involvement, and/or make a big break. It all depends on the severity of the mess and the risk it imposes on you over time.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. The longer you stay in a bad situation, the more you risk increasingly dire consequences, the worst of which is feeling trapped and helpless.

Avoid drama.

The best thing you can do for your career is to avoid pointless drama caused by unhealthy entanglements. It only adds stress and needless complexity to the work you’ve been hired to do. Each time you’re given a career opportunity, first ask yourself, “What am I really getting myself into?” That should help you take the right step and avoid troublesome drama.

Photo from framelius via Flickr

Want to Be Taken Seriously? Make Your Mark with Care.| Personal Branding Realities

The world is watching. You may like that and invite lots of eyes. You may hate it and try to minimize your exposure. Or you may be Marking Your Mark B 5503188585_563f776818_msomewhere in the middle.

Our careers depend on the perceptions of others: bosses, coworkers, and customers. By observing us, they determine whether or not we’re:

  • competent and trustworthy
  • cooperative and approachable
  • committed and reliable

The way we come across impacts whether or not we get:

  •  hired or promoted
  • positive ratings and good raises
  • heard and reinforced
  • chosen for plush assignments

Because your personal brand identity is a priceless asset, you need to manage it with care.

Your brand tattoo

Everything we say and do that others hear and see builds our personal brand. It’s how we manufacture public perceptions.

Social media is the ink that makes your image visible and lasting, creating waves of exposure for endless audiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, every word and picture that we post online is our effort to present the image we want others to accept. It’s how we turn ourselves into a product that we promote.

If you want to be taken seriously in your career, you need a serious brand image. When your social brand conflicts with your professional one, you may end up with a lot of explaining to do.

Social media is a strategic branding platform. The evolution of your personal brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites becomes part of your indelible history.

You may end up having to rebrand yourself (which can be a difficult, time-consuming, and possibly unsuccessful task)  when your brand gets tarnished by:

  • those beach and bar Facebook pictures that depict an appetite for partying
  • harsh tweets that disparage political, business, and entertainment figures
  • endless inane and trivial Twitter posts
  • self-absorbed blog ramblings that lack substance

The way you present yourself online (either consciously or unconsciously) represents your brand management strategy–the way you want to be regarded by:

  • friends and family
  • the community and marketplace
  • professional associates and employers

It’s  incumbent on you to take steps to ensure that the image you put out there is one that you are comfortable exposing to everyone.

Remember: Your life is your business. Everything you put “out there” defines you, validates you, and positions you as either someone who adds value or doesn’t.

Keep in mind too that everything you see and read from someone else is their effort to build their own personal brand. Are you buying what they’re selling?

Your brand image is a major contributing factor to getting a job and keeping it.

Serious business

Strategic use of social media gives you a career leg up by helping you  build positive perceptions among those who can help you achieve success.

Posting information, adding thoughtful comments, and blogging enable you to showcase your knowledge, insights, passions, and communication skills.

There is often real, reportable payback like:

  • Visibility that differentiates you from other candidates for a job opening or promotion
  • Credibility validation helpful to consultants, therapists, and advisers
  • Connections with other thought leaders that can lead to professional collaborations
  • Invitations by businesses, other bloggers, and book publicists to partner with them

The key to success in any field is validation for what you know and do–and how you go about it.

If you don’t take yourself seriously and if you don’t exercise care with your personal brand image,  then the likelihood of your finding and sustaining a satisfying career is in jeopardy. It’s all in your hands.

Make your mark

Social media self-discipline and self-control are your friends. When you use them to stay focused on the career that you want and resist trying to one-up or entertain your “friends,” you will give your personal brand identity the boost it needs to sustain you through a fulfilling career. I’m pulling for you!

Photo from imatvi via Flickr

Discovered the Trick to Career Success? | The Magic’s Up Your Sleeve

Career success seems so elusive as we face constant changes in the work environment and economy. Here’s a post I wrote in 2010 to help sort things out and form the basis of a plan.

Success is out there—somewhere. We watch others achieve it, but why not us? They don’t seem any smarter than we are. So what’s the trick?

We assume the answer’s in all those how-to books, so we read them. We go to presentations by celebrated experts, follow bloggers, and invest in webinars. These are all good things to do, but….

No one can tell you how to get the success you want. Why? Because they aren’t you!

We’re all in the same boat. Getting to success is a struggle. So what’s the winning formula? 

I can’t tell you that. No one can. We have to figure it out ourselves. No whining or complaining. No funny business or short cuts. And, hardest of all to swallow, no guarantees!

There are some concrete steps you can take to get started or to keep going if you feel stalled. Here goes:

1. Answer this: What do I want my life to look like when I cross the finish line? 

Describe what you see in your mind’s eye: your surroundings and location, who’s there and who’s not, and what you do on a typical day. Write it all down and save it. What you describe tells you what you want to achieve, what you’ll be working toward, and how you want it to come together.

2. Then answer: What career work fits me? 

The right career feels like lycra: a close (actually intimate) fit that supports you as you move freely in any direction. Lots of people wear burlap instead. They may find success but it comes with a rash. Real success includes work satisfaction, growth, and fair rewards.

3.  Can work in that career get me the success I want? If no, now what?

Sometimes the work you love doesn’t pay well or offer advancement. That means you’ll have to add another work component to your success plan.

There is no rule that says all of our income must come from one source, our job. Additional revenue can come from freelance work, side businesses, and on-line services/sales. The internet offers many new paths for adding revenue. It’s time to explore.

4. Visualize the success you want. Pick up on the vibes.

If visualizing didn’t help golfers make tournament winning putts, they wouldn’t pay their sports psychologists to teach them how to do it.  Every athlete who wins a championship says the same thing: “I’ve imagined this moment since I was 9.”

Once you focus on the success you want and the career work you love, you’ll find yourself noticing articles in the paper, segments on TV, comments at work, and on-line posts that will move you forward.

5. Write the words that describe the success you want and the paths you’ll explore to get it.

Writing things down makes them real and prevents you from side-stepping the work you need to do. When you explore options, you will stay open to alternatives until you’ve settled on the winning direction.

Anyone can do this. It’s not magic. 

I struggle and question just like you. The success I wanted was a life in the country, working for myself, helping others achieve their own career and business goals.

To get this far meant passing through many seemingly unrelated gates. I was a high school English teacher, a social worker, a corporate manager. While I was employed, I made extra income as a practice management consultant for veterinarians, then as a horse breeder and art dealer.

Each path led me to the life that I visualized. My definition and measure of success isn’t yours and yours isn’t mine. We each own the success we seek—that’s the beauty of it.

Don’t let anyone else define success for you. That’s important to becoming business fit. Own your success goals and desires. It’s what’s up your sleeve that matters. Keep looking—there’s a rabbit in there somewhere!

Photo from garethjmsaunders via Flickr

Who Are You When Things Go Wrong? | Tapping Into Gratitude

2358995244_f6f385d0cf_mWe don’t always get what we think we deserve. Situations can take a downturn in a blink. Promises made aren’t always kept. That’s just the way life is and has always been.

There are times when we may expect things to go wrong. Usually that means we’re prepared for it physically and mentally. We still may not like it, but those situations go down easier than stunning surprises.

We learn a lot about ourselves when our stress level is exceeded–and so does everyone around us.

Keep an eye on yourself

All kinds of things at work can tax you:

  • Coworkers who don’t pull their weight and dump assignments on you
  • Bosses who break their promises to you
  • Job loss, reassignment, and/or poor ratings out of the blue
  • Customers or colleagues who make false statements about you

When you’re pushed to the brink, what do you do?

  • Pick a fight, go on the defensive, or play the blame game
  • Curl up in a ball, seek sympathy, or start looking for a way out
  • Look for solutions, ask for information, or seek help from your network
  • Take a deep breath, assess what’s really going on, and develop a workable plan

I like things to be under control, predictable, and within my ability to influence. So it’s also a test for me when a crisis creates excessive turmoil.

Accept what you can’t control. Be grateful for what you can.

When you’re having a bad day, someone else is having a worse one. The news this past week was proof of that.

Thomas “TJ” Lane shot five fellow students at Chardon High School in Ohio, killing three of them. The parents of those students and the entire community were forced to deal with a chaotic situation never expected. Each was forced to look outwardly and inwardly to hold it together.

Phyllis Ferguson, mother of slain Demetrius Hewlin, had a plan that worked for her. She told ABC News:

I forgive him [Lane] because, a lot of times, they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s all I’d say.

I taught Demetrius not to live in the past, to live in today and forgiveness is divine.

I heard her say in several TV clips that to keep hatred for the shooter in her heart would mar her memory of her son.

When decisions, situations, or coworkers upset you at work, what drives your next steps?

Then there’s this:Julie Hays from CNN reports how

Severe storms tore through the Midwest and South Friday into Saturday, killing at least 39 people.

The National Weather Service confirms 42 tornadoes hit 10 states, stretching from Alabama to Ohio.

This comes only days after another deadly line of storms spawned multiple tornadoes, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses across seven states.

Think of what it must be like to be going along at work, at school, or at home and in less than a minute:

  • People you love have been killed by a twister
  • Your home and your car are flattened, your belongs lost
  •  The place where you worked is destroyed along with your job
  • You have no neighbors, no place to go, no records, electricity, or communication
  • Your plans and dreams have disappeared and you’re left to start over

This is when we come to grips with what really matter to us. It’s when we see who we are and what we’re made of.

Who do you become?

When a project goes bad or your appraisal isn’t what you wanted, do you look for solutions? Are you grateful for the resources you have to draw on? Do you have the grit to go forward?

When the chips are down, people are watching us, something which can give us purpose.

Each of us can become a source of strength, a clear-minded leader, and problem-solver when there’s trouble. Gratitude for our inner strength and the connection to others is often a source of the empowering brightness we need. Shine on!