By: Andy Molinsky
You need to speak in public, but your knees buckle even before you reach the podium. You want to expand your network, but you’d rather swallow nails than make small talk with strangers. Speaking up in meetings would further your reputation at work, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Situations like these — ones that are important professionally, but personally terrifying — are, unfortunately, ubiquitous. An easy response to these situations is avoidance. Who wants to feel anxious when you don’t have to?
But the problem, of course, is that these tasks aren’t just unpleasant; they’re also necessary. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. How can we as professionals stop building our lives around avoiding these unpleasant, but professionally beneficial, tasks?
First, be honest with yourself. When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present? And when you didn’t confront that coworker who had been undermining you, was it really because you felt he would eventually stop, or was it because you were terrified of conflict? Take an inventory of the excuses you tend to make about avoiding situations outside your comfort zone and ask yourself if they are truly legitimate. If someone else offered you those same excuses about their behavior, would you see these as excuses or legitimate reasons to decline? The answer isn’t always clear, but you’ll never be able to overcome inaction without being honest about your motives in the first place.
Then, make the behavior your own. Very few people struggle in every single version of a formidable work situation. You might have a hard time making small talk generally, but find it easier if the topic is something you know a lot about. Or you may have a hard time networking, except when it’s in a really small setting.
Recognize these opportunities and take advantage — don’t chalk this variability up to randomness. For many years, I’ve worked with people struggling to step outside their comfort zones at work and in everyday life, and what I’ve found is that we often have much more leeway than we believe to make these tasks feel less loathsome. We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it palatable enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort. For example, if you’re like me and get queasy talking with big groups during large, noisy settings, find a quiet corner of that setting to talk, or step outside into the hallway or just outside the building. If you hate public speaking and networking events, but feel slightly more comfortable in small groups, look for opportunities to speak with smaller groups or set up intimate coffee meetings with those you want to network with.
Finally, take the plunge. In order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Put mechanisms in place that will force you to dive in, and you might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.
For example, I have a history of being uncomfortable with public speaking. In graduate school I took a public speaking class and the professor had us deliver speeches — using notes — every class. Then, after the third or fourth class, we were told to hand over our notes and to speak extemporaneously. I was terrified, as was everyone else in the course, but you know what? It actually worked. I did just fine, and so did everyone else. In fact, speaking without notes ended up being much more effective, making my speaking more natural and authentic. But without this mechanism of forcing me into action, I might never have taken the plunge.
Start with small steps. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an industry event, sign up for a public speaking class. Instead of speaking up in the boardroom, in front of your most senior colleagues, start by speaking up in smaller meetings with peers to see how it feels. And while you’re at it, see if you can recruit a close friend or colleague to offer advice and encouragement in advance of a challenging situation.
You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process. In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think. So, give it a go. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge. My guess is you’ll be pleased at having given yourself the opportunity to grow, learn, and expand your professional repertoire.
By Janet Choi on Aug 14, 2014 10:00 am
Progress, Every Day
You’re a founder who’s juggling a million priorities and tasks — from product to people to vision. There’s so much going on and so much to do that you feelsimultaneously adrift and stuck, not sure what to do or where to turn next — even as you continue to work incredibly hard to get your startup on higher ground.
It’s time for you to get a business coach.
“Having a coach who can develop insights for you, to help you think through things is so, so helpful,” says Brian Wang, co-founder and CEO of Fitocracy — which began as a gamified fitness tracking app with an important social support element and now includes a platform offering coaching services. “It’s the next big element of health and fitness — and I would say productivity — to have coaching,” predicts Brian, “a human experience that moves beyond a self-serve tool.”
Even with Fitocracy’s move toward training services, Brian was initially skeptical about the value of a CEO coach for himself. But he soon found his business coach invaluable to the process of self-improvement as an entrepreneur and leader.
A Business Coach Isn’t For Me
When you consider the most successful people in many industries — athletics and entertainment are perhaps the most visible — they have coaches. What’s lesser known is that many top leaders and entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, had CEO coaches.
Yet people generally don’t consider coaching an option because they see it like a luxury service — or even dismiss it as something downright silly for suckers. Entrepreneurs, especially, can feel that a business coach is something they’ll never need, dissonant with their very identity. Just think: the stereotypical persona of an entrepreneur is that she’s bold and brash, disrupting the establishment, making waves, and blazing her own path. This person has no need for a coach.
In Fitocracy’s push to make coaching a more mainstream, accessible option, Brian has learned that this skepticism is the major barrier in anyone’s quest for improvement. “That’s probably the biggest challenge for most people,” he observes. “They look at it and they think, ‘I don’t need that. That’s for people who are really struggling, and I really have a good handle on this sort of stuff” — despite the fact that they’re not actually seeing results.
For Brian, the turning point came when he fell into a conversation with another founder, talking about the common challenges of creating and sustaining a startup, specifically as “an early-stage company when you’re still trying to figure everything out and make things happen.” When she mentioned that she was working with a CEO coach, he considered how Fitocracy was going through “a particularly stressful period” and decided to give it a try.
What he got was a rewarding “opportunity to talk to someone who is outside of work, outside of my personal life, someone who could really lend an objective third party view and work with me with the explicit goal of making me better.”
The Humble Paradox of Business Coaching
The paradox of business coaching, especially for entrepreneurs and other driven,ambitious, talented people, is that the very attributes of self-confidence and chutzpah required to take the risk of starting your own venture prevents you from admitting that you could use a little help.
Brian has seen how this plays out at Fitocracy when coaches encounter skeptics. These are the people who aren’t willing to give up their preconceived notions or believe that receiving guidance and coaching is beneath them.
“Working with a coach requires a certain level of humility,” explains Brian. “Not everyone’s ready to do it — especially if you’re someone who believes that you know all the answers and you don’t need external help. Then you’re never going to work with a coach, because you haven’t gotten to the point where you’re humble enough to think, ‘maybe I can use some help.’”
The result is self-fulfilling. If you don’t believe in coaching, you also won’t allow it to help you get better.
Brian continues, “If you’re having your assumptions challenged and getting asked to think about things in a different way — and you’re really resistant to that — coaching is not going to be helpful for you. But if you’re willing to take a different look and you come into it with the attitude of, ‘I’m here to improve and I know I don’t know everything,’ then you’re going to get a huge amount of value.”
* * * * *
Having a business coach seems like proof that you’re not good enough, that there’s stuff you need to work on. Even though you may be stuck on the next step and how to make meaningful headway, this can be a difficult thing to admit. But you’re never going to get better if you don’t work at your weaknesses and blind spots.
By trying to do this all yourself, you limit your possibilities and your potential. You have to have the peculiar confidence to be humble enough to admit that you’re not good at everything, that perhaps you could use a coach.
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis and keeps the wheels of the iDoneThis blog turning. She is not a morning person. Follow her @lethargarian or on Google+.
Some days the to-do list seems bottomless. Just looking at it is exhausting.
We all want to know how to stop being lazy and get more done. I certainly want the answer.
So I decided to call a friend who manages to do this — and more.
Cal Newport impresses the heck out of me. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. He’s insanely productive:
He has a full-time job as a professor at Georgetown University, teaching classes and meeting with students.
He writes 6 (or more) peer-reviewed academic journal papers per year.
He’s the author of 4 books including the wonderful “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” And he’s at work on a fifth.
He’s married with a young child and handles all the responsibilities that come with being a husband and dad.
He blogs regularly about productivity and expert performance.
And yet he finishes work at 5:30PM every day and rarely works weekends.
No, he does not have superpowers or a staff of 15. Okay, let’s you and I both stop being jealous of his productivity for a second and learn something.
Below you’ll get Cal’s secrets on how you can better manage your time, stop being lazy, get more done — and be finished by 5:30. Let’s get to work.
1) To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.
To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule.3 Why?
It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.
Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.
Scheduling forces you to confront the reality of how much time you actually have and how long things will take. Now that you look at the whole picture you’re able to get something productive out of every free hour you have in your workday. You not only squeeze more work in but you’re able to put work into places where you can do it best.
Experts agree that if you don’t consider how long things take, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I can hear what some of you are thinking: But I get interrupted. Things get thrown at me last minute.
Great — build that into your schedule. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Things will change. But you need to have a plan, otherwise you’ll waste time.
Want to stop procrastinating? Schedule. Here’s Cal:
Assigning work to times reduces the urge to procrastinate. You are no longer deciding whether or not to work during a given period; the decision is already made.
Does this sound too mechanical? Overly structured and not much fun? Wrong.
Research shows that it’s even a good idea to schedule what you do with your free time. It increases quality of life:
This study was designed to identify the relationship between free time management and quality of life, exploring whether the amount of free time or the way people using their free time relates to their quality of life… The result has found a positive relationship between free time management and quality of life.
(For more on the schedule the most productive people use, click here.)
Okay, the to-do list is in the trash and things are going on the calendar. How do you prioritize so you’re not at work forever?
2) Assume You’re Going Home at 5:30, Then Plan Your Day Backwards
Work will fill the space it’s given. Give it 24/7 and guess what happens?
You need boundaries if you want work/life balance. But this also helps you work better because it forces you to be efficient.
By setting a deadline of 5:30 and then scheduling tasks you can get control over that hurricane of duties.
Cal calls it “fixed schedule productivity”:
Fix your ideal schedule, then work backwards to make everything fit — ruthlessly culling obligations, turning people down, becoming hard to reach, and shedding marginally useful tasks along the way. My experience in trying to make that fixed schedule a reality forces any number of really smart and useful in-the-moment productivity decisions.
What does research say prevents you from getting burned out at work? Feeling in control of your schedule.
Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can decrease your stress level.3
Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:
Over and over, scientists see that the perception of control over a stressor alters the stressor’s impact.
(For more on how to achieve work/life balance, click here.)
You’ve drawn a line in the sand and worked backward, giving all your tasks hours in your day. But how do you handle longer term projects?
3) Make A Plan For The Entire Week
I think you’ll agree that the last thing this world needs is more short term thinking.
You’ll never get ahead of the game by only looking at today and never thinking about tomorrow.
How do you write books, teach classes, meet with students, do research papers and be a good parent consistently? Plan the week.
People don’t look at the larger picture with their time and schedule. I know each day what I’m doing with each hour of the day. I know each week what I’m doing with each day of the week and I know each month what I’m doing with each week of the month.
Are you rolling your eyes? Does this sound overbearing? It’s simpler than you think. What’s really necessary?
Just one hour every Monday morning. Here’s Cal:
Every Monday I lay out a plan for the week. I go through my inbox, I go through my task list, I go through my calendar and try to come away with the best thing to do with each day this week. I write it in an email and I send it to myself and leave it in my inbox because that’s a place I know I will see it every day and I’ll be reminded of it multiple times throughout the day.
And he’s right. Research shows you spend your time more wisely when you follow a plan.
Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:
Preliminary analysis from CEOs in India found that a firm’s sales increased as the CEO worked more hours. But more intriguingly, the correlation between CEO time use and output was driven entirely by hours spent in planned activities. Planning doesn’t have to mean that the hours are spent in meetings, though meetings with employees were correlated with higher sales; it’s just that CEO time is a limited and valuable resource, and planning how it should be allocated increases the chances that it’s spent in productive ways.
Maybe you think it’s enough to run down the week’s duties in your head. Nope.
Studies show writing things down makes you more likely to follow through.
(For more on how the most productive people get things done, click here.)
So you’ve got a fixed schedule and a weekly plan — but the math doesn’t add up. There’s just too much stuff. Cal has an answer for that too.
4) Do Very Few Things, But Be Awesome At Them
Maybe you’re thinking: I just have too many things to do. I could never get it all done in that amount of time.
And Cal concedes that you might be right. But the answer isn’t throwing up your arms and working until 10PM.
You need to do fewer things. Everything is not essential. You say “yes” to more than you need to.
Ask “What’s creating real value in my life?” And then eliminate as much of the rest as you can.
You’re judged on what you do best so if you want to have as much success as possible you’re always better off doing fewer things but doing those things better. People say yes to too much. I say no to most things. I’m ruthless about avoiding or purging tasks if I realize they’re just not providing much value.
You feel like you have no time but John Robinson, the leading researcher on time use, disagrees. We may have more free time than ever.
Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:
He insists that although most Americans feel they’re working harder than ever, they aren’t. The time diaries he studies show that average hours on the job, not only in the United States but also around the globe, have actually been holding steady or going down in the last forty years. Everybody, he says, has more time for leisure.
So what gives? It feels like you have no time because it’s so fragmented with little annoying tasks that drain the life out of you.
So do less. And be amazing at those things.
(For more on what the most successful people do, click here.)
Your plans are in order and by doing less, it all fits on the schedule. But one question remains: what exactly should you be doing with your time?
5) Less Shallow Work, Focus On The Deep Stuff
All work is not created equal. Cal says knowledge workers deal with two fundamentally different types of work, Shallow and Deep:
Shallow work is little stuff like email, meetings, moving information around. Things that are not really using your talents. Deep work pushes your current abilities to their limits. It produces high value results and improves your skills.
And what’s the problem? Most of us are “drowning in the shallows”:
People who are the most busy often are getting a lot less done of significance than the people who are able to stop by 5PM every day. That’s because the whole reason they need to work at night and on the weekends is because their work life has become full of just shallows. They’re responding to messages, moving information around and being a human network router. These things are very time consuming and very low value.
Nobody in the history of the universe ever became CEO because they responded to more email or went to more meetings. No way, Bubba.
Cal has it right: Shallow work stops you from getting fired — but deep work is what gets you promoted.
Give yourself big blocks of uninterrupted time to make things of value. What’s the best first step?
Stop checking email first thing in the morning. Tim Ferriss, author of the international bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, explains:
…whenever possible, do not check email for the first hour or two of the day. It’s difficult for some people to imagine. “How can I do that? I need to check email to get the information I need to work on my most important one or two to-dos?”
You would be surprised how often that is not the case. You might need to get into your email to finish 100% of your most important to-dos. But can you get 80 or 90% done before you go into Gmail and have your rat brain explode with freak-out, dopamine excitement and cortisol panic? Yes.
(For more on how to motivate yourself, click here.)
So how do we tie all this together?
Cal’s five big tips:
To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.
Assume You’re Going Home at 5:30, Then Plan Your Day Backwards
Make A Plan For The Entire Week
Do Very Few Things, But Be Awesome At Them
Less Shallow Work, Focus On The Deep Stuff6
Schedules and plans sound cold and clinical but the end result couldn’t be farther from that.
You’ll be less stressed, create more time for friends and family, and make things you can be proud of.
Knowledge work is really just craftsmanship. It’s just that what you’re crafting is information and not carved wood. You’re crafting ideas. You’re crafting knowledge out of raw material and the more you think about it like a craftsman, the happier and more satisfied you’ll be, not to mention more successful.
The offices of the world could use a few less cubicle drones and a few more proud craftsmen.