Three Words of Advice that Have Guided Me for Years

path

 

Dear Member of the HOPE Family,

Thanks for asking me for some advice as about your career. I know you have aspirations to advance in your field…let me give you some advice that was given to me years ago when my career faced a major transition.

Walk. The. Path.

There’s a lot packed in those words.  Let’s take a look.

Walk – not run. Stay in step with the journey and don’t rush ahead. As a person of faith, I believe God is leading me day by day, and it’s easy to be tempted to run ahead. But that’s not what is best. Learn and absorb all you can, even while walking forward.

The – not “a” path, but “the” path for you. Everyone has a unique career journey. You will interact with different people than I do, have varied experiences, and walk through both successes and failures. Don’t compare your journey with anyone else’s. Embrace your own, but also be on the lookout for others you can bless on the path.

Path – paths are sometimes smooth, sometimes straight, sometimes winding, sometimes rocky. Just walk it. Look ahead sometimes, to see what bends are coming, or sense if the elevation is changing, so you can adjust your approach and pace yourself; but don’t “live” around the bend. Stop and breathe when you need to. But whatever you do, be a rock star and conduct yourself out of a foundation of character and values at the point of the path where you are. Your reputation will follow you. Do the entry level job with the same commitment you would the type of job you aspire for … that will help you climb mountains in the future.

I went on a very difficult overnight hike with my husband, son and a friend some time ago. If I’d know what the trail would be like beforehand, I probably would not have gone.  It was technically beyond what I could do for the current shape I was in. But I did it. One step, one breath, one stop then one go–and one exasperated frown at a time.  Did I enjoy it all? Not totally. But it was good for me, and I proved to myself that I can do harder things than I think.

Your career path may not always be easy. But it can have its glorious moments. And it’s unique to you. Walk the path before you, with grace, appreciation and enthusiasm.

Stay hopeful,


Beth

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Five Important Tasks You Should Conquer Every Week

Sometimes, you have to be your own assistant.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an assistant on call, to do that one painful task a week? If you aren’t able to put that into your budget yet, you have to be your own assistant. Here are five administrative tasks you should conquer every week to live in the stress-free zone.

Look at your calendar.  

This should be obvious, but if you are like me, sometimes you may add items to your calendar, but you don’t really LOOK at it when you start talking about plans. We rely on our memory and think, “That should work” and then realize we’ve overstuffed our day or weekend. We don’t think to schedule down time, feeling guilty about making it an appointment. But if we look at our calendar regularly, we can better learn our patterns and scheduling needs and catch those appointments we made and forgot about.

Clean up that email inbox.

Email is a constant source of stress for professionals. That’s why I offer free resources to help overwhelmed professionals handle email more effectively. Determine what level of email stress is okay to you. For some of us (me included) nothing less than inbox zero will do. But I realize that it unrealistic for many. Could a goal of retaining no more than 20 emails in the inbox at a time be more realistic for you?

Read something valuable.

Take some time each week to read a chapter in a good book or digest a blog post or e-newsletter from someone you like. (Maybe HOPE Hints?) Invest into your professional development, even if during a coffee break. One of my friends challenged himself to spend as much time reading a valuable book as he does on social media each day. Which leads me to…

Restrict social media.

For most professionals, social media is part of your work. It may be a big part actually, so completely avoiding it is unrealistic. But you can restrict how involved you get. I’ve discovered that when I cut back on mindlessly scrolling through my news feed, and post a little less frequently, my spirit feels more relaxed.

Revisit your values.

Have a personal mission statement available in a prominant place (such as your calendar that you are reviewing weekly!) and look at it daily to recalibrate you toward why you do what you do. Chances are, by the way, that your mission statement doesn’t include anything about the amount of money you make. Hang onto that!

Conquer these tasks each week and you’ll see some of your work-related stress start to fade away.

Is a “Work Spouse” a Good Idea?

 

#workspouse

That’s actually a thing.

Some time ago, an article started to circulate in the business world regarding the benefits of having a “work spouse.” Discussions on Linked In ensued, and there were fairly strong opinions shared about the topic.

If you don’t work remotely, you probably spend a lot of time at your workplace. Much of our waking hours are are spent on our profession. If we happen to work with great people, friendships can develop that are meaningful and appropriate. But there are also times when relationships get muddy and cross boundary lines.

Those on the side of having a “work spouse” believe it’s very valuable to have someone you can trust to give you guidance at your job. If your “significant other” in your personal life isn’t deeply familiar with your industry, there’s a camaraderie and “inside” connection that can develop with those who know the jargon, understand the inside jokes, and directly experience the ups and downs.

Those opposed to the idea (and I am one of them) feel that the term “work spouse” reveals a dangerous precedent, providing justification for allowing another person a level of intimacy (even if it is “only” for professional purposes) that should be reserved for your closest personal relationship (your wife, husband or significant other.) The mindset of two different “spouses” can make it easier to lead two separate lives, and doesn’t allow the privilege for your “real” spouse to listen and relate, and perhaps give objective advice into a major element of your life.

I strongly oppose the concept (not just the word use) of “work spouse.” I have observed the tragic consequences of a work relationship crossing boundaries and causing heartache for the parties involved, as well as their families and coworkers and even the community. 

There is one person called to be my spouse, and that’s Keith. Our vows to each other deserve the respect of healthy boundaries.

However, I do understand that there can be close relationships that develop in the workplace among genders. As a virtual assistant to several people, I have access to information others in their circle, perhaps even their spouse or significant other don’t have on a day-to-day basis. Some in-real-life assistants become a right hand to their boss, and may occasionally do “personal” tasks.  However, there are still some habits that can be put in place to protect relationships from crossing lines. Some examples:

Keep your closest personal connection informed about your work. You don’t have to go into all sorts of details, but do you have a general idea of how your spouse or closest connection spends his/her day? Are you a safe person for them to vent to occasionally, or do you shut down conversations because you don’t understand their industry?

Introduce your coworkers to your spouse. I’ve become friendly with the assistants/colleagues over the years where my husband works. We’ve even occasionally spent time together as couples. When you know your coworkers’ spouse or partner, there develops a respect for their relationship because they are becoming your acquaintance or friend too. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s helpful.

Establish mutually agreed upon boundaries.  Discuss with your spouse what you feel comfortable with and don’t. We’ve discussed with others how to handle business trip scenarios, or situations that would involve having meals/coffee alone with someone not our spouse (even if work related.) There may be different levels of tolerances–the key is to make sure you and your spouse determine what boundaries work for your relationship. For example, I like Keith to know about the times I’m going to have coffee or lunch alone with a gentleman (which isn’t often), and while I do some messaging with my clients, I try to be careful about how often, or how long, I keep these conversations going (particularly if they are more chit chat and not project related.)  

Communicate. If something feels like a red flag, mention it. Be kind but assertive to clarify what the relationship at work means to you. Take care of it early on.  In the situation I observed, there should have been obvious red flags early on but the workers kept walking the path forward until it blew up terribly.  If appropriate, go to a supervisor or HR particularly if a pattern develops and doesn’t change when you’ve made yourself clear. 

There may also be suitable times for you to address a situation you’ve observed, with the associate(s) involved, privately and humbly, instead of looking the other way. I remember at least one time when I cautioned a (married) colleague I cared about to “be careful” because I was noticing how impressed they were becoming with another (married) colleague and it felt concerning.

The idea of a #workspouse shouldn’t be taken lightly. You may disagree with my strong feelings about this–all I ask is that you be careful if you do. An amazing amount of stress could await you if you don’t get this figured out ahead of time. 

 

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The HOPE Family Ties Are Deep

A Pause to be Thankful

Some time ago, we had the opportunity to use our Give HOPE Fund to assist a client whose business was affected by a weather incident.

In the process, I rediscovered how blessed we are with the HOPE collective. You see, when you become a client, or read HOPE resources regularly, or become a Patron, or buy a product–you become part of the HOPE family. Here are some things I’ve experienced:

Clients that are not competitive with one another, but synergistic.

Clients willing to recommend us to others without fear it will impact the level of service they receive.

Colleagues who will offer not to be paid for a particular task or period of time, if they feel it will contribute to the overall good or is fair to the client in that situation.

Clients who surprised a teammate with a bouquet of flowers after a large project.

Clients who’ve offered free tickets to a sporting event and meaningful gifts.

Patrons who donate money in appreciation for the free resources/articles.

Readers who have followed and engaged with me for years.

Clients who will give back by donating a portion of their retainer to the Give HOPE fund and/or participate if there is a special need (like the one mentioned above.)

When I thanked one client for participating in a particular initiative, they replied, “The HOPE family ties are deep.

It’s an honor to oversee this collective–this family–of wonderful, diverse, caring people.

If you are reading this, YOU are part of the family. Thank you.

What Body Boarding Can Teach Us about Career and Business

“Wait, wait, wait….GO GO GO!”

My husband (that’s him on the wave) was coaching me as I attempted to successfully catch a wave for a lengthy body board ride into shore during a vacation to Tybee Island, GA. It had been years since either of us had done this, and he especially was having a blast. I’m delighted to report that I had three successful long rides, and was happy to defer to him to use the board the majority of the time.

The concept of body boarding got me to thinking about business principles that are actually pretty easy to draw from riding a wave. Over dinner at the Crab Shack (a unique place we ended up going to twice!), Keith and I brainstormed and came up with the following:

You’ll miss more waves than you catch.  Half of the experience of body boarding is watching for waves. So many will go by you as you wait for the right one.

In career/business, you cannot possibly take advantage of every opening, trend or market need. For example, there are certain “holidays” each year for which it may be good for me to write a blog post (i.e. Administrative Professionals Day). But I’ll miss some, either in favor of providing “evergreen” content or just because I was busy with other things. And that’s okay. I’ll grab opportunities when the timing is right.

You have to look ahead, yet stay present. To body board well, you have to watch for waves forming in the distance to determine which ones may provide the better ride. At the same time, you have to watch out for the larger ones nearby that can smack you, be aware of others around you, and be attentive to marine life (you are in the ocean after all!)

In your professional life, it’s wise to have a long-term plan or goal, but don’t miss the opportunities around you. I advised a friend who had just been hired for a particular position but who has aspirations for another up the line, to be a rock star at the current position. No matter what job you have, your character and values are going to show and could open doors for you.

Not every wave is worth riding. It’s a fact–the right waves will come in, well, waves.

In the business world, there are lots of situations that are trendy. With social media, trends are an everyday occurrence and sometimes they only last for hours. The latest guru selling their way of making money may be a millionaire and may be around for some time to come, but their method may not be for you. Be true to your character and style by being willing to learn from others without feeling you have to do everything like they do.

A little coaching can help.  I confess. When it comes to being coached about anything involving athletics, I tend to be resistant. Athletics and physical coordination don’t come as naturally to me as other skills. Being coached reminds me of that and I get uncomfortable. But in business, I’ve matured a lot by being willing to be teachable/coachable. (Maybe I should apply that to athletics…)

The big ones don’t always give the best ride. Keith often found that forgoing the “big wave” coming and riding one of the medium swells gave him just as satisfying a ride. Same thing in business. Big isn’t always better. I enjoy being a small business owner and don’t have to become a huge corporation to be satisfied.

Every ride will end. For us, a successful ride is one that carries you along for several seconds and pushes you almost fully toward shore. But even the good ones end, and you have to plod back out to sea to find another one.

In your career, don’t give up. Maybe you experienced the high of being able to be part of a big project. At some point that project will end. Embrace the excitement while you can, but know that you’ll have other opportunities some day too. Maybe you’ll lose a beloved job. (I have, several times.) Change is inevitable. As the motivational poster says, either ride the wave or you’ll get buried under it.

Even if your ride is the best. One. Ever. You may get bruised or scraped up. I drafted this post on the morning after we’d gone to the beach for two days. My husband is sore from all the activity. He may have even gotten bruised or a little scraped up. But you can bet he wants to do this again some day.

Riding waves can be exhausting even while exhilarating. As much as he wanted to go to the beach one more time before we went into Savannah for the second half of our vacation, Keith knew that he’d need to rest and take it easy so he could enjoy the next phase. Riding waves is a lot of fun, but it can be tough on the body. Make sure you take regular breaks from your work.

Now you…find a wave to catch, or skip today!

Does He Ever Answer Email?

email frustration

 

“Does he ever answer email?”

“Will she ever respond to what I send her?”

Do you ever say, or at least feel that about a teammate or client that does not appear to ever check his/her email?

One of the most frustrating things I observe in business life is the lack of response from people. I am sometimes amazed about it.

For example, at this writing, I had sent an email to a couple of people I had served on a team with. One was an apology.

At the time of this writing, weeks later, these emails have never been acknowledged.

To be fair, these emails don’t necessarily need an answer, although based on the dialog included, it would seem at least a quick acknowledgment would be in order. I suspect that since I sent them to an email box that is separate from others they use, (even though it is one they are supposed to monitor) they may not have even seen them yet.

And that’s not the only example. I have a contact that never seems to answer any email I’ve ever sent, yet claims that is their email box. I rarely use email to contact them, for obvious reasons.

I could go on, mentioning people who want work or business who don’t respond with information requested, etc. (How much business and potential money is lost by not responding to potential clients or employers?)

Would people say that about you? Would they have to find alternative ways to contact you out of fear that you’ll never answer?

If you are in business for yourself, and are not monitoring email well, you may be losing opportunities. People will go elsewhere if they don’t hear back in a timely way. Get some help if you need it, but do something about it. Your clients, colleagues and potential customers are waiting!

*****

HOPE can help you with your email. One of my regular tasks is customer/client service emails for a client. It helps them to serve their platform in a timely way. Another client hired us to help him  clear out inboxes (over 50,000 so far and we’re less than five hours into the package.) I’ll be helping him set up a better system. Contact me today if you’re ready to be off the list of those asking, “Does she/he ever answer their email?”

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Should You Use Sticky Notes?

A potentially better alternative

During an all-day speaking engagement some time ago I mentioned that I am not a big fan of sticky notes. It’s becoming a bit of a known quirk now that “Beth doesn’t like sticky notes.” I don’t mind them as a temporary tool, but they quickly become permanent fixtures on desks, monitors and other parts of the office and that becomes visual clutter. So I’ve found an alternative for the times when you need to do some doodling, quick figuring, or keep track of something for just a few minutes–a dry erase board and marker.

I keep small dry erase boards at my desks/portable office bag for jotting quick things that don’t need a life beyond that day, or even that hour, at my work space.  It gets erased when I don’t need the information any more (usually within the same day) and I don’t have the risk of building up too much paper clutter.

If you need to keep information handy for an extended period of time, find a place to store it that can be off the main “cockpit” of your desk, even if you do use paper. The danger of sticky notes is that they are designed to be left in visible places more often than not. That’s why they are stick.  Cutting down on visual clutter (particularly paper with words and numbers on it) can help ease your brain of having to repeatedly process whether you still need that info, or worse, it fading into familiarity and having no use at all.

In addition to the benefit of using dry erase supplies for notes that can be erased quickly, here are some other cool things you can do with dry erase supplies:

1) Use a dry erase marker to jot a reminder on your bathroom mirror (or a note to your loved one.)

2) Keep a dry erase menu on your refrigerator that you can easily erase and update daily, always having several days of meal ideas planned ahead.

3) Use a dry erase marker on certain types of lids to mark whose lunch is whose (test on a small area first).

Your turn: How could you use a dry erase board to declutter your desk surfaces?

 

 

 

How to Navigate Controversial Topics at Work

A Guest Post

My thanks to Jessica Pyykkonen for this guest post.

Picture this: you’re on your lunch break and have been invited to sit with a group of coworkers who appear to be deep in passionate discussion. When you sit down and ask what’s new, two colleagues on opposing sides of the table begin disparaging each other. You quickly learn that their opposing political views are the source of their disagreement, and you begin to feel uncomfortable.

Have you been there? Or perhaps you have been in the seat of one of the debaters at that table, and didn’t realize that you may have made a coworker feel uncomfortable?

Controversial topics seem to be everywhere in the workplace these days. If conducted with respect, they have the potential to bring coworkers together, but they’re also ripe for sticky social situations. This article and infographic can help you navigate these delicate situations, no matter what your role in them, so you stay professional and avoid creating difficult moments for those around you.

Four Small But Mighty Changes That Will De-Stress Your Email Life

 

“I don’t understand why we send people the information they need and they don’t read their email!”

My frustrated friend was lamenting how people don’t READ their email, causing more inefficiency.

I told him that maybe it’s because when people need information, they feel the quickest thing to do is ask again instead of digging through an over-filled in-box to find it.

I’m not excusing that behavior–I’d done something similar a day before. I was confirming a meeting and could not find the street address for it. So I stopped digging and asked the person again to confirm the location.  

But I can understand my friend’s frustration. It interrupted his morning,when if his colleagues would keep up with their messages, everyone could go about their work more easily.

So how can we, as a professional society, change this?  Here are some thoughts:

Change our attitude.  Many professionals live with the opinion that email is the enemy. I have news for you. It’s not. It’s just a means of communication no different than phone calls, texts, or social media posts. Whether you like it or not, much of your business takes place in email and will be negatively affected if you don’t respond. It’s not a separate task from your work. Get over it and find a system customized to you.

Keep up with your email. Find a system that works for you. Perhaps you won’t be able to practice “Inbox Zero” but you can still keep up with the important things. (My course, Forget Inbox Zero: Be an Inbox HERO goes deeper.)

File the important items in a logical place. The address I needed? I could have attached it to the calendar appointment. Waiting to hear back this week? Have a “briefly hold” folder in your email system (don’t let it pile up!)

Set up rules.  Filter messages from vital connections so they are saved in folders or marked with a different color. Auto-direct emails related to a certain task to their own folder.

These small but mighty changes can help you handle email with much more efficiency and prevent people from getting frustrated with lack of information or response. Be a pro–give it a go!