Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.

Career Not Going Your Way? Try Relaxing Your Grip. | Words from the Wise

Feeling stuck? Frustrated? Just plain mad?relax grip 3325065380_252a4c50de_m

Choosing a career and getting the chance to pursuit it doesn’t always happen the way we’d like.

Careers are unpredictable beasts. They come with promise but no guarantees. While they seem to be about us, they’re actually more about others giving us the opportunity to make their organizations successful.

We often start out believing our careers are within our control. Then reality sets in and we hear ourselves saying:

  • “I’m knocking on every door and still don’t get even an interview. Why?”
  • “I’ve been performing at a high level in this job for three years and still no promotion. Why?”
  • “I never thought the work I do would frustrate me like this. What can I do?”

Too often, we can’t answer these questions. They’re too big, too encompassing, and too far beyond our understanding of the conditions that drive them.

So we keep pressing, driving ourselves forward, dragging our frustrations with us. Some just curl up in a ball and do nothing. Sadly, this doesn’t fix anything.

Words from the Wise

Struggles with career choices and direction have gone on for centuries. Human beings generally want to do work that will support them and bring some satisfaction.

Especially in modern times, the hardest part is figuring out what we like and want to do, given our skills. Once that’s somewhat figured out, we set out to find the right employment.

This figuring-out process requires introspection, which many fail to do. It also requires owning what you know about yourself and the career you want, so that  you can set your direction with an uncluttered mind.

I’ve  worked for many years with job and promotion seekers who have been battered by rejection when they’ve pursued job titles, salary levels, and big name companies rather than the work they enjoy. They’ve held on so tight to their preconceived career must-haves that they have tuned out other opportunities.

I use this quote from Robin Fisher Roffer’s book, Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success, to help clients (both men and women) get free of themselves:

The universe is waiting for you to say what you want…Everything that you are seeking is also seeking you.

Then I add these wise words from Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

 Men (and women, right Thoreau?) are born to succeed, not to fail.

Just think about how complex it is to get all the parts  aligned just right so that you and anyone else can intersect your objectives at the same time.

That means: The job you want has to present itself when your skills and experience are seen as the right fit for the company and when the political forces see you as having the right nature to meet expectations. Whew!

Your successful career starts with your willingness to “put out there” what you sincerely want and then to allow your conscious and subconscious thinking to work together to connect the dots. Your prospective or current employer is doing the same thing.

Relax your grip.

Lots of good things happen when you take that chokehold off your career pursuits and replace it with a realization that what you are seeking is also seeking you.

The benefits can be palpable:

  • Less self-imposed pressure, negative self-talk, and energy-sapping stress
  • A refreshed ability to see and hear snippets of ideas you might otherwise have missed
  • An openness and excitement that blunts feelings of frustration and isolation
  • A renewed belief that you will get there and commitment to the effort
  • Recognition that your attitude and effort are what you control; success will follow

Your career path is a function of the work you’ve done to offer value to an employer and the initiatives you take to get hired/promoted. Your biggest challenge is to be authentic in the process and prepared to act effectively when opportunities present themselves. Taking your hand off the throttle can help you make a nice smooth turn.

Photo from ladybugrock via Flickr

Career in a Rut? Partner Up and Push. | A “Business Fitness” BOGO

Careers are personal. They’re about what we want from our work life and what we’ll risk to get it.                

Navigating our career path can be lonely. What it takes to be successful isn’t always clear. The messages we get may be vague or conflicting. Our coworkers may have agendas that don’t include us. 

Going it alone is how many manage their careers. That makes about as much sense as trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or master tennis without a support system. We all need someone in our corner to keep us going; they need us too. 

A rescue offer 

I wrote Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way to make managing your career easier and to get beyond the fluff. 

If you’re ready to get serious about your career planning, I’d like to make it easy for you get (re)started: 

For all of January 2012, I’m offering buy one get one (BOGO) free, signed copies of my book.  

Just go to my website “book” tab and add one (1) copy to your cart for $19.95. (I’ll know to send two by your date of purchase.) Shipping is free in the continental U.S. 

A great career development strategy is a powerful thing. Here’s how you can us the book to build yours.

The power of partnering 

When building your career, there’s real value in partnering with someone you trust and respect, someone to hold you accountable for setting goals and staying the course for success. 

There reasons galore why we benefit from the support of a partner: 

  • It’s difficult for us to see ourselves objectively. We need a filter. 
  • It’s difficult to stay motivated when things go awry, when we’ve been disappointed, and when we lose our optimism. 
  • It’s difficult to stay up when our self-confidence wanes, self-doubt haunts us, and opportunities have been missed. 

Whether careers are exotic or mundane, they often progress in mysterious and unpredictable ways. The only aspects we control are the choices we make, the capabilities we develop, the chances we take, and the relationships we form. 

Along the way, we need to  build momentum around our efforts until the pieces take shape and a picture of our career emerges. A “business fitness” partner can keep us on track.

 Keep pushing 

Finding career success isn’t easy. It means always pressing forward. Funny, how we continually need to push and be pushed. So give this approach a try: 

  • Select a single partner or small group (no more than 5)
  • Agree to meet at a set day and time (at least twice monthly)
  • Use your first meeting to establish ground rules, particularly confidentiality around information shared. Then share what kind of success each of you wants right now.
  • Assign one chapter from Business Fitness to be read and discussed at each meeting. Agree to share answers to the inventories at each chapter end.
  • After all the chapters have been discussed, go back and (re)write your career goals and share. Hold each other accountable for specific statements.
  • Use each subsequent meeting to review progress on goals, provide insights and support, and identify ways to help each other move forward. 
  • Make the meetings and the process fun!

This process is part book club, mastermind group, and individual mentoring/coaching. As you progress, you’ll come up with endless next steps that will build your capabilities, strengthen your self-confidence, and deepen relationships. 

Career building takes discipline. There are no shortcuts that are sustainable. When we’re at our best, we feel business fit. To get there, we need each other.

Leaders: Looking to “Find Your Next” Competitive Edge? | Read Andrea Kates

New ideas intrigue me. So when I was contacted by Andrea Kates to comment on her newly released book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, I was all in. I was taken by how my business fitness metaphor for individual success aligned with Kates’ business genome metaphor for maintaining competitive business advantage. Innovative thinking and questioning, especially during uncertainty, are a must for every leader. 

It’s mistake if you’re thinking: 

  • “I’m not really a ‘business’ leader. I just direct a small work group.”
  • “I’m responsible for internal services, so I don’t have to think about the marketplace.”
  • “In my company, decisions about competitive edge and growth are made by the big execs. I’m not in that loop.” 

Everyone in a leadership role affects the future growth, competitive advantage, and sustainability of his/her company. 

Why? Because every function, no matter how big or small, has an effect on the business’s ability to out-perform and out-innovate the competition. 

If you need to be convinced, Andrea Kate’s book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, provides compelling insights. 

A powerful metaphor 

Scientists reveal the mysteries of our biology through DNA genome mapping. In a similar vein, Kate’s reveals a “genome” map of these six elements of business success. 

  1. Product and service innovation—the invention of offerings that resonate.
  2. Customer impact—a sustainable community of support.
  3. Process design—alignment of the ‘how’ of a business with the evolving ‘what’ that customers need.
  4. Talent and leadership—the culture that will move a business forward.
  5. Secret sauce—the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency.
  6. Trendability—the foresight to see the future more quickly and adapt more rapidly to shifts in the landscape. 

With an understanding of these elements in hand, what’s a leader to do? 

The answer is simple: ASK QUESTIONS. Lots of them. Make them challenging, unnerving, disturbing, pointed, wild, and complex. 

Then resist rejecting answers before you really examine, understand, deconstruct, and test them. 

Great leaders learn not to be afraid of innovative thinking, new direction, disruptive change, and paradigm shifts, even though they may be tempted to resist what they don’t immediately understand. 

Find your next … 

Leadership is about defining reality and then laying out a path for success. Every function in every organization is ripe for improvement, change, and innovation in order to keep up with best practices or to forge new ground. It’s the same whether its human resources, financial planning, product design or marketing. 

Kates lays out the struggle every leader faces: 

We are all facing new realities: the mountain of facts is huge, the speed of change is impossible to keep up with, the information that used to keep us ahead of our competition is now instantaneously available, our customers are talking about us to each other more than ever before, business dynamics have turned global, and the expectations for competitive advantage are rising at record speed. 

When it comes to thinking strategically, the model most leaders use is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Instead, Kates suggests business genomic thinking: 

  1. Sort through the options for your company and assess your hunches.
  2. Match your genome to successful businesses that have already steered themselves in the direction you want to explore.
  3. Hybridize your company by grafting the ideas that work in other companies to your own.
  4. Adapt and thrive by breaking out of old habits and fostering new traditions in your business that will enable you to take advantage of a rapidly-evolving business environment. 

To Kates, the key to competitive edge is looking at how you perform in any aspect of your business compared to businesses much different from yours. Even though apples and oranges are different on the surface, they are both fruit with attributes that are good for you. 

The leader’s coda 

Find Your Next is “based on the idea that the possibilities for what a business leader can do next must come from somewhere other than what they did last,” Kates writes. 

One of the smart moves of business fitness is to implement new ideas. To do that you need to think about what’s really going on in your business, how it addresses the vortex of marketplace change, and then what course of action to take. Kate’s book is filled with approaches, insights, and a wide-range of case studies that will help you find your next.

Think You Know How to Manage Right? Check in with David C. Baker

Several weeks ago, David C. Baker, accomplished management consultant, speaker, and author, asked if I would consider reading and commenting on his already successful book, Managing Right for the First Time. I didn’t know David but his title intrigued me, so I eagerly said “yes.” The book arrived in the mail and I was hooked. 

Manager—It’s a title with a certain lure, an aura of importance, a marker that we’ve “gotten somewhere.” Careers often feel more solid when we’ve become manager of something. 

Then we look around at the managers in our world and say, “Is that the role I really want? Would I operate like that? Is that what I think the job should be?” 

What’s the deal? 

Every job is a business deal with your employer. That means you need to understand what’s expected from a title like manager before you commit. 

Unfortunately, managers who get off on the wrong foot from the get-go will likely compound their missteps throughout their managerial careers, until they come to an end. 

David C. Baker in his book, Managing Right for the First Time, does something wonderful: He exposes the realities about how the manager role is played out in business settings. He answers my favorite question: “What’s really going on here?” 

During his career Baker worked closely with over 600 companies and interviewed more than 10,000 employees to identify the core principles and behaviors that contribute to managing right from the start. 

He starts with a clean definition: Being a manager means “…taking responsibility for the performance and output of another employee in a business setting.” 

Sounds simple enough until you face his next insight: 

…management is not natural, and there are no “natural born” managers. Good management comes primarily from who you are as a person….  

Looking within is a serious first step. For some reason, you want to think that you’ll be ready for the job when it comes your way. Baker points out that you’ll likely be a good manager “if you’ve made the right choices as you’ve responded to the circumstances you’ve encountered…” throughout your life. 

There’s an echo here of a theme I’ve written on before: Your life is your business. There’s truth in the notion that the more good life and career choices we make, the better prepared we’ll be to manage situations that affect others. 

So, you’ve got the job! 

Baker gives fascinating insights into what your selection as a manager can mean. 

His first scenario is this: “…if you’ve been selected for management by a good manager, you can take solace in the fact that he or she sees something in you that you may not even see in yourself.” 

The bad news scenarios are these: a.) you’re promoted because there was no one else or b.) a bad manager selected you. Both of these start you off on shaky ground. It doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but it does mean that you have to prove that you were the best choice. You’ll need to keep your political wits about you. 

Beware of bait and switch 

Baker makes a strong point that: “There’s no official management without power.” 

Oftentimes we’ll see managers in name only—all title but no authority. 

Baker writes: 

The essence of management certainly isn’t about…wielded power. It’s more about influence, which in itself is power, but it’s more the ability to instill in people a legitimate desire to follow your leadership.

 That said, he adds that you really aren’t a manager in the truest sense of the word unless: 

  • You’re hiring the people you manage
  • Making decisions about their compensation
  • Giving their performance reviews
  • Have the authority to dismiss someone—even if you have to get another’s approval 

He makes it plain: “If these things aren’t true of your new role, you ain’t managing, baby.” 

Dig in 

“Managing right” means taking on the full scope of the manager’s role. In his book, Baker covers it all from managing your boss to orienting employees (some really good ideas there); from creating a positive culture to work/life balance.

He wrote his book as a field guide and it’s all that and more. Nothing beats a book of straight-talk, that puts managing in plain terms. This one’s a winner.