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4 Ways Over-Delivering at Work Can Backfire

US_newslogoAfter a brief hiatus, I’m proud to announce that I am, once again, a featured career expert on US News & World Report! I’ll be contributing an original article over there once a month on various career-related topics so keep your eye out. (Don’t worry; I’ll share them here as well!)

This month’s article challenges a popular workplace rule: “under promise and over deliver”. I know, I know. In the past, I’ve touted the benefits of this rule. But it’s not always a wise move. Whether you realize it or not, over-delivering at work can waste time, skew expectations and annoy others. Read up on this topic and make sure you don’t accidentally make your life harder or harm your professional reputation by blindly following this age-old workplace wisdom. Read the article on US News & World Report here.

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My Sense of Urgency Is Killing Me (Slowly)

For those of you who haven’t met me in the real world, let me first explain some of my character assets and liabilities.

I’m what every personality test on the planet would describe as “highly dominant” in a workplace setting. (In a personal setting, I’m quite different, but that’s a story for another day…)

At work, I’m extremely task-focused, almost to the detriment of my professional relationships. I do everything fast—from walking to talking to achieving. Give me a project and let me run–and I mean RUN. I love to be busy and in-control and even a little overwhelmed. That’s how I operate. I’m the “get it done” person in every sense.

Much of the time, I consider this a professional asset. But lately, it started to feel more and more like a personal liability.

You see, being that fast moving, fast talking, fast doing individual means I constantly have a sense of urgency. In fact, I often find slow, methodical people difficult to work with. My quick, laser-focused approach to whatever needs to get done has yielded much success in the past, so it’s been easy to foster the belief that my way is the best way.

Of course, it’s not. At least, not always. Just like eating Cheetos, there’s a point when too much of a good thing becomes a very bad thing.

When you have a heightened sense of urgency (like me) combined with a heavy workload, several things can happen:

  • Everything starts to feel urgent, which creates massive anxiety and makes focusing on any one thing difficult.
  • It becomes impossible to distinguish between the truly urgent and the less urgent (but highly important) tasks.
  • It’s hard to know where to begin when everything feels like an A1 priority.
  • It’s easy to disregard personal routines (like self-care, staying organized, etc.) so you can use that time for getting MORE THINGS DONE.
  • It’s tempting to move too quickly, which ultimately leads to mistakes or low quality work (which costs time in the long run and potentially harms your professional reputation).
  • It creates stress for everyone around you because they feel your craziness radiating like the heat of a thousand suns.

So this is where I was a few weeks ago. My sense of urgency was (ironically) killing me slowly. For several months, I had been plagued with nagging anxiety and a feeling that there was too much to do and not enough time. Over a somewhat prolonged period, I became more and more frazzled (a feeling I absolutely despise!) until finally I had to confront it.

I know some of this is simply the plight of the modern worker and I’m not alone. But I reached a tipping point. It was time to take a good hard look at my behaviors and make some much needed adjustments.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any period of time, you know I never a share a problem without also offering a solution. So, for those of you who are reading and thinking, “Oh. My. Gosh. She is literally talking directly to me. This is exactly what I’m dealing with right now,” you’re in luck.

Here’s what I’m doing to right the situation. Perhaps you can try some or all of these things yourself.

  • I’m consciously reminding myself that NOT EVERYTHING is urgent.
  • I’m carefully looking for tasks that can be eliminated or delegated—things I’m taking on that are unnecessarily adding to my stress or pulling my attention away from truly important tasks.
  • I’m working closely with people around me to better understand my real priorities.
  • I’m keenly observing those slow, methodical people who used to drive me nuts and trying to emulate their calm, systematic ways.
  • I’m re-dedicating to personal routines (like exercise, staying organized, and eating well).
  • I’m trying to fully focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is not my friend.
  • I’m keeping the “big picture” front and center, and trying to remember what really matters most both at work and at home.
  • I’m giving myself breathing room. When I feel that crippling sense of anxiety creeping in, I stand up and walk away from my desk for a minute.
  • I’m asking for (and accepting) help from others, even when that means giving up some control and slowing down to explain things.

These things are certainly helping, but it’s an almost constant workplace struggle. I still think having a sense of urgency at work is a good thing. It shows you take your work seriously and are committed to efficiency. You don’t have some lazy “I’ll get to it when I get to it” attitude. You recognize that business is constantly moving and success doesn’t favor a slow poke.

The trick is using that sense of urgency appropriately and not letting it run the show.

Yes, it’s important to accomplish things at work and, in my opinion, doing so quickly is a valuable added bonus. But it’s even more important to accomplish the right things in the right way.  Not everything can be done today, nor does it need to be. I’ve known this for a long time; now I just have to accept it and learn to operate this way.

I’m curious: Do you have a heightened sense of urgency? If so, how do you control it?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

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Decision vs. Action: A Key Distinction for Success

I have a question for you: Three frogs are sitting on a log and one decides to jump off. How many frogs are left?

If you answered two, you’re wrong, but don’t sweat it. Most people fall for it.

Here’s the thing: One frog decided to jump off the log, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily did anything about it.

Decision is not the same thing as action. We often confuse it as such, but deciding to become a millionaire is entirely different from actually doing what it takes to make it happen.

I’ve been fascinated with the simple idea of “action” for a little while now. It’s funny how much time and energy we can spend on everything else (brainstorming, research, evaluation, analysis, decision-making, etc.), when, in reality, action is the most essential part of any quest. Without it, we’re left marinating in our own mental juices thinking we’ve gotten somewhere when really we haven’t.

Action is the hard part, the unglamorous part. It’s the part that requires early mornings and late nights and sacrifice. It’s the part that hurts.

Decision-making, on the other hand, gets most of the glory. We proclaim with great pride: “I’ve made a decision!” as if it’s some kind of enormous feat. But on its own, a decision only goes so far.

Think about it. How many times have you heard things like this (or perhaps even said them yourself) only to find that the decision isn’t backed by any sincere action?

  • I’ve decided to change my career!
  • I’ve decided to write a book!
  • I’ve decided to quit drinking!
  • I’ve decided to start a business!
  • I’ve decided to leave my spouse!
  • I’ve decided to exercise more!
  • I’ve decided THIS IS MY YEAR!

All are noble decisions to come to and I’m not discounting the process it takes to get there. But, once the decision is reached, it’s just the beginning.

Deciding to do something doesn’t make it happen. It doesn’t automatically equip you with everything you need for success.

Once the decision is made, that’s when the real work comes in—the reprioritization of resources, the dedication of time, the intelligent risk-taking, the unshakable commitment to the decision.

We don’t always know the right action to see our decision come to fruition. All too often, we make a mild attempt at action only to find it’s not what we thought it would be. And the decision we so labored to reach goes to waste. We become the frog who made the decision to jump, dipped his toe over the side, but never took the leap.

Believe me I know. I decided a long time ago that I was going to write a book. And guess what? That decision didn’t make me a published author. It’s only been in the past six months or so that I’ve taken the action to make it happen. It’s slow going, I assure you. But I now feel like I’m getting somewhere.

It worthwhile mentioning here too that sometimes, once the action starts, you realize the decision isn’t what you want any longer. And that’s okay. Maybe our little frog really loves his log. Maybe he takes the leap and decides it’s just not for him. Once again, that decision (on its own) accomplishes nothing. He now has to take action to rectify the situation.

I know it’s hard to make decisions about life and work. We pour a lot of time and mental energy into the process. But don’t let that fool you.

Let any decision be your jumping off point—your catalyst for action.

What decision have you made that you’re committed to taking action on? Share with us in the comments if you’re so inclined. I personally find it’s always motivating to know I’m not alone. Maybe you will too.

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How to Become an Expert in Your Chosen Field

I’m going to make a bold statement here: In the field of professional development, I consider myself an expert.

It’s not just because I’ve been writing this blog for over 5 years (any Joe-schmoe off the street can do this, you know!). Rather, it’s because I’ve immersed myself in the field—soaked up knowledge and applied it at a rapid pace. And these days, I really feel it’s paying off with a level of expertise few others possess.

You might be wondering what that actually means, so let me tell you: It means I feel an elevated level of respect. When I speak, my ideas are listened to and considered thoughtfully. I’m sought out by others to weigh-in on topics of debate. I have an entire library of past work I can reference. In short, I feel knowledgeable and empowered.

Pretty cool.

One of the most common things I hear from professionals when discussing reputation in the workplace is that they want to be seen as an expert. Whether you’re an administrative professional, a CEO, or a NASA engineer, expertise is something to strive for.

Experts know their stuff. They have vast pools of knowledge and can be relied on to provide accurate, insightful answers to even the toughest questions within their field of expertise. They have an abundance of wisdom, experience, and capability—and they aren’t afraid to use it. Colleagues at all levels sit up and take notice when an expert enters the room.

In short, regardless of who you are or what you do, your career will benefit from gaining a heightened level of expertise.

Here are just a few ways to become an expert in your chosen field.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers and many other bestselling non-fiction books, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at any one task. That’s not easy to come by! If you work a 40-hour week, and you spend every moment at work practicing that specific task at which you want to gain expertise, and you work a full 52 weeks per year, it still takes about 5 years to hit the 10,000-hour mark.

This isn’t to be taken lightly. In order to be an expert, there’s no substitute for time. It takes dedication, discipline and focus. Unfortunately, at some point along the way, you will get discouraged.  It’s practically unavoidable, and too many people give up when that happens. They move on to the next thing and from there, the process of gaining expertise starts anew.

Becoming an expert requires a sincere, genuine desire to do the work. If you aren’t passionate about something, you won’t become an expert at it. That passion is what drives you forward when things get hard.

2. Network With Leaders In Your Field

Jim Rohn, personal development guru, says, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Scary isn’t it? Think about who those 5 people are for you.

If you want to “up” your professional game, you need to surround yourself with people who elevate you. Expertise is (almost) contagious. By spending time with people who are themselves experts in your field, you will naturally “catch” some of their wisdom.

Network with leaders and others who have the professional clout you’re seeking. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Listen as they share their insights. Observe them as they work. Find ways to spend more time in their presence. Be a sponge.

3. Mentor Someone In Your Field

Nothing helps engrain knowledge as effectively as sharing it, and there’s no shortage of young professionals looking for mentorship. When you see a rising star in your field, take that person under your wing. Guide them. Share what you know—the hard earned lessons you’ve collected over the years.

At the same time, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. After all, the best part about mentorship is that—when it’s a strong partnership—both people learn equally. As a mentor, you’ll gain a new perspective about the work you do. Your mentee’s youthful inexperience can actually provide you with a wealth of powerful insight…if you’re open to it.

4. Be a Thought Leader

Experts are never content with the status quo. They’re always looking for the next “evolution” of their profession. They’re constantly trying new techniques, improving on existing concepts, exploring new ideas and adding value. They’re always looking to push the boundaries and expand the limits of their field. Experts are at the forefront, leading the way for the future of their profession.

Don’t simply accept “standard practice”. As an expert, your role is to question, challenge and innovate. Engage your brain. Think differently. Don’t be afraid of uncharted territory—relish it. Expertise requires a daring sense of adventure.

5. Demonstrate Your Knowledge 

Experts take pride in demonstrating and sharing their skills and knowledge. They always want to be of service to their professional community. If you want to be seen as an expert, put your expertise out there for all to benefit from. Let your ideas spark conversation. Be the catalyst that inspires others to think differently about your profession. Be loud and bold and unafraid of drawing attention to yourself and your point-of-view.

How do you do this? The written word is always a great place to start. Consider writing an article for a publication catering to your industry or profession. Or start a blog like this one (as I said, anyone can!). Nothing is more empowering than putting your thoughts out there for the world to see. And, as a published author—whether online or in print—you’re automatically afforded a certain level of authority. It’s not difficult to establish a name and reputation for yourself, but it does require effort.

Another way to demonstrate and share your expertise is to train others—offer to present on a topic of interest at a local industry conference or meeting of your professional association. Host a lunch and learn event at your company, or simply share tips and resources with your colleagues. Don’t be afraid of lifting others up and helping them shine—experts are eager to raise the bar for their profession, not just for themselves.

6. Stay Up-To-Date On Trends

Every field is changing, some more rapidly than others. Experts always stay at the forefront. They explore new trends and understand where their industry is headed. They have foresight and aren’t afraid of the latest and greatest technology and innovations that create upheaval to the tried and true methods of the past. While others fight the shifting waves of progress, experts absorb the knowledge and, when appropriate, ride those waves to success.

Reading is perhaps your best tool for doing this. Professional publications often discuss emerging trends and how they’re shaping the future. Get to know the names of the people making a splash in your industry (perhaps, as a thought leader, you’ll be one of them!).

Your professional network is also a great resource to tap. Discuss the trends taking place in the field and share your thoughts. Don’t jump on every bandwagon that comes along, but, when a trend seems to really be taking hold, embrace it and share your experiences.

7. Never Stop Learning

This one almost goes without saying and is, in fact, embedded in each of the above strategies. Your absolute best bet for expertise is to always keep an open mind and absorb new information. Read books and blogs, take classes online and in-person, let your expertise spawn from the expertise of others. The more you learn, the more you fill your professional toolbox.

Remember: Experts proudly claim their expertise; they don’t shy away from it.

So let me ask you: Are you an expert? How did you get there? Please share in the comments!

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Why Sharing Credit at Work Is Good For Your Career

I talk a lot about how to advocate for yourself, be loud and proud of all you do, and take credit for your work even when others are trying to steal the spotlight.

But today, I want to turn that around and talk about the other side of the coin: sharing credit with others.

It’s an overlooked, but equally important part of your career success.

A true professional knows that, whenever you experience a great achievement at work, you should be vocal about it! Tell your superiors exactly what you did and how you accomplished it. But, when others are involved, be sure to share credit where it’s rightfully due.

All too often, we get caught up in self-promotion at work—a great tool for building a strong professional reputation—but it’s not a “zero sum” game: For me to “win” doesn’t mean anyone else has to “lose.” In fact, when I help others enjoy a win, I also help myself. Here’s how it works.

You Show You’re a Team Player

Talking up the value and contributions of your teammates shows that you recognize the power of collaboration—and you’re good at it! Speak about what “we” accomplished (not what “I” accomplished) and you’ll become known as a smart person to partner with. Be a shining example of teamwork and people will seek you out.

You Prove Your Confidence

Talking about the great work of others shows you’re not insecure. You have confidence in your own role and the value of your own contributions, so you’re not afraid of letting someone else have their moment of glory too.

Your Demonstrate Leadership

Acknowledging others is a key trait of great managers. When you do so, regardless of your title or position, it shows you have leadership abilities. You gain a reputation as more than just a hard worker; you become seen as someone capable of bringing out the great work in others.

Your Teammates Will Remember

People love to be acknowledged and it just doesn’t happen enough these days. Whether it comes from the CEO or a peer in the next cubicle over, it makes you feel seen and appreciated. People don’t forget that. Plus, it can have a real impact on how their colleagues see them and treat them. While it’s our responsibility to self-promote, it’s awfully nice when others provide some supportive reinforcement.

Above all else, it just feels good to recognize the people around you. It feels honest because it IS honest. Very few victories we experience at work happen without assistance from others. It takes a little extra effort to give an authentic shout-out to your well-deserving teammates, but it’s worth it—for you and for them.

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