Realign your efforts or your goals?

My recent posts were a 5-part series on reaching job satisfaction, one of which discussed the vital element of professional motivation. It touched on knowing what you want to be known for professionally, what you consider is the peak of your career. By getting a basic understanding of what motivates you professionally you have a better chance in lining your efforts and behaviours up with your career goals.

Have you all of a sudden become aware that what you set out to do to achieve your career goals is completely out of sync with what you’re doing now? Slowly but surely over time your efforts and actions have taken a natural life of their own and are set onto autopilot. Their trajectory is completely off course from your original plan and carrying on as you are means you’ll imminently miss the mark.

Before you beat yourself up about it, you might want to consider if your actions have gone off-piste for a reason, or in other words that they have organically steered you to a better path, one that you subconsciously decided is more in tune with what you want, rather than what you think you want.

How to decide if you need to realign your efforts or goals

You see, sometimes your subconscious provides its own nudges to guide you into what you should be doing, a bit like your ‘gut instinct’. It’s something that you can’t justify or even need to be aware of, it just knows what is best for you without actually articulating it to you. That would be too easy.

Therefore if you were to be all of a sudden startled at this suspected misalignment and try to readjust your efforts to get back on track to your original plan, you might be scuppering the subliminal message your mind has been trying to tell you all this time.

Deciding on whether you need to realign your efforts or your goals ties back to your true professional motivation, which may well have changed since you first considered it. You know more than you did before so it stands to reason that your motivation has evolved into something new, more complex, or more simple.

If what you’re doing now is taking you onto a different path, question yourself why this might be. Is there a hidden message your mind is trying to tell you, for example, leading you to a point that will give you more satisfaction and accomplishment or more in tune with how you are as a person? Or, are you avoiding the less that desirable but necessary steps to get to your goal and instead just directing yourself down the path of least resistance?

If you still want the goal you set out for but your actions are taking you on a different path, rather than try to change the things you’ve already done (note: impossible), are there ways of incorporating these into your realigned path? Are there new skills you’ve inadvertently picked up that can actually be really useful in your realignment? It’s still perfectly acceptable (not that you need acceptance!) to say no to both of these and decide to draw a line under what you’ve done and hop back onto your original path. Any concepts of quitting, flaking out and all that other negative rubbish should be immediately disregarded – it’s far better to get back on board to your original plan after acknowledging you’ve veered off course than to carry on the diversion to save face. If there’s no link to what you have done to your goals, these are the only two things you can do and the former gets you to where you want to be. So poo to the naysayers.

If you realised you want a different goal as a result of your recent actions, then changing your goal is a lot easier. This isn’t to say it’s the better option – it’s the option you should choose if you really want a new goal, not because it’s convenient and more easy than to get back on track to your original goal. The goal doesn’t necessarily need to be the consequence of your veered off actions but more times than not, the veerage is down to your mind realigning your behaviours for you.

Realigneffortsorgoalsinfog

Again, disregard the naysayers who think you hop from one goal to another. I touched on Emilie Wapnick’s widely recognised concept of Multipotenialism in my post about having too many interests – give this another read if you’re having doubts. Adjusting your end goal to meet your current needs and wants (or to anticipate future needs and wants) is your business and yours alone. Being self-aware enough to know when to change course is an underrated skill but sadly one that is misconceived by others at times.

So fret not that you have all of sudden become aware that you aren’t where you want to be, or thought you should be. Assess what actions you’ve taken and the behaviours you’ve shown and compare these to your original goal. Whether you decide to realign your goal to these actions, or realign your actions to your original goal, do what you think is right for you and try not to care how this will be perceived by others. At the end of the day, those around you who are satisfied with their careers will know that the path isn’t a straight line and requires changes of plan once in a while…

 

 

Leading brainstorms in 5 easy steps

Last week I shared 3 easy steps for preparing a brainstorming session and explained that putting in the effort and hard work into these steps will make leading the session a lot easier, as well as maximising its effectiveness.

As a recap, the 3 steps to prepare a session were:

  1. Identifying the objective – why is there a need for a brainstorm, what are the desired outcomes, how will these be presented to the end user
  2. Additional information – what information will you need to give you and the group some background knowledge to put the session into context
  3. Format – which approach will you take?

Now you have prepared the session, you should hopefully know feel more confident in leading the session. These 5 steps should help you:

Step 1 – Introduction

It’s crucial to set some basic ground rules for any type of brainstorm session. This should always include the likes of:

  • No belittling or dismissing ideas – all ideas, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous, are allowed
  • No interruptions
  • Respect other people’s views and communication style
  • If the group wanders into a tangent, explain that the idea will be noted separately (so not to lose any good ideas) and that the group should come back to the main topic in the time they have.

The introduction should also include a brief summary to the group about why they’re in the group, the reasoning behind the session, the objectives, and how the findings will be used.

Step 2 – Leading the session

At this point, most of the hard work has already been done. You’ve prepared, you’ve told everyone why they’re here and what you expect of them. Your main job throughout the session is to make sure people stick to the ground rules and that each attendee has their chance to participate.

You will also need to make sure the input is balanced, for example, if someone is doing most of the talking, thank them for their input and tactfully ask if someone would like to add to their point or come up with a new idea. This opens the floor to everyone else, briefly but professionally silences the person doing all the talking and subconsciously gives permission to those who feel they need it to speak up. If there is someone who seems disengaged or just doesn’t provide any input, use this time to single them out by asking for their specific view.

Just don’t single out too many people – if a lot of people are disengaged or not participating, it might be appropriate to ask the group why this is. Word it in a way that isn’t accusatory but more inquisitive for example “The group isn’t coming up with a lot of collective ideas, do you think we’re missing something? Do you feel this approach isn’t the right one for idea generation? Do we need to work on this individually and reconvene at a later date equipped with more information? If so, let’s discuss what this information should be and decide how we will find it.”

But what happens if there’s a lot of enthusiasm and participation? Keeping an eye on the time is essential. If there a number of sections or topics you need to get through, you must make sure you stick to the allotted times. Going over time on one topic will have a knock-on effect for ALL following topics. However, enthusiasm shouldn’t be killed purely because an agenda you have created states the group needs to move on to the next topic.

Over time you will be able to figure out a way of allowing the time to go a bit over and shuffling the timings for the other topics. This of course is more restrictive the less time you have, but if you choose to do this, make sure you inform the group so they are confident the time is being looked after. If push comes to shove and it’s evident a lot more time is needed, you can always look into the option of having a follow up meeting at a later point.

Step 3 – Collating and relaying the information

About 10 minutes before the session comes to an end, you will need to start to discuss as a group which ideas are going to be taken forward. So that no ideas are lost (for example they might not be appropriate for one particular issue but is a good enough idea to not waste) you might find it helpful in categorising the ideas. Below are some examples of categorising your ideas:

  • Immediate action/Non-immediate but important action/Park for another project
  • Action within a month/Action within 6 months/Action within a year/No immediate action
  • Actioned by Team A/Actioned by Team B/Actioned by Team C
  • Needs approving/No approval but needs referring to/No approval or reference needed
  • It’s worth have a separate category for any ideas that weren’t related to this topic

Once the ideas have been categorised, relay the information by category to the group. This helps everyone structure the ideas in a logical pattern, but also highlights how ideas will be acted upon.

Step 4 – Formatting the outcomes

After the session, begin to format the ideas in the best suitable way, which should have already been determined in step 1 (third bullet point). Usually you could summarise the ideas by both category and as a whole. In some instances, you might find highlighting key themes in the ideas, or starting off with the big ideas that then feed into the ones with less impact. As with any presentation of data, it is all about the audience. How do they want to use the information? What do they really need to know? What would constitute as being too much information? Can the data be presented visually, for example with a word cloud to highlight common themes, or with a graph, or even infographic?

Step 5 – Follow up

Be sure to keep the brainstorm group updated with how the information is being used. It can sometimes be disheartening when you take part in a session and you hear nothing from the lead again, especially after having put the effort into the session. Even if the ideas haven’t gone any further, for example with management, let the group know this, ending it with a general “I will continue to chase and will contact you if there is any progress”. This means you won’t have to keep updating them on a regular basis if there is nothing to update them on.

It is also important to follow up with the end user. If the findings have been presented to the end user (see the post for tips on presentations) it is useful for them to also receive the same or more information by a follow up email for them to peruse in their own time. It’s always courteous too to remind them that should they need any more information or more work done on this (eg to include you and/or the group in any follow up actions) for them to get in touch.

I’ve taken these 5 steps on leading a brainstorm, and the 3 steps we looked over when preparing for brainstorms, and combined them in an awesome infographic which I’ll share on The Avid Doer’s social media accounts, and put at the end of this post.

Brainstorms are a great way not only to collect and formalise ideas, but to also bring different teams and people together whose differing perspectives can really add a fresh light on an issue. Essentially the success of a brainstorm lies within the solutions that are generated; making sure the preparation, format and facilitation of the session only makes the generation of solutions more time effective.

It’s also important to remember that as long as the solutions are found, the group have a say in how they are found. If you have a certain way in which you wish them to reach the end goal, but the group are veering to a more productive or innovative approach, it’s OK to take their lead and ‘roll with it’ – granted that the desired outcomes will be met in the same (if not less) amount of time.

Now, of course leading any sort of group, including brainstorms, involves an element of public speaking but as avid doers, we recognise this is something we need to work on to succeed in our careers. Even if your dream career doesn’t involve any public speaking, it’s a skill worth developing, especially if you consider yourself as an introvert or shy (please note these are two completely different things).

Over time, I will share ways that have helped me overcome these jitters, as well as inviting guest writers to share their tips on confidence. In the meantime the post I wrote on presentations offers a few pointers on how to handle speaking to a group of people.

 

Preparing and leading brainstorms

15 productive things to do on your commute

Getting the most out of your commute is something we could all get to grips with, considering that the UK’s average commute is 58 minutes according to City AM. And if you live in London, that commute is increased to 81 minutes to and from work. Most commuters dread this part of their working life, especially in the winter when the heater’s broken, the seats are wet from coats and umbrellas, and everybody seems to have a cold that seemingly prevents them from covering their mouths when they sneeze.

Most have also developed a number of coping mechanisms to include their commute time to their daily productivity. Commutes can be a nice way to separate work from home, a transition period, a defined punctuation of time that helps shift our mindset.

Today I am going to share 15 ways to make the most out of your commute and maximise its productivity potential. These are listed in a way that assumes most commutes are driving, cycling, walking, and catching public transport, and I note which way of commute is most appropriate to each activity using D, C, W and PT respectively (in case you assume knitting is perfectly acceptable while driving, which, just to note, IT IS NOT).

Now I’m hooked on making them, I’ve put these into an infographic at the end of the post.

  1. Listen to podcasts (D/C/W/PT)

I am a recent convert to podcasts and, quite frankly, I cannot get enough of them. Using the commute time to absorb information is not only a great way to pass the time, or to learn more about a particular topic, or catch up with the latest episode of a serial drama, but it’s also a very passive and relaxing way to absorb the information. If you haven’t given them a go, please try them out! There’s a podcast for nearly every subject from business to confidence, cooking to music, comedy sketches to serial dramas.

  1. Listen to music (D/C/W/PT)

With a multitude of pocket-sized devices, I don’t need to remind you that anyone can listen to music on the go now. Using your commute to pump yourself up before work, or deflate after a day of work (music styles should vary, unless you like relaxing to Metallica) is another passive activity that fills the time, but also can have huge mental health benefits.

  1. Listen to…nothing (D/C/W/PT)

Precisely that. Nothing. Listen to, or do, nothing. Much like listening to music, when you just sit in silence, either being present in the moment or shutting out all external noises, it helps massively to prepare you for the day ahead, or deflates you after a stressful day. This is particularly good for days which are information-heavy, or, as other introverts can relate, very people-y.

  1. Learn a new language (D/C/W/PT)

Strictly speaking, you could do this as a driver, cyclist or walker, however it’s probably easier if you learn a new language with the writing in front of you. But fitting this often overlooked skill into your commute will really broaden your general linguistic skills, open you to new culture, and look fancy amongst those around you.

  1. Socialise (D/C/W/PT)

With work and daily life taking up a lot of our time, we are all guilty of not socialising as much as we used to. Using this dead time between work and home gives you the opportunity to call a friend, start a group chat or FaceTime a family member, without it encroaching on your time at home. You could even socialise in person (a novel idea!) by car-pooling, walking with a friend or catching a train home with a colleague. I know someone who has even developed a ‘train family’ who celebrate birthdays and Christmas together by throwing catered and decorated parties…on the train. Mix it up a bit. If you’re an introvert, you’re time at home is not only precious, but essential to recuperate from peopling at work and sometimes visiting friends immediately after work might be mentally exhausting.

  1. Organise your day ahead (D/W/PT)

Having a dedicated time to your day to make sure future deadlines and appointments are sorted really helps in the long run to avoid time management related stress. Even drivers can organise their diaries by speaking to Siri, or the like. You can do this going home from work too and organise tomorrow’s appointments, especially if you’re one to dwell on upcoming meetings in the evenings.

  1. Listening to a mindfulness app (W/PT)

Mindfulness apps are forever becoming more and more popular as people begin to realise there’s more to them than airy fairy flute music but proper backed-up science that proves the benefits of mindfulness. Again, this is just another way to ease yourself to and from a day of work, and something to try out that you might not feel compelled to do when you’re at home with distractions. I haven’t included drivers in this activity, as although most exercises can be done with your eyes open, it’s probably not the safest to zone out while driving.

  1. Exercise (C/W/PT)

Who doesn’t love a bit of exercise? Only a selected few unfortunately. For those who can’t seem to find time to fit exercise into their day (or actively find ways of not fitting it in…), incorporating it into your commute is a great start. As your commute is a necessary evil and there is no way of avoiding it, making exercise as part of your commute makes it routine and more easy to commit. The type of exercise is limited to walking, cycling (either the whole or part of the commute), power-walking and jogging but it can be really enjoyable…on a dry day. Even if you catch a train or bus, getting off a stop or two (or more) earlier and walking the rest of the way, it still counts.

  1. Read a blog (PT)

Catching up on your favourite blog (like this one!), or blogs, is another great way to absorb information. If you like to read anyway, then you find this way of absorbing information is just as easy and passive as listening to a podcast. Be it a blog on a personal interest of yours or something related to work, anything goes.

  1. Write a blog (PT)

Nothing out there doing it for you? Write a blog that you feel the blogosphere is missing. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be missing it; if writing a blog is something you already do, or something you think you will enjoy doing, then using your commute as a time to write for it is a perfect time. It also encourages a daily habit of it, one of the most important aspect to a successful blog. About 75% of my posts are written on the train going to and from work – I type it out on my phones notepad and paste it into an email to myself, so you don’t even need to drag your laptop around.

  1. Read a book (PT)

Similar to number 7, only in book format. Again, it can be your favourite genre (I like a grisly whodunit), something to do with work, or something entirely new.

  1. Write a book (PT)

Similar to number 8. Replace ‘blog’ with ‘book’, ‘blogosphere’ with ‘book shops’ and ‘posts’ with ‘pages’.

  1. Work on a side hustle (PT)

If you have a yearning to start your own business or have one on the side as a side hustle, using your commute to work on this adds to the input while not eating into work time and home time. Obviously there are certain things you might not be able to do on a train, for example if you’re a blacksmith, but the related admin tasks can easily be done using a phone, tablet, or good old fashioned notepad. There are some side hustles people might feel they could do on a train for example knitting, graphic design or social media marketing.

  1. Study a course (PT)

The power that is online or distance learning enables you to learn new skills from the comfort of your own home…or your commute. Most people who take online courses feel as though they struggle to commit to a schedule or find a time to do it; making this a part of your commute ensures you can commit to a regular schedule and find the time to do it. If you look after a home and family, doing this means you get to get stuck into your course without distractions or feeling obligated to do things around the house.

  1. Work (PT)

Although this goes against the whole concept of switching off after work, some people find that they can get more done on the way to and from work as it’s mostly distraction-free. They see themselves as not officially at work yet and therefore unavailable to take calls or respond to emails. The trick is to get the right balance – working during your commute should be able to help manage your time better or put any worries at ease. Go too far though, where you just need to do more work to meet a deadline, can lead to either poor time management (relying on unpaid hours to get your work done) or over loading, both of which needs addressing with your manager. When it reaches this stage, you will find it harder and harder to separate home life from work life.

Now, I could have listed a whole bunch of other ideas, for example binge watching a series or aimlessly scrolling through social media accounts, but I really wanted to focus on what productive things us avid doers can do to add to our day, not inconvenience it.

Personally, I’m glad I have a commute. When I’m not working from home, I travel to work by train for an hour each way and it’s an unavoidable part of my day where I have no other option but to find things to do. It’s a time of day that is forced upon us and therefore is a great excuse to do the things we want to that might otherwise seem unproductive if you were at home with a sink full of dishes.

 

Thigstodoonyourcommute

Dealing with people more senior than you

Regardless of your role now and in the future, you will always have to deal with people more senior than you (until you hit the big time and become CEO) so it’s important to understand how you emotionally deal with these people. It’s also important for me to clarify that when I say ‘senior’, I mean in role or position, not in years. 

Of course, each senior person is different; it may be easier to deal with people more senior than you than others, but sometimes it can feel intimidating, even for those who don’t consider themselves as introverts. For that reason (and so I can create a typing shortcut), we’ll call this particular group of people more senior than you as ‘the Seniors’ (excluding those who don’t necessarily make you feel intimidated).

One of the first things to assume when you’re dealing with the Seniors is that they too are human beings. This is both incredibly obvious, and yet effortlessly forgotten. For that reason, going back a step before this consideration is to check your thought pattern that is making you feel worked up and intimidated.

Emotional intelligence

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot on emotional intelligence (or E.I., emotional quotient, E.Q.) and part of what makes someone more emotionally intelligent is to keep their thought patterns in check. So much thinking and worrying can occur out of habit and subconsciously. It just runs on autopilot while you control your conscious processes (eg panicking, getting worked up, acting defensively). But although your thoughts run on autopilot, the products of them are certainly present and conscious; feeling intimidated, feeling like you’re not good enough, feeling like you’re going to be ridiculed for knowing less than they do, feeling like the gap between you and them in terms on seniority is proportionate to the gap in knowledge, intelligence or capability. All of those fun things.

This is why it’s so important to listen to the thought patterns being created in the background without your knowing because their effects are the very things holding you back from performing confidently, and therefore keeping them in check is an important way of dealing with Seniors.

So how do you keep your thought patterns in check?

There is no doubt a number of different methods out there that work for different people, but one I have found particularly helpful is the below process:

  1. Single out one thought pattern
  2. Articulate why this thought pattern makes you feel intimidated
  3. Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen
  4. Ask yourself how you would handle the situation if the worst was to happen
  5. Ask yourself what you have to offer that counteracts the original pattern.

(I’ve made this in a handy infographic at the end of this post!)

So, by way of example, let’s say I have to contribute my opinion to a meeting that consists mostly of Seniors:

  1. My thought pattern is that I have nothing to offer that the Seniors don’t already know
  2. I feel intimidated as I will make a fool of myself if I offer my opinion that’s either invalid or is common knowledge amongst the group of Seniors
  3. The worst case scenario would be the group ridiculing me for not contributing anything of value and making me, and the group, feel really awkward. I’d feel really stupid
  4. If this was to happen, thinking about it, I would aim to remind them that I was under the impression the meeting was a space for offering opinions and hearing from different points of views, and what may seem obvious to them and not to me might actually highlight a certain significance eg colleagues less senior than the Seniors are not privy to the information they are when they ought to be.
  5. I have my opinion to offer, which is neither wrong nor invalid. I have been invited to the meeting for a reason and if I had nothing to offer, I wouldn’t have been invited. After receiving the invite, it would help me to have a quick chat with the organiser to understand their expectations in terms of my involvement and contribution. That way I know why I’m there and I can do some homework on the matter if needs be. Having the opportunity to offer my opinion at a lower position in terms of seniority ensures whatever is being tackled in the meeting is done so with a hierarchal-diverse group.

Steps 1 to 3 are acknowledging the subconscious thinking you didn’t know about. Steps 4 and 5 are where you need to turn the pattern around and establish some non-emotional logic to get a truer view of the situation.

Safety nets

It’s important to remember step 4 in particular, as this provides you your safety net. I’m all for safety nets. They’re a handy mechanism, a banked reaction that has already been thought through, at a time where you were cool and collected, so that should the worst happens you have a quick response at the ready to use. This saves you from having to think of a quick and collected reaction on the spot when all eyes are on you. Step 4 is very unlikely to happen, but knowing you can handle the worst case scenario off-the-cuff with a good response will ease the fear.

Step 5 is the most crucial step. Having gone through your pattern and why it’s happened, the final step turns the pattern on its head by replacing it with positivity and logic, and helps you see it from a pragmatic point of view. This means your energy is spent on how you can make a positive impact in the situation, rather than on how you might mess up or feel awkward.

And by noticing the positive impact, you become more aware of how to up your game, like doing more homework into the nature of the meeting in the above example, rather than crumble under the self-imposed pressure.

Another thing to consider is the possibility that you want to impress the Seniors because you admire them professionally. Do you fear failing in front of them, or not delivering the goods, because you see them as a role model? Although this is a positive thing (I will talk more about the concept of work role models and ‘career crushes’ in another post), the pattern itself is making this into a negative experience. Instead you could try to connect this to step 5 and turn it into a positive experience by thinking what they would do in your situation, or what you would need to do to meet or exceed their expectations of you.

The senior profile

As I mentioned, at the end of the day, the colleagues that intimidate you – and that’s how they should be seen, your colleagues – are people; people you work with and therefore must share professional respect. The Seniors would have been in the same position as you and the ones who are down to earth will be aware of that.

For those who aren’t as down to earth as the others, they are no different to any other colleague you work with that might be a little more difficult to handle. I have found in the past that these particular Seniors exert their seniority to get what they want out of you. While you can’t change who they are or how they act, you can learn how to cope with their behaviour towards you in an attempt to work on a better professional relationship. Of course if it gets to a point of bullying, you need to raise this using your employer’s appropriate procedures.

Coping with difficult Seniors

So if these people exert their power to get what they want out of you, you first need to figure out if this is a reasonable request. If it isn’t, again follow your employer’s appropriate procedures. If is reasonable and forms part of your role, as an avid doer, you should turn your thought pattern to see this as an opportunity to improve yourself in giving them what they want in the best way you can.

This involves: probing them for a clear steer of the nature and extent of the information they need from you; how they want this information delivered to them; when do they need it by; if there is an unreasonable deadline, explain to them why a reschedule is more appropriate; explain to them how you will manage their expectations; is this an ad hoc request or will they be requiring it on a regular basis?

By improving your efficiency, you improve the professional relationship, improve your reliability and in time they should not have to be so difficult to work with. You have then turned the experience into one that develops you, rather than intimidates and drains you.

Reality check

This might sound really easy in theory, and you might already be doubting the likeliness of this happening in practice. I know it can be hard in these situations but they are always going to be a part of working life. It’s therefore essential you give it a go and start to hear what specifically you are reacting to, how you choose to handle it, and how to make it into a positive development opportunity. Like anything outside of your comfort zone, practising really does make things easier. You will become more resilient and strong in handling these situations. Give it a try; ultimately the alternative is letting negative patterns affect your working life.

 

thought patterns