When you want to do those things you never do: 12 tips to action: Part Two

Last week, I started to write about what helped me get unstuck and take action on the things I have always wanted to do. Taking the active steps I outlined: create a vision board, make a list, don’t hide the list, schedule what matters, maximize your time, find a partner in crime are real things you can do to get started.

One main aspect to consider is your mindset. I find doing the actions listed above helps me get into the right, motivated mindset. Mindset is tricky. There is no magic potion you can drink or pill you can swallow to give you internal motivation and a can-do/must-do mindset. But, if you engage in making a vision board or making a list, this will help get your brain jump-started.

Honestly, even daydreaming is a good start. If you can visualize in your head, you can record those feelings and thoughts as a means to move in a new direction. When was the last time you allowed yourself to look out the window and just let your mind wander? Maybe this is common in our current circumstance but let it happen and write down what comes to mind.

Talking to others can trigger something. No need to be all inside of your head. Bounce your thoughts off of others. Even if Whiskers, your cat, is the only one around, tell him. While he can’t give you advice (or, if he could, he would tell you to go back to sleep like him), he can be another being you can verbalize your thoughts to. Writing down ideas helps to crystallize. Vocalizing ideas out loud, even to your cat, can help spark other things.

I know my household probably thinks I am nuts because I talk to myself. I don’t hold conversations with myself (that would be more concerning) but I do vocalize certain things to help me get clear. I record myself on my phone as well because it helps me think of the next step or related thought.

Once you get your thoughts out of your head through writing or verbalizing, there are many other actions you can take to push yourself forward.

7. Knock out the first time. The first time doing anything is the hardest. There is no way around it. Cutting out sweets, beginning that resume, starting that project plan, exercising, remodeling the basement, minimizing TV — all of these are so hard to do. Why? Because we have been doing (or not doing) them for a long time. Staring at your vision board, having your list in front of you, using your partner to push you, all will help you start. If that doesn’t do it, think about what it will feel like if you don’t take this action. How will you feel then? Worse…I suspect. I finally told myself that if I spend one more year not writing, I will be so disappointed in myself. That did it for me. I couldn’t stand spending more of my life not doing what I wanted to do. I couldn’t think about planning for another year without actually doing something about it. I didn’t want to stare at any more old lists that didn’t have one checkmark on it.

8. Find the value in a checkmark. When you have that list in front of you, physically check things off. There is nothing more satisfying than completing a task. If you are a list maker, this is what you live for — the chance to cross something off or put a green checkmark by it. This sense of accomplishment is its own reward and helps push you to keep going. Even if you’re not a list maker, completing something feels good. It gives us a sense of purpose and some level of achievement. This can lead to other checkmarks. Pretty soon, a sea of checkmarks gets you to your goal. There is nothing more dissatisfying than seeing a list look pristine. Clearly written actions without a single checkmark. Checkmarks beget other checkmarks. Start crossing off your actions.

9. Build tasks into habits. Habits start with that first time. One of my secrets is to not just create a list for the first time you want to accomplish something. This is where I see a lot of people fall down. They get up the nerve to start but that action doesn’t become a habit. It ends up being one checkmark on a list but died after that one time. Create to-do lists for every week. If you want to do more hiking, have that on your list every week! If you want to find a new job, have that plan spread every single week until you achieve your goal of a new job. I find that after a month of doing something, I actually feel guilty when I don’t do it. Take exercise. When I skip kickboxing, I feel terrible. I know this is important to me. I let myself down when I don’t do it. When you reach this point, you know you are good. You have hit a stride and have formed a habit that will stick with you.

10. Cut yourself a break. Now, as I mentioned above, things happen. Schedules are not always 100% predictable or go as planned. So, while you may feel guilty about not starting that book, knitting that scarf for Aunt Rose or eating more vegetables, cut yourself some slack if you miss one time. If you didn’t start your resume on Monday as planned, then start it on another day that week. Likely, you have a good reason for not being able to do it. If you don’t have a good reason, then think about why you skipped it. Did you just not feel like it? I get it. Maybe Monday wasn’t the best day then. But, try for Tuesday. Have some grace for yourself but don’t let yourself off the hook for next time.

11. Celebrate success. Oftentimes, we forget that we did a lot of new things. We took action and we see results. We are with ourselves all day, everyday. It can be difficult to stop and think that we had some success. The checkmarks help but take breaks to reflect. Just like people who rarely see you can tell when you’ve lost weight when you can’t really see it. The same applies here. When you are in the middle of it, it is harder to see that we really did something pretty cool. Make time to be cool. Recognize you are cool and ask your partner to celebrate your coolness with you.

12. Create momentum. Doing all of these things can help create momentum. Don’t rest on your laurels. After patting ourselves on the back and basking in our coolness, keep moving. We don’t want to get caught in the trap of success and stop. Success breeds success. Action breeds action. Take a break but don’t let that break be permanent. Move on to the next thing. We all have many gifts to share and we must share them. Never stop planning, dreaming or creating visuals and lists to motivate ourselves.

I mentioned last time that I have read several personal motivation books over the last couple of years. They are sometimes called self-help books. Whatever the name of the genre, I believe reading or hearing others’ words can help us get out of our head and get inspired to act. Those books helped me get unstuck and realize that I had more to give, more to do than my job. Even though I love my job, I can do other things.

I hope you find what your “thing” is that must be done in 2021. Visualize it, write it down, share it with others and take action. Make the act of doing a habit. Cut yourself a break from time to time and celebrate your little wins. Every checkmark is a win. Checkmarks will help you build momentum to change your routine, change your life. Good luck!

When you want to do those things you never do: 12 tips to action: Part One

Many of us are rolling into a longer vacation stint because, let’s face it, we kept thinking the pandemic would break and we could actually go somewhere and wanted time to do it. Unfortunately, we find ourselves where we started in March….on our family room couch figuring out what to do with ourselves away from work.

If we are fortunate to live with our families, we can celebrate the holiday season together, which will bring some relief and joy. Some of us cannot see our family because that would involve travel and/or mixing households.

Aside from enjoying time off and the holiday season the best we can, one, two or more weeks off in December can allow us to focus on other facets of our life that we have been wanting to. I, like a lot of us, have taken up new projects and hobbies this year, which has been a very positive experience for me. Writing this weekly blog, working on a personal book about managing anxiety, working with my partner on a side hustle, letting my new Apple Watch tell me to breathe, stand and exercise. All of this has been a productive use of my time.

For years, I have wanted to do these things but never made time to do them. I made excuses for not having the time or energy to do things outside of my job. Granted, my job needs me to put in time and brain power on a daily basis but I never felt I could handle more. I thought that I needed any time outside of work to relax, read, watch TV and settle.

I still do those things but I also do a lot more with my time too. When I really stopped to think about it, I had more time than I knew. I don’t mean staying up until midnight or getting up a 4 am either. I mean I have time outside of work hours every day to work on what matters if I just found a bit more discipline.

So, I have been thinking about what finally broke my streak of inaction. I journaled for years and made lists of what I could and should do but I finally turned my wish list into an action list. I have been reflecting on what I did to make that happen.

Here are a few of my tips for shrugging off the “I don’t have the time, energy, or focus to do more” attitude.

  1. Create a vision board.
    Many of you may have heard of a vision board. I firmly believe in these. I tend to be in my head a bit and think that if I can imagine something, I can achieve it. While this is sometimes true, for the efforts that matter, I have created a vision board. I have done this two times in my life: 1) When I wanted to meet the right man. I captured images of what life would look like, feel like. I grabbed images of what we would be doing and put them in a single PowerPoint slide. 2) When I wanted to start writing more. Again, I found images online and compiled them into a PowerPoint slide. You can also print or cut out images and paste them on a board. Trust me. Having a visual of what you will look like, feel like, actions you will take, what success looks like is a huge motivator. This has worked in both instances for me. Actually, the vision board I created of the man I was supposed to meet is almost scary how closely our life resembles the images I picked a year before meeting him. Everything down to a picture of a yellow lab I grabbed 4 years before we got our Max, a yellow English Lab, is just crazy.
  2. Make a list.
    As I have written before, I am a chronic list-maker. I write (or type) everything. When you have your vision board, try and write goals next to them and actions you think you should take to achieve them. Listing your goals and supporting actions on a piece of paper or in a notepad app will help you get specific on how to spend your time to achieve your objectives. Try writing a small personal mission statement describing what you want to do at a high level above your to-do list. This will help direct your efforts and check whether they align to what you want to achieve.
  3. Don’t hide the list.
    This is an important point. In the past, I made lots of lists…lists of what I want to do, lists of action I will take, lists of accomplishments, lists of potential dates for actions, list after list. They were beautiful. The problem was they were always in a pretty notebook on a dark shelf out of sight and out of reach. I would re-visit them but only occasionally. Don’t put your lists away! Have them front and center on a clipboard, bulletin board, whiteboard, or even an open journal on your desk. Don’t let those lists of potential dreams get buried somewhere. Having the list in front of you all the time will make it hard to forget.
  4. Schedule what matters.
    I am drowning in ways to schedule my time and get reminders. I suspect you are too. Between my planner, my wall calendar, my phone, my tablet, my watch….I cannot hide. I have many devices – electronic and paper – where I cannot escape my schedule. Having time scheduled to exercise, write, knit, de-clutter the house, re-plan finances, whatever you want to achieve should be really easy today. Blocking time in the calendar and even setting a reminder, if you have a device, takes away any excuses. Now, like an alarm clock, you can always hit snooze or shut it off. Don’t do that. Keep to your schedule. That will help you achieve what you want. This is hard. I had plenty of times where I thought I just didn’t feel like doing kickboxing or nothing is coming to me when writing. Fight through it. Get it done. Ask yourself, if not now, then when?
  5. Maximize your time.
    I realize that some of us are juggling a lot if we have kids, a house, aging parents, a job, etc., etc. No doubt that some of us really don’t have a ton of time. But, think about what time do you have? 8-10 pm Wednesday nights? 6-8 am Saturday mornings? This is what I started to do; think of my days in terms of chunks of time and designate those chunks to various activities, including my job, exercise, walking the dog, writing, making a project plan for my side hustle and even watching any Food Network Baking Show. For some of you, this may be way too rigorous. You don’t think this leaves room for spontaneity or emergencies. I have had to miss a work-out because I injured my knee. I had to miss a blog when I traveled for my Dad’s health. These things come up. The key is to not let this become your permanent schedule. Resume your schedule next week. Don’t let the one-offs become excuses for why you can’t do something in the future.
  6. Get a partner in crime.
    I have to say that I am very fortunate to have a life partner who is a very motivated individual who owns his own business, raised three kids, coached little league, volunteered and managed to exercise and cook family meals. I am truly riding in his wake. When you are with people who are motivated, it is hard to not be motivated yourself. How do you feel when your best friend just lost 20 pounds? Don’t you start thinking about your own diet and exercise? When your brother just landed a huge promotion, don’t you start thinking about how to maximize your career? Your motivation partner could be a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a neighbor, a friend, a pastor. Whoever is in your life that you admire, connect with them and stay connected. Ask them to be your motivation partner to check in to keep you honest.

These are only half of the tips I have to share about being productive and meeting your goals. You may have your own. Write them down, post them on your wall and follow them. If you are stuck, read some self-help books to get inspired. Some of my favorites are written by Jen Sincero, Amber Rae, Kate Northrup, Martha Beck and Lara Casey. Any of their books are worth a read.

There is no magic pill to get what you want but putting the right structure in place for yourself makes all the difference. Spend time to do that and find a rhythm that works for you. More tips to come next week!

When someone puts the monkey on your back: 5 tips to help your team members solve problems

I used to have a boss that had a sign on her desk: “No monkeys accepted.” I would make a face every time I saw that sign as I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. Finally, I asked her the meaning behind the sign. She told me that she will not allow anyone to transfer a problem from them to her. She is there to provide counsel, to listen, to ask questions, but she refuses to assume ownership over the problem. She refuses to allow someone to put the monkey on her back.

Ah! That did make sense. It wasn’t something I really thought about early in my career. I really didn’t understand the nuances between an employee, me, and a manager, her, and what roles we needed to play. Coming out of college, this was a foreign relationship to me. Sure…I had jobs working retail where I was told what to do and basically how to do it. I even interned and temped at a few organizations, all the while being told what to do.

Moving into the professional world, having my own processes and projects to manage with a manager giving oversight was new to me. In the past, if I had a problem, I would go to the supervisor and she would solve it for me. In the corporate world, some managers still do that but others, the good ones, help their team solve their own problems.

There have been a few times where I have had an employee come to me with a problem and I have had to fight the urge to take it on. Anyone with the “fixer” gene will have this issue. You know the fixers in your life. Maybe you are one too. You cannot listen to someone expressing their problems without jumping in and solving them immediately. We can’t have ambiguity or pain; we must get clarity and ease the pain.

Even in my personal life, I fix things. Be it a broken light switch or a situation with a family member. Nothing is beyond fixing. But, you must ask yourself, is it your problem to fix? Is the person actually asking you how to fix it? (A very important question!) And, even if they are, should you be the one to fix it?

These are tough questions for those who want to help. I don’t mean to compare managing adults to parenting but there are some similarities in that we are all working with human behavior and emotion….just at different ages. When your teenage daughter comes to you with a problem, do you just take care of it or do you help educate her on what to do and have her do it? The latter builds self-sufficiency. The same is true with adults. When your team member comes to you with a problem, wouldn’t it be better for his growth, success and self-sufficiency, if you helped him solve it instead of solving it yourself?

Below are five tips on how to help others solve their problems and keep the monkeys at bay.

  1. Be there. Yeah….sounds obvious. I have seen managers go the opposite direction of fixing all the way to not listening to problems. I had a challenging situation once with a peer higher than me. One senior manager told me to fix the problem myself. He wanted nothing to do with it. Ouch. Perhaps I was the one to fix it; maybe, I should have been able to do this myself. But, I didn’t feel confident enough to handle it. To not have him there to help me was challenging. I went to him for advice. As soon as he learned I had a “problem”, the door was slammed shut. Don’t accept monkeys but allow your team members to voice their concerns. Don’t slam the door.
  2. Ask if they want your help. This is a classic one to remember. Ask your team member if they want your help or are they just venting. Sometimes, people need an outlet to share frustration. Especially in these times, I let people do that. To do nothing but gripe and complain is not healthy. However, to vent about a particular situation is normal. I follow up with….is there a problem you need to solve here? Sometimes, the problem is finding a way to accept a decision or something they deem unfair. Before you jump in to even ask questions and help them solve the problem, find out what they want from you. Sometimes, it is just an empathetic ear.
  3. Solve it together. The key here is the word “together”. When someone does ask for my help, the first thing I ask (not tell) is what do they think about the situation? What do they think is the root cause? What have they tried already? (My hope with this question is they have already tried to solve this.) What do they think we can do to solve the problem? If you lead with questions, 9 times out 10, the person will have some inkling of what to do. They just needed to talk it out; they needed a sounding board to confirm the direction they want to go is a good one. If they are truly stumped, then work it through together. Ask more questions, offer suggestions, and work through scenarios.
  4. Keep actions with the problem holder. Working through it together is more helpful than diving in and solving the problem for them. Whatever you decide together to do, keep the actions with your team member unless there is something only you can do if the problem is severe. Create a mini-action plan or approach to solve the problem but ensure your team member has skin in the game and actually works to resolve it himself.
  5. Follow up. Another item that sometimes gets overlooked is to follow up to see if what you all decided worked. If it didn’t work out, you may not need to follow up. They may come to you proactively to get more advice. If something does work, it is also important to note that it did, what worked and to give praise for solving the problem. Positive reinforcement, at any age, helps to build self-sufficiently and confidence for the next time a problem arises.

Problems can be simple or tricky. Sometimes, we need to get involved if the problem is challenging enough or we may even need to escalate. Start with asking questions, working it together and have your team member try out some actions first. Provide guidance, empathy, and support but keep your back clear of monkeys.

When someone wants to leave: 5 steps to help them make the right decision

A manager’s job involves many aspects of helping team members through their entire lifecycle at an organization – hiring, onboarding, setting expectations, developing, performing, growing, promoting (perhaps), and even exiting.

It is tough news to hear when a team member wants to leave. Sometimes, it is expected and, sometimes, it is a complete surprise. We may think that we did something wrong or they didn’t see all the potential that could have been.

I have been in both situations where I was expecting the person to find another opportunity and when the person found another opportunity that was a complete shock. Whether you are prepared or not, it can be difficult. 1) You may be genuinely disappointed that the person is leaving 2) You may immediately turn to thinking about whether you can backfill this job 3) You may think will this spur others to start looking or wonder why someone was unhappy.

Most people are not comfortable having candid conversations about how unhappy they are and, especially, if they are getting ready to look outside or are entertaining another offer. There may be things you can do to help people make an informed decision about leaving an organization. The result might be the same but there are some things you can do to help your team member make a truly informed decision.

  1. Be transparent.
    I have worked for several organizations and a common practice among all of them is to “hide” talent planning information. Someone gets identified as a high-potential employee but they never know it. Someone may be flagged as a potential successor to a leader but they never hear a word about it. If someone is an outstanding employee, don’t let this be a secret. Tell them they are being considered as a successor and work with them on an action plan to close any gaps in knowledge, skills or experience to be ready to move into that new role. When you keep this information unshared, talented people may feel they have no path and may seek another opportunity without even knowing they were being groomed for something big at their current company.
  2. Provide feedback and help them grow.
    I have written about delivering and accepting feedback. This is a critical part of a manager-employee relationship. When it is missing, no one knows how they are doing, where they may need to grow or what they can do differently or keep doing to be viewed as a high-performing employee. To retain good employees, feedback and development are usually the reason why people say they leave. Top reasons people leave are lack of career path and their manager. These two elements go hand in hand. We may think that lack of career path is the organization’s fault. This is partially true but the manager plays a key role in helping people know where they stand and how they can grow.
  3. Proactively have career conversations.
    A close cousin to development conversations are actual career conversations. There are many tools and assessments to help people understand their strengths, values and interests to determine where they want to go. I firmly believe it is the employee’s responsibility to initiate and ask for these conversations. However, if this initiative isn’t taken, I believe the manager should ask the employee to start thinking about their career and ask thoughtful questions about where they want to go. I have read in many exit interviews that my manager never had a career conversation with me. While the employee should take the lead in driving their career, the manager should be ready to engage in those conversations and even open the door for a more timid employee to make it okay to talk about career options.
  4. Be a talent broker.
    Another important role a manager can play includes connecting employees to other opportunities if they feel like they have outgrown their role or want to try something new. Some managers feel their team is THEIR team. But, really, they are enterprise employees….working for and with the entire organization. As a manager, you should want to retain a good employee even if that means they move into a new group or department. Help your team connect to other employees and other groups to learn more about other possible paths. Sometimes, an employee may come forward and state that they love the company but feel they are ready for something new. This is your cue, as a manager, to help them figure this out. Losing someone to another company because the manager didn’t want to lose good talent from their team is what we call “a regrettable loss”.
  5. Keep lines of communication open.
    Above all, have frequent conversations about your team about their roles, attitudes, feelings toward the group, their places in it, what else they need to be engaged and support their career paths. When lines are shut down or an employee doesn’t seek to have a conversation could be a bad sign. Frequent contact should help a manager decipher feelings and indicate whether someone may be disengaged or looking.

Even when practicing all of the actions above, someone talented may still end up leaving the organization. If this happens, take this as a time to reflect. Reflect on what else could have been done to keep them. Reflect on whether the role is at the right level, with the right oversight and right level of authority. This is a chance to look at your team to make sure people and work is aligned correctly. There is a chance to see if you hired at the right level and worked to establish potential career paths for people.

It can be a crushing blow to lose someone but it can also yield a fresh perspective to improve the team and how you all work together.