Rip the Band-Aid Off

My manager recently sat down with me and expressed concern that I just didn’t seem like myself lately. She said I hadn’t seemed as happy and carefree as usual over the last few weeks. And she was worried it might be rubbing off on others.

Her concern was completely fair, and I think we got to the bottom of it:

In the last few weeks, there had been several projects I was working on–very sensitive projects with pretty delicate implications, so I was pretty pressured to get things just right.

More importantly, the projects were putting me in direct, daily contact with some very unhappy and uncooperative third parties.

On top of that, the projects were dragging on and on and on, and there was little I could do to fix the situations.

So I would get to work and look for this or that easy thing that needed to be done, and just hold off on dealing with the crappy stuff until later in the day. Like I was in a sort of denial–thinking maybe it would all just disappear if I waited long enough.

But it meant I was on edge a lot. It meant I was not looking forward to the rest of the day, I was dreading it. And clearly, it showed.

 

Here’s what I could have done differently: I could have ripped the band-aid off!

I should have known. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my managers say exactly that–very applicable to our line of work: “Just rip it off!”

That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the last month or two of work. Think of it this way:

Remember being a little kid with a band-aid over your cut? After a day, you’d go to pull it off, and maaaan did it hurt!!! You’d timidly take a corner and slowly pull it back, bit by bit, millimeter by millimeter, willing the pain to subside. And with every microscopic hair that snapped, you’d clench your fists and fight your tears a little more. Surely, if you did it a little slower, it wouldn’t hurt so darn bad!!!

Then out of nowhere your mommy would reach in and grab the band-aid. You screamed in terror, but she ripped it off anyway. Fast.

… AND THE PAIN WAS GONE!

 

I promise that if you apply the same principle to your daily work, things will be easier and happier and you’ll be more productive. That’s what I’ve found over the last couple weeks.

If you have something painful to do, don’t wait: Get it over with right away!

If you do rip the band-aid off, you get to focus on good stuff the rest of the day. If you don’t, you get to dread the crappy part.

If you do rip the band-aid off, the happier you works faster and gets more done. If you don’t, you subconsciously procrastinate as long as you can.

If you do rip the band-aid off, the people around you don’t get rain-cloud vibes from you. If you don’t, your team mates will know you really just feel like going home.

 

But that lesson isn’t just about your job: Where else in your life do you need to rip a band-aid off? Is it a conversation you need to have? A habit you need to stop?

If you did just rip the band-aid off, don’t you think it would make you happier, more energetic, and more productive?

What band-aid have you ripped off recently? And which one do you know has got to go next?

5 Reasons You Should Show Up First

Whether you’re salaried and can start work when you want, or you’re required to wait till a certain time to punch in and start your real work, arriving at work bright (or dark) and early has some serious benefits. It can be the difference between a great day and an awful one.

Here are 5 reasons I try to be one of the first people in the office every day.

early morning

1. The office mood isn’t already decided when you get there.

This is the biggest one for me. You probably know the feeling all too well of walking in the door and feeling a shadow–you know something has already gone wrong. Maybe someone just woke up on the wrong side of bed. Or someone just got a bad review or a bunch more thrown into their work load. Maybe a couple co-workers have already butted heads. Whatever it is, everyone’s grumpy.

It’s really hard to walk in to bad vibes and stay positive and energized.

On the other hand, if you can be there to start everyone’s day off with a smile and some positive energy, you can help set a positive mood for the office–start everyone’s day with a smile.

2. Never racing the clock eliminates a lot of stress.

Whether you’re required to be there right on the hour, or showing up shortly after is frowned upon–making it just in time comes with a lot of stress. Every red light or slow driver frustrates you to no end. And if you’re pushing it too close, you spend your entire commute coming up with excuses (for your boss and for yourself).

Deciding to just get there well before you have to every day immediately eliminates all that stress. You’re never racing the clock, red lights, and slow drivers. Your day doesn’t automatically start with stressing and excusing. It starts with a nice, relaxing drive.

Heck, roll your windows down and chill. You have nowhere to be fast.

3. You get a ton of work done before distractions.

Especially if you work closely with a team, or if you work in close quarters with others, you can get double or triple the work done while nobody’s there to distract you yet. Adding just one hour of working before you have to interact might be a sacrifice, but it can mean getting literally twice the work done in one day. And that’s the kind of productivity that leads to pay raises and promotions.

If you’re not salaried, and you’re not legally allowed to start working before you’re supposed to clock in, showing up early still helps: Dedicate some time to your own development. Start the day off strong by reflecting on your accomplishments and areas of opportunity. Set some goals for your day. Read a chapter from an industry-related book. Whether it’s official “work” or not, dedicate some extra time every morning to your success.

4. People see you as dependable and hard-working.

When you get there and get started before the crowd, people naturally start seeing you as a diligent and hard-working person. Your co-workers know you as the one who will always show up early and ready. Your boss will never have to worry that you’ll show up late.

If people see you putting in extra, going above and beyond, they will be impressed. They’ll talk about it. They’ll see it as a good example.

You need to be known for your diligence. Opportunities will start throwing themselves at you.

5. You trick your brain into enthusiasm.

Finally, being the first one to work tricks your brain into enthusiasm: If you show up early, people see you as a hard worker. When people see you as a hard worker, you feel like a hard worker. When you feel like a hard worker, it becomes a part of your identity. Suddenly, whether you intended to or not, you’ve tricked yourself into working harder.

It’s also hard to lead the charge in the morning and not be energized. Your brain just can’t make sense of showing up early AND dragging your feet and being grumpy. They’re not compatible. So don’t give your brain the option of picking laziness in the morning. Kick it into high gear by showing up early, and you’re just helping yourself be happier, healthier, and harder working.

The list could go on, so why don’t you share? What else do you think showing up early could do for your career and your character?

And where does this apply besides the office? Can you make a difference being the first one up with a positive attitude in your house every morning?

3 Questions You Should Ask Before Work Today

Stop what you’re doing and ask yourself these 3 questions.

What habit am I going to break today that will increase my success?

What personal trait am I going to focus on developing today that will increase my success?

What conversation am I going to have today that will increase my success?

Now write down your answers, bring them with you to work, and add those 3 items to your day’s agenda.

 

What if we wrote our to-do lists with the big picture in mind? What if they looked like this

  • Send 3 co-workers encouraging notes.
  • Stay off Facebook till 5PM.
  • Focus today on asking clients questions that uncover their decision-making process?

just as much as they look like this?

  • Finish writing reviews.
  • Call Mary back.
  • Make 5 prospecting calls.

 

Look at yesterday’s to-do list. Does it look like it was written by an ambitious and intentional visionary or by someone just hoping to maintain job security?

Are you working on getting through the day or are you working on becoming the happy, excellent, successful person you dream of being?

“Social Mobility” is NOT the Issue!

“When I was 12 or 13, I wanted to build something and I needed some parts, so I picked up the phone and called Bill Hewlett–he was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. He answered the phone and he was real nice. He chatted with me for, like, 20 minutes. He didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency computers. ‘Assembling’ may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter–I was in heaven.”  –  Steve Jobs

Here’s why I think that if 12- and-13-year-olds in our society were taught to think like 12-or-13-year-old Steve Jobs, “social mobility” wouldn’t be a problem.

social mobility[image source: http://uncomfortablesoul.com/post/66933680664]

Regardless of statistics, 73.3% of which are made up on the spot, understanding the attitude of most of our current culture tells you exactly why there’s a lot of social stagnation.

I’m not as concerned with statistics as I am with the nitty-gritty how-to’s for individuals. Because I’ve seen, history has proved, Thomas Stanley and many others have documented, and a lot of people like Steve Jobs and Sam Walton are proud of the fact, that“social mobility” has more to do with an individual’s self-control (including having the humility to ask for and accept help), self-awareness, and determination–more to do with those than with the family they were born into, the schools they got to attend, the “people they knew.”

I’m not as concerned with the general state of our economy as I am with an individual’s self-discipline because it’s each individual’s self-discipline or lack thereof that makes the general state of our economy. And it’s the very idea that we need to “be more equal because social mobility is hard” that encourages the laziest people in our society to stay lazy.

When people complain about the difficulty these days of social mobility it bothers me. Because I’ve worked with the people at the bottom of the social ladder for a long time and tried to help them as much as I can. I’ve offered to buy someone an alarm clock so that he can stop missing work and maybe get promoted and been turned down because he “can’t take help.” I’ve been begged for “$5 for gas or else I’ll miss work and get fired and my kids will go hungry” by someone who smokes hundreds of dollars of cigarettes a month and whose car is decked out in a terrifying amount of Ed Hardy bling.

[Side note: For one thing, the “good old days” were certainly not some dream world either. For every Michael Dell, who started work as a dishwasher at $2.30 an hour and saved enough hard-earned money through high school to buy a car and computers so that he could try to start a risky business, PCs Limited, in his college dorm room–there was another kid who decided screwing around was a little more comfortable and kept washing dishes all his life. We just never heard about him.]

Sure, there’s not as much social mobilizing going on these days as we’d like… but I’m convinced that it’s because almost everyone in our society is no longer being taught “you’d better work hard,” but instead “you’d better get what you want.” Most of those complaining about how “unequal” it all is and how “it’s impossible” for them to get anywhere are the ones who simply don’t think they should have to raise a finger (or stop overdrafting every paycheck for more illegal weed). The worldview of modern America’s “underclass” is this: I should be able to have as much fun as I want, do as little work as I want, and be carried up the social ladder.

I strongly believe that “social mobility” is not out of the question for any able-minded person. In fact, with a world full of new ideas, new inventions, and new businesses, there are more opportunities than ever. It just takes certain ingredients our society no longer values or demands. Especially: self-control, humility, and determination.

1. Self-control: I knew that a great resource for my finding my next step on the social ladder would be to visit a Toastmasters club. The idea was a little scary–I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to wear, didn’t want to ask and sound silly, didn’t know whether I should be there early, didn’t know if they would ask me to talk, was worried about what the members would think of me. For someone who had been for two years in the food industry and faced lots of put-downs, a professional public speaking and leadership club made me nervous and self-conscious. Very much so.

So after committing to myself three weeks in a row to visit and finding an excuse to let myself off the hook each week, I finally went. I threw some nice clothes in a backpack, left more than an hour early on my first day off in ages, walked the three miles into the city (since I didn’t have a car), changed clothes in a gas station bathroom, and hurried down the road to the meeting place. I arrived two minutes early and panicked. “What kind of an impression will it make to rush in at the last minute???” So I turned around and walked the three miles home. After worrying all the way to the meeting, I despaired all the way home.

Doesn’t all seem like that big a deal, I know, but sometimes the little scary steps are the hardest. Especially when you’re just getting started. Practicing self-control and self-direction isn’t easy. The next week I left an hour and a half early and waited in the meeting room for twenty minutes before anyone showed up. Following that nerve-racking meeting one of the club members invited me to his beautiful home for a wine and cheese party with several other business owners and invited me to join his small business.

Taking the risk of embarrassment, controlling myself when I really didn’t feel like doing something scary–it was a big step in my own “social mobility.” I’ve told all my former co-workers about Toastmasters–about all the professionals you can meet, all the connections you make, all the help they offer. They think it’s scary–of course! Everyone is self-conscious when they first go to Toastmasters! They say, “yeah, I should try that.” But they never do. Because it’s a lot less scary to just go buy another 6-pack and watch more football.

[Shameless plug: If you live in the Twin Cities area, come visit our awesome Toastmasters club 12:05-1:00 every Wednesday in Apple Valley! Here are directions.]

If you have self-control with your emotions, your money, your work-ethic, your habits, and more, you absolutely can make progress.

2. Courage: Here’s a big one. I’ve learned to ask for help. It was asking for help that got my foot into the door of the financial industry where I’m now working and learning lots and even happier than before. But admitting you need help and asking for it are scary things. One thing most professional-development leaders have realized is that the ability to ask for and receive help is very high on “wealthy” people’s lists of what made them successful. Of course there are many more things, but I mention this particularly because it’s one that the “underclass” just will not accept. I’ve been more shocked by this than almost anything else.

The chronically poor people I’ve seen who never can seem to make any progress, no matter how bad they “want” it, absolutely refuse to ask for help. They aren’t even willing to receive it, usually (of course, “help” does not equal just-enough-gas-money-to-get-by or more cigarettes–those, they’d gladly receive). Life-changing, socially-mobilizing help is often refused. Most of the “underclass” I’ve worked with have refused to ask for help, proudly admitting it’s a matter of pride. They’ve also refused to accept real help.

You don’t need “access” to the wealthiest people. If I walked up to Bill Gates and said, “I’m a great guy, you should fund my education,” he’d be a little silly to listen. Since he essentially earns hundreds of thousands per hour, prioritizing unsupported soliciting from some kid wouldn’t necessarily be the most charitable use of his time, which for him equals money–and Bill Gates’s money has helped a lot of people. But there are people a level up from you–the next step you need to take–who would love to help. Just like there are people a little closer to Bill Gates who he might love to help.

The wealthy people that have personally helped me aren’t the wealthiest. They’re just several steps up and had the kindness to give me time and attention and a little extra help. But I had to learn to ask. And when I started asking, I was shocked at just how much people love to help. So the reason it seems like there’s “so little access” to help has a lot to do with the fact that having the humility and emotional courage to ask for help is simply not seen as very important in our society.

If you have the humility and courage to ask for and receive real help, you absolutely can make progress.

3. Finally, determination: You can learn how to ask for help sometimes and you can learn how to force yourself to make the right decisions, but if you’re not committed to valuing your social/financial progress more highly than your immediate comfort, you will hold yourself back. Self-control is about learning to not spend your whole paycheck at the mall instead of a on a business suit for your next interview. Courage is about being willing to ask for help from people who have taken the steps you need to take. Determination is about committing to yourself to keep stepping forward instead of just collapsing in front of your TV every evening.

Determination says, “yes, I value entertainment, but not as much as I value my success, so I will read this book.” Determination says, “So, I’ve done A, B, C, and D–and I’m still not there. I feel like giving up. But I can’t give up on my future.” Determination is what Walt Disney needed when he was fired by a newspaper because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Determination is what Fred Astaire had after his first screen test was judged, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Determination was what made Thomas Edison say, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” Determination is how Colonel Sanders decided to make his 1009th sales call for his first “yes.” Determination is what the failure-of-a-student Winston Churchill meant when he said, “Never, Never, Never, Never give up.”If you are truly determined, you absolutely can make progress.

There is no such thing as “social immobility.” The term just helps people feel better about laziness, self-consciousness, and irresponsibility.

I have no disrespect for people who are trying hard and haven’t made it very far yet. I’m one of them. I respect them because they’re trying. And those truly trying make progress. The ones who are begging for the rules to be changed, the social ladder to be flattened so they can walk across it, life and riches to be spoon-fed them–they’re the ones who would rather just go home and watch another episode than google “how to nail an interview.” I have no respect for that mindset–although it’s a comfy one.

And I think all the great leaders through history who have shown real tenacity would be quite offended by the suggestion that they just got lucky.

So follow in their foot steps. Be self-controlled, be courageous, and be determined. You will see a difference.

I highly recommend:

 

[I originally wrote this post on Facebook in 2013. At the time, a lot of people seemed to appreciate or be encouraged by it. I recently realized I hadn’t yet posted it on my website, so here you go. I hope in some way it is encouraging or inspiring to you, or may be to someone you know. You can see the original Facebook post here. Thanks for reading! :) ]

What Your Boss Really Hears

A recent review got me thinking. The way I talk to my bosses has changed a lot over the last few years. A lot. I’ve learned the hard way that speaking instinctively doesn’t work. Knee-jerk responses are rarely good strategy.

 

For example, when you say: “I couldn’t help it! I tried my best!”

Your boss really hears: “I can’t help failing in this situation, so I’ll fail again next time.”

“We can’t really help our numbers. We’ve inherited a tough situation.”

Really means: “You’ll have to find another employee who is solution-oriented, not problem-oriented.”

“This change sucks! I liked it the old way!”

“I’m focusing on what I’m losing, not on what I could gain from this. I’m going to be no help from now on.”

“I’m done with all my stuff–there’s nothing else I can do.”

“Don’t trust me to innovate and be independent. I can’t come up with any ideas of my own, and I’m blind to the fact that there’s always more that can be done.”

“I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.”

“I’m not organized enough, so I’ll forget more things.”

“I’m just having one of those days, you know?”

“I don’t have enough self-control. You’re going to have to light a fire under me or find someone with a better work ethic.”

“Here’s what happened: [This, that, and the other thing] happened to me, so [bad thing] ended up happening.”

“I see myself as a victim of situations, so you cannot trust me to take responsibility and make sure the right thing happens from now on.”

“I just can’t work well with that person. I really don’t like him. He’s really annoying.”

“I’m not a team player, and I’m not very friendly.”

“I’m sorry about today, I just have a bunch of personal stuff going on.”

“I can’t keep work and personal issues separate. You can expect poor performance whenever personal issues come up.”

“I’m sorry, I keep sleeping through my alarm!”

“I can’t be bothered to go to bed earlier or get a louder alarm. You’re going to have to deal with it.”

“That’s not my job.”

“I will always insist on doing the bare minimum in my job description. You’re the manager, it’s your problem.”

“That’s way outside my comfort zone, is there someone else who can do it?”

“I don’t look for ways to grow. Surely you have a more valuable employee you can ask.”

“That’s impossible. Nobody can do that!”

“I’m too small for this task. You need a bigger person.”

 

It’s not that your boss can’t sympathize when you’re having a tough time. And it’s not that mistakes aren’t okay. The point is, taking ownership of  situations, mistakes, problems, challenges, results, for you and your team–that, and only that, communicates a positive message about you to your boss.

In fact, sometimes all it takes is adding one sentence, and your boss couldn’t be happier: “I have so much going on, I totally forgot about that.” Plus: “I’m sorry. I’ll get more organized today and make sure I’m keeping tabs on everything I need to get done.”

 

What else do you say, or hear your co-workers say, that really doesn’t get the results intended? How could you approach things differently?

Moral of the story: Before you open your mouth, listen to yourself from your leader’s perspective.