How to Avoid Hidden Time Sucks (While Still Being a Good Colleague)

 

Think about the last time you had a really productive day—when you made a number of important decisions, crossed off key to-dos, and reached out to a few new connections. That felt good, right? Now think about a day when you felt as if you got nothing meaningful done. Maybe you sent out next steps after a series of back-to-back meetings, spent half a day listening to your coworkers vent, or researched Slack icebreakers instead of industry trends. At the end of that day, you weren’t sure what you’d accomplished, but you certainly felt very busy doing it.

You had the same amount of hours on both of those days, but in one scenario, you were in control and crossed off tasks that had a bigger impact on your company or career. In the other, unexpected distractions and assignments that don’t clearly ladder up to larger goals took up much of your attention. The latter are what I call distractors and fillers: the extraneous tasks and time sucks that prevent you from doing work that matters.

There are three phases to taking back control of your time: assessing how you’re spending it, deciding what you should keep doing, and learning to say no to everything else while still being a team player. The last part is often the trickiest because being helpful at work and nurturing relationships with your coworkers are both vital to your career growth. The key is to be mindful and kind about the choices you make.

Here’s a simple roadmap to help you reprioritize your time while still being a good colleague:

Phase 1: Assess your time.

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to take notice of your distractors and identify your most common time fillers.

Distractors are tasks indirectly related to your work that prevent you from focusing on your priorities. They’re inevitable but not always proportionate. Women, for example, are often loaded with the additional roles of emotional therapist, culture builder, and conflict resolver. And distractors tend to revolve around people and culture—like getting stuck in never-ending conversations or recognizing that an employee needs a pick-me-up. In a silo, these tasks can serve an important purpose in helping people feel connected, but they become a problem when they take over your to-do list. Write your distractors down.

Fillers are tasks that are directly related to work but often aren’t highly valued and don’t help you advance your career. In other words, they’re not the kinds of projects that lead to recognition, raises, or promotions. Instead, they include “office housework” items like scheduling the follow-up meeting, taking the notes, or otherwise being the memory keeper, organizer, or person who keeps the trains on track but goes unnoticed. List these fillers out, too.

Phase 2: Decide what to keep doing and what to stop.

Look at your list of fillers and distractors and start to evaluate how essential these items are to realizing your career goals. As you look at each task, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this support one of my personal or professional goals?
  • Is this a fundamental part of my job description?
  • Does this give me access to a valuable connection or a different part of the business?
  • Does it bring me joy?

If you answer “yes” to at least one of the questions, then there’s room for that item on your to-do list and it’s worth making time for it. If not, add it to your “to-don’t” list.

Now, I wish you could just add stuff to your to-don’t list and—poof!—it disappears. Some things you might be able to just stop doing. Others may require buy-in from your manager or delegation to someone else. For each item on your to-don’t list, add the first thing you need to do to get it off your plate. For instance, next steps could include: call the head of a task force to discuss stepping down from a committee role or set up a conversation with your manager to discuss your goals and priorities.

Phase 3: Get comfortable with saying no—and learn to do it kindly.

Saying no—and doing it with kindness—is the most important skill you can learn to keep time sucks like the ones you identified in the previous steps off your plate in the future.

When one of those distractors or fillers pops ups, decline with confidence. Start with, “Thank you,” instead of, “I’m sorry,” because you don’t need to apologize for turning down a request. Say, “Thank you for the opportunity,” or, “Thank you for thinking of me,” and then add that you’re at full capacity right now.

If the request is coming from a client or your boss, you might not be able to say no outright, but you can still be intentional about your workload and say, “Yes, I can do that, but it will take the place of X. Are you OK with that?” If this is coming from a close colleague, you may want to be specific about why you can’t do it. If you’re feeling generous, you can always offer a different timeline (“I will be free in July”) or a smaller assist, such as sharing research on a smaller piece of a project that needs to be done. This keeps you focused on your goals while still coming across as a team player.

It’s too easy for last-minute requests, distractions, and fillers to take control of your time and to-do list, leaving little room for high-impact work. But when you start to pay attention to these hidden time sucks, you can prioritize the things that matter most to you and your career.

10 Things Exceptionally Successful People Do on the Weekends

It is one thing to be successful and it is another thing to be exceptionally successful. But to attain a high level of success, you have to be willing to put in the work. Because the theme of the modern-day careerist is this: How do you get more done in less time?

So while a lot of people see the weekend as a time to hang out and relax, exceptionally successful people have a different idea of how Saturdays and Sundays should be spent. Here is how they spend their weekends to set the tone for a week of crazy productive work.

1. They wake up early.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is said to wake up at 3:45 a.m. every morning. Including on weekends. It’s wrong to assume because it’s the weekend, you need to stay in bed until midday. Successful people still get up early because they know time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted, no matter what day it is.

2. They read.

You cannot negate the power of reading. Eimantas Balciunas, CEO of Travel Ticker, says, “Reading and staying abreast on what happens in the travel industry puts me in a position to discover those things the competition apparently may have ignored!” By reading and expanding your knowledge, even and especially on weekends, you are better informed to approach your tasks for the week.

3. They spend time to reflect.

As Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” And successful people follow that philosophy, using the weekends to look back at what worked and what didn’t. By reflecting on your week, you can focus on the improvements you need to make on Monday.

4. They make time to pursue their interests.

Successful people know that chasing success shouldn’t mean they have to forget their favorite hobbies. The weekend offers you the opportunity to be creative, whatever it is you like to do most in your spare time.

5. They give something back.

Alexey Chuklin, founder and CEO of Write!, says, “I can use the weekend to give back by showing I am a part of a community.” And in the book Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, author Thomas C. Corley discovered that 70 percent of successful people give back at least five hours every month.

Related: 16 Rich Habits

6. They disconnect.

Successful people know they have to carve out downtime where they put away phones and don’t check emails. The weekend is the most ideal time to seek a break, even if it’s a small one.

7. They connect with their family.

Weekdays might not offer busy successful people enough time to spend with their family and friends. So the weekend can be the opportune time to catch up.

8. They stay in shape.

Exercising can be refreshing. Not only does it strengthen your mind, it gives you the opportunity to clear your head and embrace fresh ideas for the new week.

9. They build momentum.

Successful people don’t settle for average. They are always focused on excellence by keeping up the momentum. The weekend is a good time to put things in perspective and gain clarity, to refocus on your most important goals.

10. They plan for the upcoming week.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has an insane work ethic—he works 16 hours Monday through Friday. But he makes sure his schedule allows him to take off Saturdays, and he uses his Sundays to plan for the upcoming week.

How do you spend your weekends?

Why the Indian middle class may resolve power problems!

Indian cities are today bustling with opportunities, buildings and new multiplexes. But then look in a bit closer, there are problems. An important issue is uninterrupted power! Bangalore city is today not just famous for its IT and Start-up prowess, but also erratic power supply and the familiar noise of Diesel gensets. They experience at least 3-4 hours of power cuts every day. Unfortunate, yet true.

So is there a solution?
A few citizens today are now setting up ‘rooftop’ solar panels and generating power. Apartment associations are also debating the long term return on investment of solar panels , inverters, power storage systems in long term. Although the initial cost  of setting up a rooftop solar plant might seem higher, the average daily running cost is relatively cheaper.  A diesel genset for example consumes 3-4 litres of fuel to generate 1000 watts of AC output.  Simple math would tell you the cost is only going to go up for daily upkeep. While a rooftop solar project will cost less over a period of 5 years or much more.

The middle class today buys apartments, villas and duplexes in the range of Rs.50 lakh to Rs.1 crore or even more. Would it not be efficient to set up a self sustaining electrical system as well?

 

Seven Steps to Starting Your Own Business

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Consultant, Strategist, and Writer

Seven Steps to Starting Your Own Business

People are always asking for a list of fundamentals, a checklist they can use to start their own businesses. From your business type to your business model to your physical location, there are so many variables it’s not easy to come up with a list that will work for everybody. The key, regardless of what type of business you’re starting, is to be flexible!

That said, here’s are seven steps to take before you start your business.

Step 1: Personal evaluation.

Begin by taking stock of yourself and your situation. Why do you want to start a business? Is it money, freedom, creativity, or some other reason? What skills do you have? What industries do you know about? Would you want to provide a service or a product? What do you like to do? How much capital do you have to risk? Will it be a full-time or a part-time venture? Your answers to these types of questions will help you narrow your focus.

Step 2: Analyze the industry.

Once you decide on a business that fits your goals and lifestyle, you need to evaluate your idea. Who will buy your product or service? Who would be your competitors? You also need to figure out at this stage how much money you will need to get started.

Step 3: Make it legal.

There are several ways to form your business –– it could be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation. Although incorporating can be expensive, it is well worth the money. A corporation becomes a separate entity that is legally responsible for the business. If something goes wrong, you cannot be held personally liable.

You also need to get the proper business licenses and permits. Depending upon the business, there may be city, county, or state regulations as well as permits and licenses to deal with. This is also the time to check into any insurance you may need for the business and to find a good accountant.

Step 4: Draft a business plan.

If you will be seeking outside financing, a business plan is a necessity. But even if you are going to finance the venture yourself, a business plan will help you figure out how much money you will need to get started, what needs to get done when, and where you are headed.

Step 5: Get financed.

Depending on the size of your venture, you may need to seek financing from an “angel” or from a venture capital firm. Most small businesses begin with private financing from credit cards, personal loans, help from the family, etc. As a rule of thumb, besides your start-up costs, you should also have at least three months’ worth of your family’s budget in the bank.

Step 6: Set up shop.

Find a location. Negotiate leases. Buy inventory. Get the phones installed. Have stationery printed. Hire staff. Set your prices. Throw a “Grand Opening” party.

Step 7: Trial and error.

It will take awhile to figure out what works and what does not. Follow your business plan, but be open and creative. Advertise! Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

Above all, have a ball! Running your own business is one of the great joys in life!

 

 

25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Consultant, Strategist, and Writer

You’re really ready for this speech or presentation, aren’t you?

You have great content—and you know it cold. Your listeners will absolutely benefit from the information you’ll be giving them; in fact, you think it will change their lives for the better. So the last thing you want to do is weaken your message by using language you could just as easily do without.

In the spirit of combining your great message with effective delivery, here are 25 words or phrases you should avoid like the plague (gee, I guess I should have included clichés). Anyway, here they are, each with a brief explanation for their inclusion in this list:

1. “I” or “me”. The presentation is not about you, period. Self-consciousness and anxiety aside, it’s about the audience. Replace every “I” or “me” with “you,” “we,” or “us.” Keep the focus on your listeners rather than you.

2.”A little bit.” This phrase waters down your content. “I’d like to talk a little bit about . . .” pales next to, “Let’s discuss the industry trends we need to consider.”

3.”Just.” Similar to #2. Compare these two options: a) “I just want to say that I think we face some problems”; and b) “Listen! — Our backs are to the wall regarding these profit margins.”

4. “So . . .” Often uttered as the first word out of a speaker’s mouth. (Now you’re thinking back to your last presentation, aren’t you?) But “so” is a continuation of a previous thought. And at the start of your presentation, nothing has come before.

5. “Talk about.” Used repetitively in a monotonous way: “First, I’ll talk about what our competition is doing. Then I’ll talk about why we have to think differently. Then, I’ll talk about our new initiatives.” Then, I’m sure you will all shoot yourselves!

6. “My topic is . . .” To engage listeners immediately, you have to launch your presentation strongly. (See my article on “12 Foolproof Ways to Open a Speech.”) An opening that blandly announces your topic will fail in this respect. What’s engaging about telling people something they already know?

7. “I’ve been asked to speak about.” A variation of #6, and usually an attempt by the speaker to seem important.

8. “Sorry if” or “Sorry for.” Uh-oh. The speaker is apologizing for his or her presentation? “Sorry for this lengthy explanation. I couldn’t figure out a way to say it simply.” Okay, I invented that last sentence—but isn’t that what it sounds like?

9.”Excuse the eye chart.” (Variation: “I know this slide is really busy.”) Boy, haven’t you heard that one before? Here, the speaker actually is apologizing for making a PowerPoint slide incomprehensible. If a presenter can’t speak to everything on a slide in the time he or she shows it, the slide doesn’t work. It needs to be boiled down or broken up into more than one slide, or the speaker needs to tell the audience the full data are in the handout.

10. “I’d like to start out with a story.” A story is one of the flat-out most effective ways to open a speech or presentation. Its effect is considerably weakened, however, if you announce that you’re about to tell a story. I call it “introducing the Introduction.”

11. “There’s a funny joke . . .” Well, there may be. But you’re setting yourself up for failure if it isn’t funny. Zero-sum game and all that. Believe me, if you simply start with the joke, it’ll have much more punch. Even better: use humor rather than a joke. It won’t contain a punch-line, and it’s much easier to relate to your actual topic.

12. “Excuse me if I seem nervous.” Although some people think saying this will get an audience on your side, I think announcing your nerves is a bad idea. Most nervousness isn’t visible. Let the audience make the decision as to whether you look nervous. If they don’t notice it, why give the game away?

13. “I’m not good at public speaking.” Then go away.

14. “I’m not a speaker.” Yes, you are. Aren’t you giving a presentation? Besides, you don’t need to be a speaker unless you’re on the speaking circuit. Just share what you have to say with us. We’ll probably love it.

15. “I’ve never done this before.” You guessed it: this is instant death to your credibility. Again, do a good job and we’ll L-O-V-E you!

16. “Here are our key differentiators.” A fine phrase except for the salient words. This language is so overused that your “key differentiators” in your industry probably aren’t any such thing.

17. “I’ve divided them here into three buckets.” Unless you work on a farm or are planning to kick said bucket as part of the entertainment value of your talk, I would avoid the “buckets” cliché.

18. “Bear with me.” (Not “bare with me,” which would actually be interesting.) Typically said when the speaker is experiencing technical difficulties. We all do, of course. Why not have a back-up plan for keeping your audience interested if the technology doesn’t cooperate? I tell my clients—and I really mean it—that they should be prepared to give their talk if they leave their laptop with their slides in the cab on the way in from the airport.

19. “The next slide shows . . .” Transitions are vital elements of your speech or presentation. They help audience members negotiate the logic of your argument. You need to think about how to organically link your previous talking point with the one you’re about to introduce. Don’t appear to discover yourself what the next topic is when the slide pops onto the screen.

20. “Moving right along . . .” Truly the worst example of throwing one’s hands up in the air because you don’t know how to transition to your next point.

21. “Obstacles!” Or “Projects,” or any single word or phrase that blurts out what you’re about to discuss next. Find that organic transition, per Item #19 above.

22. “I think I’ve bored you enough.” Oh, let’s hope you haven’t bored your audience at all. And if you have, do you have to twist the knife this way?

23. “I didn’t have enough time . . .” Whether what you say after these words is “. . . to prepare,” “. . . to figure out what your needs were,” or “. . . to do the necessary research,” you shouldn’t be clueing your audience in to this startling reality.

24. “I’m running out of time, so I’ll go through this quickly.” It’s probably not a good idea to announce to everyone your lack of time management skills in this presentation, wouldn’t you say?

25. “That’s all I have.” “And so I didn’t give any thought to considering carefully how to end a speech vividly and memorably. So I’ll just jump off this cliff, and take you all with me!”

Do you have any death-dealing words or phrases to add to my list?

5 Key Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

5 Key Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is a popular goal these days, for everyone from Gen Y college grads to mid-career workers looking for a change. But not everyone knows what entrepreneurship really re really cut out for it.

While the notion of “working for yourself” might appeal to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got what it takes to make it in the stressful and challenging world of entrepreneurship. If being your own boss is on your bucket list, take a look first at these five traits of successful entrepreneurs. If they remind you of you, then you’re on the right track!

1. Passion

If you don’t have passion for whatever it is you’re thinking of doing, count yourself out right now. Entrepreneurship is not a path for the lukewarm. It’s too full of ups and downs and setbacks and challenges for anyone who isn’t “all in” to make a successful go of it.

If your passion lies solely in “making lots of money,” I’d also encourage you to try something else. There are plenty of less-risky ventures, from franchise ownership to investing in the stock market, that will require much less blood, sweat, and tears on your part and that have a more proven record of return on investment. Entrepreneurship is a labor of love, and you don’t have the love, you won’t go very far.

2. Drive

Passion and drive are not one and the same. Plenty of people have hobbies they’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to make a full-time business of them.

Drive is defined as “an innate urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.” If you love baking but only do it when you feel like it, you may be passionate, but you’ve only got a hobby. If you’re determined to become the boutique bakery in your city and have your name listed on Yelp, and you won’t rest till you get there, you’ve got drive.

Drive is absolutely essential for making a go of whatever business you’re thinking of pursuing. It will help you conquer obstacles, get through long hours and setbacks, and keep moving and improving your products and services. 

3. Self-Discipline 

Contrary to popular daydreams, being your own boss does not equal sleeping in till noon and taking endless vacation days—at least not if you want to run a business that has any chance of success.

When you’re the only one peering over your shoulder, you need to be able to keep yourself on task in the face of distractions, challenges, and the tempting knowledge that you can technically do whatever you want, whenever you want, without getting in any immediate trouble. You have to be able to look at the big picture and realize that cutting corners now will only hurt you down the road. 

4. Flexibility

Entrepreneurs wear many hats. They are accountants, marketers, PR reps, customer service agents, project managers, and more. You need to be willing to dive into all aspects of your business, from the creative to the mundane, in order to create something with traction.

You also have to be willing to learn on the go, as you will never fully be “ready” to run a business, and there will always be new developments and challenges to assimilate and overcome. If you’re not prepared to be a lifelong learner, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

5. A Healthy Dose of Pragmatism

Entrepreneurs are interesting creatures. On the one hand, they often find themselves pursuing goals that seem lofty and unrealistic to those around them—why not just stay with a traditional employer and have a steady paycheck with benefits? On the other hand, they also need to be fully grounded. As much as you believe in your gourmet cupcakes, if customers are telling you a couple of your favorite flavors don’t do it for them, you need to be willing to let them go.

Successful entrepreneurs know how to walk the line between stubborn self-confidence and humble realism. They’re willing to believe in their dreams and pursue them with everything they have, but they’re also willing to change course, pivot, and tweak their plans to align with their circumstances. If you veer too far in one direction or the other, you may not be able to perform the balancing act.