Monday, January 4, 2010

Eat your salad first, and other career strategies

Every year I get loads of candy over the holidays, and every year I feel compelled to eat it as fast as possible. This is because I always make a New Year's resolution to lose weight and eat healthier, so I figure the faster I consume the candy, the faster I can get on the road to being skinny and fit.

Guess what? It never works. Because before you know it, Valentine's Day is rolling around and that means more candy. Which means I need to get busy scarfing it down so I can get back to losing weight and exercising.

New Year's resolutions are tough. But unlike other people who think they're a waste of time, I sort of like them. It gives me hope every year to think that I want to do better, to be better.

I also have found that it pays to be more realistic when setting goals for myself. So, while I might not always eat healthy stuff, I've promised myself to eat the salad BEFORE the M&Ms.

Here's the story I did on resolutions for your career for my Gannett column:

The problem with making resolutions regarding your career is that you become so busy with your job, or so stressed by everyday work events that you quickly lose sight of the things you want to improve.

For example, maybe you decide that you want to begin the new year by being more organized. But a quick look at the hundreds of e-mails awaiting your attention, the foot-high stack of reports leaning against the wall and the constantly ringing telephone makes you quickly scrap the plan. Who’s got time to get organized?

The key is not being too ambitious. After all, most people are doing more work than ever, and you don’t need to add to the pressure. Don’t make such sweeping plans that you would have to clone yourself a dozen times in order to accomplish a goal. At the same time, don’t try to tackle too many things at one time. Think about putting a new idea into play for each month of 2010. Who cares if you make a resolution for January or September? The point is that you’re trying to make life better for yourself, and that timetable belongs to no one but you.

Here are some ideas to get your started:

1. Get more organized. That’s a resolution that can be pretty ambitious, so instead plan to spend 10 minutes at the end of every day noting your top three most critical tasks for the next day. Take everything else off your desk except for those materials and write the list on piece of paper or your calendar so it’s the first thing you see when arriving for work.
2. Improve skills. Most people have figured out that to survive in today’s business climate they must make themselves more valuable by learning new skills. But deciding to go back to school can be a daunting challenge, especially if you’re working full time. Find a seminar at a nearby college or through a professional group, and attend. Maybe it’s an evening session on how to use social media or how to speak publicly. The point is to find one event that is an investment in yourself professionally.
3. Network. Instead of casting a wide net at an event and passing out business cards randomly or adding 500 people to your list of Twitter follows, target five people a month to add to your network. You can decide whether to call them, connect with them via LinkedIn or even ask them to lunch. Just adding five people a month means you won’t feel overwhelmed and end up doing nothing, and ensures you make a more meaningful connection because you won’t be rushed.
4. Focus on quality. A lot of companies like to say they’re focused on quality, and deluge employees with memos and reports on the subject. But there are ways to focus on the quality of your daily tasks that can make a real difference in how you are viewed at work. Try proofing every single e-mail before you send it, making sure you use proper grammar and spelling. When you leave your personal message for callers, stand up and smile while speaking. Your message will make you sound energetic and approachable.
5. Take the high road. Deciding to be a nicer person is a wonderful goal, and one many people like to put on their resolution list. But the guy in the cubicle next to yours drives you crazy by eating chili cheese dogs – with extra onions – at his desk. The receptionist puts your mail in the wrong box. Lots of little aggravations can challenge your “be nice” resolve at work, and before you know it, you’re upset with yourself after making a snide comment or getting in to an argument with a co-worker. Instead, make a commitment to pay a sincere compliment to one co-worker a day, especially to someone who is getting on your last nerve. Prompting yourself to see the good in someone can help put petty annoyances to rest.

What are some resolutions we should make for our careers this year?


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stop Saying "When I Was Your Age"

This is a frightening time for everyone in the workplace, when fears abound about what latest economic downturn will result in layoffs. One of the most vulnerable groups of employees are the experienced workers with their higher salaries and richer benefits.

Older workers need to understand that this is the time to ratchet up their game. They need to be seen as vital by going after new clients, taking on new projects and just being seen as a dynamic voice in the future of a company.

And, most important, make sure you look the part of a vital employee. For example, are you still wearing the tie you got from your kids in 1990? Does your hairstyle involve a comb-over, anything with AquaNet or is hard enough to crack an egg on? Do you complain openly of your aches and pains and have no idea who Kanye West is?

If so, it’s time for some updating. Consider:

Visiting a personal stylist. Of course, you’d look ridiculous with a tongue piercing, blue spiked hair and biker boots. But you also need to have someone qualified analyzing your appearance from year to year. Visit a department store cosmetics counter (preferably with younger employees), a hair salon that caters to younger professionals and look into getting some new duds, even if it's just one or two more updated pieces. Also, nothing makes you look worse than clothes that are too tight, too loose or too worn, so get them altered or get rid of them if needed.

• Keeping up on current events. Not just what's happening on Wall Street and in politics. Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Check into some of the television shows and movies being talked about by younger staff members. Look at some of the popular videos on YouTube and even visit Facebook so you understand the concept of how it works.

• Saying “When I was your age…” Never, never, begin a sentence this way. You might as well ask for a box of Depends and some denture cleaner. Try not to recall your glory days, but rather offer opinions based on experiences in your career that are timeless and universal.

• Offering contacts. There’s nothing quite as valuable to co-workers and company brass than the relationships you have formed over the years with vendors, customers, competitors, etc. There is be a certain level of trust among those with long relationships that can be highly valued in a competitive environment.

• Keeping the edge. Don’t rest on former glories. Always appear enthusiastic in offering new ideas or accepting new challenges. Don’t have a “been there, done that” attitude that says you’re bored, but you’ll do it because you get paid to. Use new technologies to implement your strategies. If you don't understand how to use some of the latest hi tech stuff, learn. Take a class or enlist the help of a younger worker in exchange for some mentoring from you in other areas.

• Making sure your game is sharp. Keep track of your daily accomplishments, goals met and problems handled. This will be a valuable record when it comes time for performance evaluation — or a discussion of your future with a company. Keep documentation of all projects you worked on, kudos from co-workers or bosses, and even favorable notes from customers.


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