“Sometimes “No” is the kindest word.”
~ Vironika Tugaleva ~
Ginger feels as though she is drowning in a tsunami. Her inbox is piled high with projects, some of which are way past due. Her email is full of unanswered questions and her text message “ding” is ringing in her ears about every 60 seconds. If she doesn’t do something soon, her work life is going to spin completely out of control. Not to mention she’s losing sleep and shortchanging personal relationships, just to keep her head above water.
Since she’s already heavily involved in market research, Ginger decides to use her extraordinary research skills to come up with a plan for stopping the impending disaster. After scanning a number of relevant books and articles, Ginger comes up with a four-point plan for minimizing her stress overload. Primarily, she realizes that she needs to start saying “no,” a lot.
Step 1: Find out why
Step 2: Find a new pattern
Step 3: Find the “off” button
Step 4: Find support
Ginger figures that 30 days is time enough to get her new plan into place. Just deciding to take action has already made her feel less stressed.
1. Find out why. Ginger’s research introduces her to a new acronym—FOMO. In this day of information overload, lots of people suffer from this condition: Fear Of Missing Out. What if you say no to your boss when he asks you to resolve the next department crisis? He’ll think less of you, he’ll never ask you for help again. You won’t get promoted, and ultimately you’ll be laid off. That’s exactly what FOMO will do to you. What if you don’t read and answer every email the minute it comes in? You’ll soon be ignored by your colleagues and you might miss out on an important new assignment you’ve been craving. Getting rid of FOMO is the first step toward work balance.
2. Find a new pattern. We are all, to one extent or another, people-pleasers. We want our coworkers to like us, not to mention our bosses. We want to be seen as team players, major contributors. The old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” gets a lot of us trapped on an endless treadmill of tasks and projects, some of which may be virtually meaningless when it comes to career advancement. So the new pattern goes like this: next time someone asks you to take on a new project or step into an emergency situation, you take a step back. Ask why. Get more information about the situation. Take time to think it over and see if it fits your own agenda, goals, and responsibilities. Then make the person who asked feel good about hearing your “no.” We are all too afraid of disappointing someone. The truth is, they will move on. A simple, “I’d love to say yes, Randy, but if I do, I’ll shortchange the projects I’m already working on. You wouldn’t want me to do that to you, and I don’t want to do it to anyone else either. I can’t give you my best right now, but ask me another time, and let’s see if we can get to a yes.” This lets the other person know that you’re doing him or her a favor by not taking on something you can’t do well. And next time might be different.
3. Find the “off” button. This is where technology becomes your friend. Turn off the signals that tell you every time an email lands in your inbox, or a text message arrives on your cell phone. Check these on a regular basis, of course, but don’t put yourself at their mercy. Program your email to sort your incoming messages—important clients in one folder, your boss in another. You might even go so far as to get two email addresses—one for people who need to reach you immediately, and one for everybody else.
4. Find support. It’s a good idea to talk over your strategy with your boss, of course. Take the approach that you know you’re doing less than your best and you want to create space to improve your performance. Depending on your situation, you might ask to be dropped from certain projects or committees, or you might ask for short term help to clear out the backlog.
Ginger was lucky that she recognized her problem before it caused her serious trouble. Long term work and communications overload can damage your health, your relationships, and your work performance. Ginger took steps to resolve her situation, and over time she learned to say “no” in a way that made others feel she was doing them a favor.
Are you facing a personal tsunami at work? Email Joel and get some tips on how you can avoid the oncoming disaster.
Talkback: What’s your strategy for saying no? Have you successfully conquered FOMO? Share your experience here.
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“For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.”
~ Alice Kahn ~
Client Rob Asks: The last time we talked, we discussed my urgent need to plan a vacation and I’ve been working on that. However, you also mentioned “unplugging,” getting completely away from my laptop, cell phone etc. I’m just not sure I can do that. Even though I’m on vacation, I owe it to my team to be available if an emergency comes up.
Coach Joel Answers: Rob, you have FOMO. It’s a common condition in our technological society. FOMO stands for “Fear of Missing Out.” It’s a real addiction, according to a recent article in World of Psychology. Their definition is: the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what you’re currently doing.
FOMO is why teens text while driving, while having dinner with their parents, and probably while sleeping. Heaven forbid that a friend might be going to a party, a movie, or the mall—and they missed it. You have the same attitude toward your work. You truly believe your job, your boss, and your co-workers can’t get along without you.
The secret, even before you leave on that vacation we discussed, is to practice unplugging. Disconnect, disengage, catch your breath. Some people can do this cold turkey. Others have to take a more measured approach. Start on the weekend. Try to go for 24 hours without answering your phone, checking email, looking at Facebook, or even turning on the TV or the radio. If you can’t take it for 24 hours, start with four and work up from there.
Then when it’s time to actually take that vacation you’re planning, you will be able to unplug completely. A vacation is about rest, relaxation, recovery. It’s a time to recharge your creative batteries. Get completely away from the business with no interruptions. No cell phone, computer, or email. You may be so addicted to being plugged in right now that you can’t go 15 minutes without checking your e-mail. This is neither healthy nor productive. Make sure your boss and your team members understand that you will not be reachable during your time off.
Somewhere along the line you’ve started to believe that you need to be available 24/7 to your boss, your co-workers, probably even your neighbors and friends–because, you know, someone might need something from you and being needed makes you feel important and valued. Unfortunately, technology makes that 24/7 access not only possible to achieve, but almost impossible to escape. It’s time to cut the cord—literally.
Think you might have FOMO? Write down a plan today to begin disengaging from technology. Do what works for you, whether it’s an hour at a time or cold turkey. It will improve both your mental and physical health.
Talkback: Have you unplugged successfully? How did you do it? Share your story here.
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“They’ve asked me to do this temporarily. I don’t know what temporarily means. Life is temporary.”
~ Bob Schieffer ~
Client Patrick Asks: Does it every make sense to just make a career out of temping? Does this make me look like I can’t hold or don’t want a “real” job—that I lack ambition?
Coach Joel Answers: That depends on your life situation and your personal motivations. For example, if you like the freedom to work when you want and pursue other interests at the same time, temping is ideal. Sometimes temping can give you a higher rate of pay, but it often lacks the benefits and job security of full time employment. You could easily work fewer hours and make more money, so that makes it attractive. And many people like the challenge of getting acquainted with new companies, new people, new responsibilities.
Here are a few more benefits to add into the equation, if you’re considering a long term career as a temp.
- Temping enhances your resume. It shows you have a variety of skills, as well as the ability to fit easily into different environments.
- Temping enhances your network. You’ll meet a lot more people, get to know them and get them to know you through working temporary assignments. Who knows when the guy in the next cubicle can open the door to a whole new career or even introduce you to your future spouse?
- Temping keeps your skill set sharp. You know that sign on the wall at the gym—”Use it or lose it?” The same thing applies to your professional abilities. Often you go into a new assignment wondering how in the world you’ll every figure it out. Then you do, and there’s another win you can tell future employers about.
- Temping can facilitate a major career change. Let’s say you’ve spent your life so far in sales but you see a brighter future in IT. Maybe you’ve taken some courses or gotten some volunteer experience, but you’ve got no track record. If you can land yourself a temporary position, even at an entry-level wage, you’ll start building toward the career you really want.
In today’s economy, temping makes a lot of sense from the employer point of view as well. According to research conducted by Forbes, 36 percent of US companies will hire contract or temporary workers this year, up from 28 percent in 2009, according to the survey of more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals. They are maintaining their productivity while reducing their risk. That presents a tremendous opportunity to someone like you. If temping feels like a good place to be, I’d say go for it.
If you think temping may have potential for you, make a list of five action items you could do this week that would get you started down the temporary path.
Talkback: Are you (or have you been) a successful temp? How did you do it? Share your best advice here.
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“You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life”
~ Heather Schuck ~
Client Karen Asks: I feel like I’m being pulled in all directions at once. My boss wants higher productivity, my family wants more time with me. Is balancing work and a personal life hard to do for most people?
Coach Joel Answers: It’s becoming an increasingly common problem in today’s hyper-competitive world. In a survey conducted by Strategy One, a global research and consulting firm they found that 89% of 1,043 Americans they surveyed state that work/life balance is a problem for them.
If you’re feeling out of balance right now, I recommend you shift your mindset with these ideas:
- Accept that you can’t please everyone. If you try, the only person who ends up not being pleased is you!
- Remember that you and your needs are important. Ask yourself: where do I need to be in order to get my needs met right now?
- Set boundaries and stick to them. Your boundaries will protect you when work becomes challenging.
- Keep your expectations of yourself realistic. One of the great myths of all time is that “You can have it all.”
- Underpromising will help you take off some of the pressure. Don’t try to be a hero or a superstar. Stop trying to look better than your colleagues.
Obviously, you have a challenging career. That makes it almost inevitable that you’ll find yourself consumed in work. There are several ways you can prevent this from getting out of control.
- Set goals and priorities for both your personal and professional life. This will help you decide how to dedicate time and energy to both sides of your existence.
- Develop some new and exciting personal interests.
- Determine what situations at work or at home you can and cannot control.
- We’ve already mentioned boundaries. Learn to say “No” when requests go beyond your boundaries or don’t fit with your goals and priorities.
- When you feel like your work/life balance is getting out of control, talk to your boss and discuss ways you can regain balance. Most companies realize that a happy employee is a more productive employee.
Very few companies expect their employees to have no life outside of work. Those that do find themselves with a high frequency of burnout, increased health care costs due to stress, and excessive turnover. Having a perfect work and life balance is seldom possible. But making thoughtful adjustments along the way can help you achieve a reasonable compromise.
Read through the lists in this article again and write down five things you’re not doing now that would help bring more balance to your life. Implement at least one of these a week for the next five weeks and the reevaluate how you feel.
Talkback: Do you feel in balance more than out of balance? What are your strategies for creating and maintaining work-life balance?
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“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”
~ Earl Wilson ~
Rob’s world seems to be spinning out of control. His desk is piled high with stacks of project data. His email inbox keeps sending him overload messages. He’s often talking on his mobile phone and his office phone at the same time. He’s exhausted during the day but he can’t sleep at night. Why? Rob hasn’t taken a real vacation in more than three years.
Rob oversees a team of 25 people, with four direct reports. He consistently works 60-65 hour weeks. He’s very hesitant to even cut back on his hours because he doesn’t know how he’ll get it all done and still meet his bottom line numbers. A vacation seems like a distant dream. Besides, if he is gone even for a few days, his boss might figure out he’s not indispensable.
One day, over coffee, Rob’s co-worker, Janene, shares an article about how vacations from work improve productivity. The article says:
If you don’t use your vacation days
- Relationships suffer
- Health deteriorates
- Enthusiasm disappears
- Productivity goes down
- Burnout and depression result
- Life balance ceases to exist
Rob realizes that every one of those factors is true for him. The article goes on to discuss the true value of vacations:
A vacation benefits you because
- It improves job satisfaction by minimizing burnout
- Relationships with co-workers and family improve
- Your morale turns positive
- Productivity and creativity increase
Rob is still floundering in his mountain of paperwork when he realizes it’s time for his monthly call with his business coach. He hasn’t met any of his coaching benchmarks for the month so he decides to throw the whole vacation issue in his coach’s lap and ask for advice. If you see yourself in this picture, here are four of the coach’s tips to help you get off the treadmill and reclaim your life and your sanity.
1. Ask for time off when there aren’t any major projects or deadlines.
Yes, it would be great if you could hop on a plane tomorrow, but that’s not meeting either the company’s needs or your best interests. Instead, start your own mental vacation by planning. Where would you like to go? Are you an active vacationer—hiking, whitewater rafting, sailing? Or would you rather spend time at a spa or a retreat? Start to collect brochures and trip information. Pick three or four dates that might be possible.
2. Look at your current workload and choose a time off after a major project is complete.
You don’t want to just drop everything and go, leaving pieces behind for your co-workers or your boss to pick up. Determine a completion date for your most critical project and develop a plan to delegate other responsibilities to your direct reports. As a negotiating point when talking to your boss (see below) offer to work ahead on your part of a project so others can fill in around you while you’re away.
3. Give plenty of notice
The more lead time you provide, the more prepared your boss can be. What’s realistic depends a lot on your own workload, your team situation, and your company’s culture and guidelines about taking time off. Have three or four possible dates in mind so your boss can have some alternatives to think about.
4. Request the time off in-person
Never request vacation time in an email. Talk to your boss in person and do it when he or she is in a good mood and less likely to be stressed or overwhelmed. This could be on a Friday afternoon, but definitely not first thing Monday morning!
Need more ammunition? There’s plenty of research, old and new, to support the time-off concept. A study done over 100 years ago by Dr. Ernst Abbe, a German researcher, evaluated work schedules at Zeiss Optical Works and found that reducing hours by more than 10 percent actually increased worker output. In 1914, Henry Ford appalled his peers by moving production from a six-day to a five-day week. Output increased, while production costs decreased.
There’s a lesson here. Time off is an important part of your work life. You’ve earned it—now take it.
This week, make a list of five dream vacations. Research online, get brochures from a travel agent, and write down some potential dates. Write down a target date to talk to your boss.
Talkback: When was your last vacation? How did you discuss your plans with your boss and ask for time off? Share your story here.
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