Monthly Archives: September 2012

Working hard doesn’t always work

Working hard is a good thing. It’s the opposite of being lazy. It signals a strong work ethic. It means you tough out challenges, stay the course, and get stuff done.

Well, sometimes that’s what working hard means.

Other times, working hard means you’re spinning your wheels, killing precious hours, and setting yourself up for a crash and burn.

If you want to break a sweat because it’s worthwhile and rewarding, go for it. A challenging and exciting project deserves your extra attention. A tough assignment with a fast-approaching deadline calls for long hours. To cross the finish line, you might need to dig deep, push yourself, and ignore the aches and pains along the way.

But too much hard work is unsustainable. It burns up your inner reserves, making you less productive and more irritable. When you’re tired, you have trouble focusing, interacting with others, and developing creative solutions. Working too hard can stop you from getting ahead.

Hard work also does not always lead to success. Innate ability, support systems, connections, timing, market forces, and serendipity come into play. If you treat every failure as a sign that you’re not working hard enough, you’re overdue for a wake-up call.

Being super busy, burning the midnight oil and skimping on rest ought to trigger big questions like: Are you working hard on the right things? Do your efforts really make a difference? Is the payoff worth the time you’re investing? Why are you working so hard? What are you trying to prove? Are you being taken advantage of? Is there an easier way to get the work done? Could you add more value elsewhere?

Because working hard doesn’t always work:

 1) Take regular breaks.  Instead of working more than a couple hours at a time, get up from your desk. Stretch or take a walk. Don’t skip lunch. Use your vacation days, even if this involves just kicking back at home.

 2) Get enough sleep.  Research shows that most of us need 7 to 8 hours to feel fully renewed. If you’re getting less, tweak your routine. Set an earlier bedtime or a later wakeup time. Shut down all technology, including your computer, TV, and smart phone, 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep.

3) Maximize the value of your efforts, not the hours you spend on a task.  Make your work count. Create significant impact. Short bursts of high productivity beat long hours of minimum productivity.

4) Be more purposeful and less reactionary in the way you work. Have you ever watched a tennis match? The players who win usually have killer serves and well-placed shots. The players who lose tend to be more defensive, frantically running up and down the court. It’s hard to respond to every single ball that comes your way. Instead, focus on where you serve your shots and place your returns.

Work hard when you want to and when you must. But don’t let it be your default mode because it doesn’t always work.

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Photo by: mag3737, Tom Magliery

Breaking bad habits

Every day, you perform actions based on routine instead of deliberate decisions. Habits spare you from spending too much time and energy on daily, mundane tasks.

Good habits like healthy eating and regular exercise have positive effects on your life. But bad habits like overeating junk food and watching too much TV don’t serve you well.

Breaking bad habits takes more than strong self-control or sheer willpower. Changing a habit requires that you understand how it is formed in the first place.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that every habit starts with a neurological loop of three parts: First, there’s the cue or trigger that causes a behavior to unfold automatically. This includes the time of day, your emotional state, your location, or the people around you. Next is the routine or the behavior itself.  Third is the reward that satisfies a certain craving. The reward is something your brain remembers and likes. You repeat the behavior because you want to receive the reward again.

With the loop in mind, you can begin to break bad habits by using the following steps:

Observe your current habits. Although your behavior might have started out as a deliberate choice, it gets easier to overlook once it becomes routine. The first step is to notice your routine and the cue that triggers it.

One habit I’d like to break is having late lunches, after 2 p.m., on work days. The main trigger is telephone calls from clients streaming in during lunch time. I normally postpone lunch to take the calls. The reward I get is feeling a sense of satisfaction for being responsive to clients. At first, my delaying lunch after 2 p.m. was a conscious choice. But now that I have identified it as a bad habit, I can take steps to replace it with a new routine.

Find out what really drives your routine. Duhigg recommends that you tweak your routine so it provides a different reward. For example, instead of taking the elevator down to the cafeteria to buy a cookie, go outside and walk around the block, or buy an apple.  Do you just need to stretch your legs? (A walk around the block is enough.) Are you just hungry? (An apple will suffice). Experimenting with the rewards helps you discover which cravings fuel your behavior.

In my case, the telephone calls streaming in during lunch time could be my cue to break from work. I could let the calls go to voice mail and respond to my messages shortly after I return from lunch. Most likely, I would discover that my new routine allows me to timely respond to calls just as well, if not better (because then I’d be refreshed and not hungry). By tweaking my routine, I could begin to create a new habit.

Have an action plan. Know the specific steps you will take to reshape your bad habits. Replace them with new habits that provide similar rewards and satisfy old cravings.

Set a realistic goal. Then break down the goal into manageable, mini-steps that you can choose to do until they become part of your new routine.  For example, if you want to start exercising at the gym, pack your gym bag the night before or have a friend who works out meet you there. After you complete the action, treat yourself to something you really like or enjoy. This will reinforce the behavior and encourage your neurology to accept the pattern.

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Changing a habit involves incremental progress. Celebrate the small wins to keep your momentum going. Intentionally practice your new behavior, perhaps at scheduled times, to allow it to become automatic as fast as possible. The more quickly a new behavior turns into a routine, the less you have to rely on self-control and willpower to drop the old habit.

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Photo by: 350.org

Networking for introverts (and other anti-schmoozers)

Introverts rarely see themselves as natural networkers. They are inner oriented, think before they speak, energize by being alone, guard their privacy, and prefer one-on-one conversations.

Even some extroverts, who are externally focused, love to talk, energize with others, enjoy public sharing, and prefer group conversations, are uncomfortable networkers.

A common reason is that networking is often associated with schmoozing with strangers, working a room, manipulating others, and exchanging as many business cards as possible without forming true connections.

Like it or not, networking helps you reach your full potential, gain access to opportunities, grow your business, get the promotion, accomplish goals faster, lead others, and stay engaged in your work. Because networking is important, introverts and those who dread it still need to do it. You can redefine the process and do it on your own terms so it becomes more palatable.

Networking does not have to be selfish, phony, conniving, political, or terribly time consuming. It simply involves making connections and cultivating relationships with a variety of people, one person at a time, to create mutually beneficial outcomes.

Within your network, you share information, make introductions, exchange referrals, provide recommendations, and return favors. While there might be some quid pro quo, the best approach is to build your network before you need it and give more to others than you take from them.

Networking can actually be fun if you know how to use your strengths, tendencies and preferences. You don’t need to be a fabulous talker or charming comedian to be a great networker. You don’t have to be an extrovert to enjoy the process.

As an introvert myself, I admit that attending networking events to meet new people is not on my list of top 10 favorite activities. They can be draining for an introvert like me.

This doesn’t mean I’m shy or I don’t enjoy getting to know people. I love public speaking as well as teaching and coaching large groups. I love sharing a good laugh and great stories with others. But if I’m networking all the time, especially at purely social events, I get bored and wiped out. I need to recharge by being alone.

Introverts get a bad rap for being standoffish, dull, unconfident, withdrawn, arrogant or slow. But introversion is not an illness to be cured or a weakness to be overcome. It can be a valuable asset in networking if you know how to leverage it. It doesn’t have to get in your way of building a strong network.

The following are steps that introverts and anti-schmoozers can use to network on their own terms:

Capitalize on your preferences and tendencies. Being a deep listener and keen observer allows you create meaningful, sustainable relationships. When you are focused and fully present, you convey a genuine, trustworthy demeanor.

Listen for clues on what really interests the person and what you find interesting about the person. Ask questions about it. Show up early before the party grows large. Talk one on one or in small groups. Large group conversations are not required.

Shift out of your comfort zone every now and then. Be the first to introduce yourself, make eye contact, smile and extend your hand to another. Be prepared to share appropriate amounts of personal information and stories. Your asking all the questions and revealing nothing about yourself can feel like an interrogation. It’s hard for most people to stay engaged in a one-way conversation.

Preserve your energy. You need alone time to decompress and recharge.  Spending at least 30 minutes by yourself is especially recommended right before and after you attend a networking event.

Instead of staying late for cocktails and small talk, give yourself permission to leave in an hour or two. Just get to know a few interesting folks, connect with the host, speaker or other key persons, and exchange contact information before you take off.

Think about what you can offer and give it generously. When you strive to contribute value to those you know, networking feels more purposeful and less political. Those you help are more willing to help you in return.

If someone is seeking opportunities outside your area, offer to connect him with those who can provide what he needs. Ideally, the connection should benefit both parties. Recommend books, movies, music and restaurants. Share your industry knowledge.

Join organizations that interest you and become an active participant. Get on the board, volunteer to plan an event, or serve as a formal speaker or facilitator. Having a specific role at the event makes networking easier.

Follow up with those you meet and cultivate your connections.  Build relationships of different types, constantly and consistently. While it’s important to have close relationships, weaker connections also come in handy. People you rarely see can still offer critical information and open doors for you.

Maintaining your network does not have to take huge amounts of time. For your strong connections, you could meet one on one for coffee, brunch, lunch, happy hour or dinner every month or so to maintain ties. For your weaker connections, you could send a short email or make a quick telephone call once or twice a year to stay in touch. Share photos of your travels and special occasions or provide news on major changes in your life.

Start with those you know. Social media like LinkedIn and Facebook help you find people, keep your contacts updated, and revive and preserve ties. While I am still not on Facebook, I joined LinkedIn three months ago and used it to reconnect with people I had lost touch with 10 years ago. I met with three of them to catch up, share news, and have lunch together.

Reach out to new people, focusing on topics of mutual interest. Is there something about the person that you admire or inspires you? Did you hear them speak at an event or teach a class? Make contact, invite them to an event, or ask to meet them over coffee. Don’t take it personally if they can’t make time for you.

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Genuine networking is not about people taking advantage of others. It’s about people building connections, cultivating relationships, and helping out each other.

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Photo by: Trebor Scholz