5 Ways to Train Your Brain for Maximum Productivity

brain training for productivity

The hard truth about the world is that we all have just 24 hours in which to accomplish everything we want to do.  But while it’s true that some people use those hours more effectively than others, you aren’t set at some baseline productivity level that can never change.  Just like you can train yourself to run a race with daily jogs, you can train your brain for maximum productivity with the following techniques:

Tip #1 – Try a brain training game

Though the idea of brain training might sound rigorous and dull, there are plenty of fun ways to challenge your mind with games and apps.  A few fun options include:

  • Lumosity
  • Brain Age for Nintendo
  • Brain Challenge for iOS devices

Don’t want to pay a ton for a digital program?  Pick up a cheap book of crossword puzzles, Sudoku games or logic puzzles from your local drugstore.  Though they’re static alternatives, they’re just as valuable to your mind.

Tip #2 – Learn something new

If you want your brain to be as productive as possible, you’ve got to train it to get used to processing new stimuli and filing away new thoughts effectively.  And one of the best ways to do this is to learn something new.

That something new could be anything from a new language to a new sport.  Hell, even picking up a book on a subject you aren’t familiar with can be a great way to start building new neural pathways and to get your mind used to properly managing new input.  Both of these benefits can contribute tremendously to your ability to work productively in the future.

Tip #3 – Do your hardest work first

Though most of us tend to start off with our easiest tasks, this isn’t a good habit to get into based on how our brains operate.  Because our minds require a certain amount of processing power in order to think creatively and be productive, every task that we undertake depletes these resources.

According to David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work:

“An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning).  Every decision we make tires the brain.”

If you want your mind to work as productively as possible, train yourself to work on your most challenging tasks first, as well as those that require an abundance of energy.  It may be hard to think about diving into something serious when you’re first sitting down to work, but forming this habit will ensure that you have the mental faculties needed to get through all of your scheduled activities.

Tip #4 – Change your routines

Often times, we get into habits that prevent the brain from having to work too hard.  Take a second and put your hand up to your mouth as if you were about to start brushing your teeth.  Odds are, your hand moved automatically to the same spot it does every morning – without you having to think about it.

In some way, these routines are helpful, as they free up mental processing power to focus on more important tasks.  But they certainly aren’t challenging your brain in any way!

To train your brain to be more flexible and creative, make it a point to uncover any subconscious routines you’re currently engaging in and change them.  If you always take the same route to work, try a different path next time.  Or if you always write with your right hand, try to improve your penmanship with your left.

Changing your routines may be frustrating at first, but doing so is a powerful way to strengthen the synapses in your brain – leading to better mental processing all around.

Tip #5 – Give yourself ample processing time

In addition, recognize that periods of rest are crucial when it comes to training your brain.  While you rest or sleep, your mind is hard at work processing and assimilating all of the new information you’ve taken in.  As a result, if you don’t give yourself enough downtime, your brain training attempts may actually backfire by overloading your brain’s capacity.

So if you’re ever feeling like your mind is too full to concentrate, there’s a good chance that it is.  Take a break and give your mind time to recharge so that you can return to your activities with a fresh start and a clear head in the future.

Finally, keep in mind that brain training shouldn’t be a “one off” occurrence.  If you really want these changes to stick and to become as productive as you can, challenge your mind on a regular basis.  The results of this continued effort may be subtle, but – trust me – they’ll be powerful as well!

7 Ways to Be More Fearless

how to be fearless

Being fearless doesn’t necessarily mean jumping out of airplanes or traveling to the world’s most dangerous regions (although it certainly can if you want).  For some people, cultivating a sense of fearlessness is more about gathering the courage to ask for a major promotion or to make a cross-country move for the chance at a better life.

No matter what specific end result you’re working towards, the following tips should help you to minimize fear and embrace courage in your life:

Tip #1 – Identify your fears

The first step towards becoming more fearless is to simply identify what it is you’re afraid of.  If you’ve been fighting a vague sense of anxiety or unease, it’s a vital part of the fear-busting process!

However, while some fears are fairly straightforward (for example, the fear of spiders or snakes), lifestyle fears tend to be more complex.  If, as an example, you’re afraid of tornadoes, be aware that it’s not just the weather phenomenon that scares you – it’s also the threat of death, devastation and loss that these types of systems can bring about.

By taking the time to really get to the root of what scares you, you’ll be able to process your fears using the following tips in order to reduce the impact they have on your life.

Tip #2 – Explore worst case and more likely scenarios

Once you know what it is you’re afraid of, take the time to map out the worst case scenarios that could result.  Say you want to ask for a raise, but are afraid of being rejected.  In this example, the worst case scenario would be your boss telling you to pack your bags and leave.  But it’s much more likely that your request will either be approved or turned down politely.

Use these more likely scenarios to prevent your mind from running away with the absolute worst possible outcome in a given situation.

Tip #3 – Pick a relaxation technique

People deal with stress in different ways.  Having a relaxation technique that suits your personality is a vital part of managing fear in your life.

For example, to help control your fears, you could try:

  • Engaging in meditation
  • Getting an intense workout
  • Writing in a journal
  • Singing along with loud music
  • Attending religious services

There’s no right or wrong way to relax, so listen to your own mind when it comes to finding activities that’ll take the edge off your fear.

Tip #4 – Avoid anticipatory fear

Being scared of an event or action is one thing.  But it’s also common for people to build up certain scenarios in their own minds to the point where the fear of anticipation is worse than the fear of the event itself!

Don’t do this to yourself.  If you find yourself feeling fearful about a future event (or something that you aren’t sure will even happen), use the relaxation techniques described above to calm yourself down.  There’s no reason to make your fear worse by psyching yourself up unnecessarily.

Tip #5 – Tell somebody your fears

Fear tends to be a very personal thing, which distorts our perspective and magnifies our fears.  If, for example, you’re afraid of being rejected by a potential date, you might revisit the fear over and over again in your mind – until you’re certain that you’ll never get a date again.

It might be scary to think about telling a friend or family member about the things you fear, but often, getting this type of outsider input can help you to see your fears from a different angle.  You’ll immediately feel less alone after confiding in another person, and you may find yourself coming away from the exchange with advice and recommendations from others who have dealt with the same fears.

Tip #6 – See a therapist

We all face fears and – nine times out of ten – these fears are manageable.  However, in some cases, fear grows out of control, becoming something that actively prevents people from living full, engaging lives.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in fear and anxiety management.  There’s nothing shameful about seeking professional help, and you might be surprised by how much of a difference this type of support can make in your life.

Tip #7 – Confront your fears head on

Finally, once you’ve worked through all of the tips listed above, there’s nothing else to do but to confront your fears head on.

On a regular basis, try to do things that scare you.  Don’t be stupid or take unnecessarily dangerous risks, but do make it an effort to counteract fear with action.  If you’re afraid of romantic rejection, ask the hottest person in the bar out on a date.  If you’re scared about asking for a promotion at work, set a deadline for yourself and commit to talking to your boss on a particular day.

We all have fears, but there’s no reason to let them control your life.  Adopt the above tips in your own life and start being more fearless today!

How to Stop Slacking Off for Good

stop slacking off

Maybe you’re one of those people who dutifully acknowledges deadlines – who works at a slow and steady pace that ensures that everything is completed ahead of schedule, with a minimum amount of rushing and panic.

If you’re one of those people, you can stop reading now – this article isn’t for you!

Instead, this post is for the procrastinators, the slackers and for everybody else who sees deadlines rushing towards them and still feels powerless to act.  If you have the sneaking suspicion that you could be doing better at managing your responsibilities, you need to take the following three steps:

Step #1 – Assess your priorities

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to killing procrastination is that it’s not always an indication that you’re lazy.  In plenty of cases, the fact that you can’t get focused is your mind trying to tell you that you aren’t working on the right things.

Can’t seem to get motivated to get to the gym on a regular basis?  Maybe the problem isn’t you – it’s the type of workout you’ve chosen to commit to.  Struggling to do the work necessary to be considered for a big promotion?  It could be your brain’s subconscious way of telling you that you’re pursuing the wrong job or field.

So whenever you find yourself slacking off, dig deeper to uncover the reasons for your lack of motivation.  While you might not be able to change your situation to eliminate slacking off entirely, you may find certain instances in which you can circumvent procrastination by changing your priorities.

Step #2 – Set strict deadlines

Once you’ve weeded out any unnecessary procrastination triggers, it’s up to you to set strict deadlines for yourself.

According to Parkinson’s Law, a task expands to fill the amount of time allotted to it.  If you have two hours to put together a 10-page report, you’ll find a way to get it done.  But if you’re given two days to complete the same task, it won’t take the same two hours to complete.  Instead, you’ll find that the project expands to fill the entire two days – leaving you slacking off until the last possible minute and feeling the stress of this work hanging over your head.

Fortunately, you can use this rule to your advantage.  To avoid slacking off, break each of your projects – whether personal or professional – into smaller chunks.  Then, assign a deadline to every chunk that you create.  Make your deadlines as small as possible.  Even if you know that you have more time that could be allotted to each chunk, creating a little bit of pressure by setting tight deadlines will give you the motivation needed to get things done.

If you find yourself disregarding your own deadlines, enlist the support of others.  At work, promise your superiors that you’ll have certain milestones completed at set times in order to give yourself extra incentive to avoid slacking off.  If your goals are related to personal activities, share them with a friend, a family member or a public blog to give yourself the impression that you’ll be letting others down if you fail to stick to your deadlines.

And if you really need some extra motivation, look into using a service like StickK, which will allow you to bet a certain amount of money on yourself for completing certain tasks.  If you fail to meet the goals you set for yourself on the website, your money could wind up going to a charity you hate – creating the extra incentive needed to prevent procrastination.

Step #3 – Optimize your environment

After you’ve created deadlines that will prevent you from slacking off and enlisted the support of an accountability buddy, the last thing you’ll want to do is to dissect your environment for any triggers that could be preventing you from getting things done.

As an example, if you always struggle to make it to the gym because your workout clothes are upstairs and you always wind up parked on the couch before you can change, find a way to store your attire closer to the door.

If you consistently procrastinate on a reporting task at work because it takes too long to gather all the data you need, develop a new system that involves collecting information on the day before you need to create your reports.

Pay attention to your own unique rhythms as well.  If you’re full of energy in the morning, but tend to need a nap by mid-afternoon, schedule your deadlines to coincide with your most focused periods.  There’s no reason to fight against yourself when it comes to getting things done!

Really, there are always going to be ways to slack off and procrastination triggers that discourage you from living up to your full potential.  While implementing these steps will go a long way towards preventing you from slacking off, only you can take responsibility for eliminating the excuses and bullshit that lead to devastating procrastination.

Want to Succeed? Get Used to Rejection

how to handle rejection

I have to admit, sales and the process of selling both come pretty naturally to me – a fact that I’m incredibly grateful for, as these talents have helped me to build a career and grow the different businesses I’m involved in.

That said, when I tell people that I’m in sales, I invariably hear one reaction over and over again: “Oh, I couldn’t do that – I couldn’t handle the rejection!”

Here’s the thing…  Rejection is something that we all have to deal with.  Maybe you aren’t putting yourself on the line every day as you would in a sales career, but if you’ve ever been rejected by the hot girl or guy in the bar, been turned down admission to a school you wanted to attend or been told you couldn’t have the raise you felt you deserve, you’ve experienced rejection!

In fact, rejection is so common that I believe if you aren’t experiencing it on a regular basis, you’re doing something wrong by not taking enough risks!

Simply put, rejection occurs when you put yourself out there – when you ask somebody out, when you ask for something you really want at work or when you put yourself up for some major award or promotion.  If you aren’t doing any of these things, you’re living a safe life.  And while that might be fine in some situations, it’s sure as hell not going to help you experience success.

If you want to succeed, you have to get used to being rejected.  It isn’t a fun thing to do – especially if you’ve grown up believing that failure is the worst thing that can happen to a person – but it’s hugely important if you want to reach new heights in your personal or professional life.

The following are just a few of the different ways you can learn to embrace rejection and the eventual success it helps to bring about:

Idea #1 – Reframe rejection in your mind

In a lot of ways, I think our current education system does students a huge disadvantage by enforcing the idea that failure is always bad.  Students today are constantly pressured to succeed (even if that’s measured as something as arbitrary as standardized test performance) and reminded that failing will lead to a host of negative life consequences (as in, living in a van down by the river).

The problem with this black-and-white way of thinking is that failure – when used appropriately – can actually represent a tremendous learning opportunity.  When we fail, we have the chance to figure out where we went wrong and how we can change things in the future – that is, if we’re given the opportunity to do so.  If we’re constantly berated for making mistakes, it’s no wonder that we begin to fear failure and rejection.

The key to getting out of this harmful mindset is to reframe your way of thinking about rejection.  Instead of beating yourself up, learn to recognize that failures can be powerful ways to improve – but only if we learn to let go of self-flagellation and embrace the new opportunities that rejections can represent.

Idea #2 – Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Of course, the thought of learning to embrace rejection is one that’s easy to imagine, but much harder to put into practice.

If you’re having trouble seeing the upside of a past or future rejection, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Odds are, it’s not as bad as you think…

Say you go after a major sales prospect at work and wind up not getting the contract.  You haven’t failed on some epic level – in fact, chances are your life hasn’t changed much at all.  You might not be getting a big, fat commission check, but nobody’s going to come tear the roof from over your head because you weren’t able to close this single sale.

Idea #3 – Actively seek out ways to be rejected

As with so many other things in life, the best way to practice reframing rejection in your mind and extrapolating future harm scenarios is to practice!

If you want to level up your ability to confront rejection like a boss, you’ve got to get out there and seek it out.  When you hit the bar with your friends, work your best lines on the “Perfect 10” sitting next to you.  Ask salespeople to give you unprecedented perks when buying major items like cars and appliances.  Try getting restaurant chefs to serve you entirely unique meals that aren’t listed on their menus.

Really, the possibilities are endless.  By making an effort to actively seek out rejection, you’ll learn that it’s truly no big deal to fail from time to time (although you might also be surprised by how willing people are to help you out with your requests).  And once you’ve learned how to diminish the power that rejection holds over your life, you’ll find yourself taking more chances and experiencing more success than ever before.

So now, I want to hear from you…  What’s the biggest rejection you’ve ever experienced and how did you handle it?  Share your responses in the comments section below: 

5 Small Talk Scripts to Memorize Now

small talk

Is there anything quite so scary as the thought of having to make polite conversation with total strangers?  Certainly, for some of the more naturally garrulous people out there, making small talk can be seen as an opportunity to connect with new people and get to know others on a deeper level.  But for the vast majority of people, small talk represents a deeply-uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking situation.

Unfortunately, you’ve got to get over this!  According to a recent Harvard Business Review article by Andy Molinksy:

“You can be the most technically skilled worker in the world, but your ability to progress in your job and move up the corporate ladder in the United States is highly dependent on your ability to build and maintain positive relationships with people at work. And guess what skill is critical for building and maintaining these relationships? Small talk.”

The secret to small talk is being prepared.  So if you feel perpetually flustered by the demands of making small talk, memorize the following scripts so that you’ll be able to pull them out at a moment’s notice whenever a situation calls for polite conversation.

Script #1 – “What do you do?”

People in the US love to talk about their jobs, which makes this small talk script a natural starting point for conversations with new people.  Though it obviously isn’t one that could be used when interacting with coworkers at a company event, it’s a great starting point to have on hand for business networking events and other social functions.

One caveat to using this script, however, is that it can backfire in situations where your conversation partner has recently been laid off or fired (as is all too common in today’s job market).  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use it –in fact, in networking situations, it can be a helpful way for the person you’re speaking with to convey his or her openness to new opportunities.  However, you should be aware of the potential for discomfort and have a few expressions of sympathy ready, should you encounter somebody who’s recently out of work.

Script #2 – “What’s new with you?”

If you’re interacting with people you know on a casual level – for example, distant family members, social acquaintances or colleagues in other departments – there’s no more natural starting place for a small talk conversation than, “What’s new with you?”

The key to using this script effectively, though, is to learn how to keep the conversation going by asking probing questions.  If you use this script and your counterpart responds, “Oh, nothing much,” it’s still on you to carry the conversation with follow-up questions like, “Any big projects at work right now?” or “Any plans for the upcoming holiday?”

Script #3 – “Did you see that news story about [xx]?”

When in doubt about how to start a small talk conversation, jump in with a recent news article or major upcoming event.  Sporting events are a great neutral territory for these chats – something like, “Did you see the new story about that Louisville player Kevin Ward’s leg?” is bound to provoke a reaction.

There are two things you’ll want to keep in mind when using this script, though…  First, it’s imperative that you stay away from highly-charged political or religious topics.  Even if you’re absolutely certain that you know your conversation partner’s philosophical leanings, these heated topics really have no place in polite, public interactions.  Save your opinions for your close friends and family members!

In addition, it’s important that you actually have some familiarity with the news story you decide to reference.  If you say to somebody, “Did you see that news story about [xx]?” and he or she responds with, “No, tell me about it,” you’d better be able to back up your small talk script with actual information!

Script #4 – “Any vacation plans in the future?”

As much as Americans live for work, we also live for the precious few days of vacation we get every year – making this a fun small talk prompt to keep the conversation going.

While I wouldn’t use it to start off an interaction with a totally new contact, it’s a great way to learn more about the people you’re speaking with in a non-threatening way.  A discussion about future family trips could open the door to further questions about their family life and structure (for example, “How old are your kids?” or “Where do your kids go to school?”).  Similarly, a mention of a dream vacation destination could prompt you to ask, “What made you choose that location?” or “Have you always wanted to travel there?”

Remember, the more follow-up questions you can ask, the longer you’ll be able to keep your small talk going.

Script #5 – “Where did you get that [piece of clothing]?”

Finally, if all else fails, complement your conversation partner on an article of clothing and ask where it was purchased.

Secretly, we all crave the approval of others – especially when it comes to our physical appearances.  Making a comment that indicates you like a certain piece of clothing or jewelry provides this all-important flattery, while also giving you an opening to keep the conversation going on local shopping and apparel trends.

Certainly, these are just a few of the different scripts you can use to initiate and maintain small talk, but they’re a good couple of options to memorize and keep in your back pocket at all times.  If you have any other go-to conversation starters, share your recommendations below in the comments!

7 Ways to Prevent Office Distractions

minimize office distractions

We’ve all been there…  On the way to work, you’re brimming with enthusiasm and great ideas – ready to hit the ground running on a productive work day.  But the second you sit down at your desk, you’re hit with distraction after distraction.  Coworkers need your immediate feedback, emails keep popping into your inbox and your phone won’t stop ringing.

How are you ever supposed to get anything done amidst all of these distractions?

The reality is, all of us face distractions – whether we work in office environments, coffee shops or home offices.  You can’t avoid distractions entirely while working, but you can take steps to minimize them.  Give any of the following strategies a try in order to amp up your productivity and prevent distractions from throwing you off track:

Tip #1 – Turn off automatic alerts

Between the notifications that pop up in response to new messages on your smartphone and the Outlook flag that appears whenever you get a new email, automatic alerts can seriously disrupt your productivity.  The simple solution?  Turn them all off!  Really, there are very few emergencies, and you’ll likely find that the amount you’re able to get done in the absence of these distractions more than makes up for any delayed responses you might be forced to issue.

Tip #2 – Schedule time for yourself

Scheduled meetings are sacred time on most people’s business calendars – so why not take advantage of the fact that most people won’t interrupt these periods in order to get more done?

First, figure out when you’re most productive during the work day.  Then, schedule a 1-2 hour long “meeting” on your calendar during which time you won’t allow yourself to be interrupted.  Teach others to respect this time by ignoring calls or in-person requests and you’ll free up a nice chunk of time to work with minimal distractions.

Tip #3 – Wear headphones

Wearing headphones while working is one of the best signals you can give to tell others that you don’t want to be interrupted.  You don’t have to listen to music with your headphones on to achieve this effect – simply wearing them is enough to dissuade most people from disrupting your productivity with their own distractions.

Tip #4 – Clean up your work environment

If a cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind, it’s possible that picking up your work environment could have a positive effect on your ability to focus without distractions.  But don’t limit your cleaning efforts to the piles of papers that have been sitting on your desk forever.  Clean up your browser icons, bookmark lists and old digital “to do” lists in order to minimize the digital clutter that could also prevent you from focusing at peak efficiency.

Tip #5 – Turn on website blocking tools

Work distractions don’t always come in the form of interruptions from coworkers.  In plenty of cases, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to digital distractions.  Sure, you might tell yourself that you just need a few minutes of fun browsing in order to get back to work – but can you really justify this type of time-waster once you’ve blown through hours of could-have-been productive time?

The easiest way to minimize the amount of time you waste on your favorite websites and social networks is to install website blocking tools that prevent you from accessing these pages at different times.  For example, a few great options include Leechblock for Firefox and Nanny for Chrome.  Try to install a website blocking tool on every browser that’s installed on your computer in order to minimize your ability to outsmart these distraction-blocking systems!

Tip #6 – Look busy

If none of the other strategies described here have succeeded in minimizing work distractions, you can always try looking frazzled.  Even if you’re as calm as can be, act as if you’ve got more on your plate than you could ever possibly handle.  When coworkers approach your desk to distract you, give them the crazy eyes that say, “Back away slowly – I’m on the edge here!”

It sounds silly, but it’s an effective way to end distractions before they start.  Just be careful not to abuse it.  If your boss catches you looking stressed out too often, he might assume that you aren’t capable of handling your job – making you less likely to qualify for raises and promotions.

Tip #7 – Hide

One final option for minimizing office distractions?  Get out of there!  Sometimes, there’s nothing that you can do to stop coworkers from interrupting you or your boss from piling on more work than you can handle.  In these cases, do whatever you need to do to remove yourself physically from the distractions!

You could use the number of distractions in your workplace as leverage to negotiate a remote work arrangement.  If that isn’t an option, scheduling a “doctor’s appointment” could buy you a few hours to work from home in a distraction-free environment.  Again, you shouldn’t abuse this tip, but you should keep in mind that the amount you’re able to get done by “hiding” from your distractions could outweigh any concerns that your frequent absences mean you’re an unreliable employee.

Got any other tips for minimizing distractions in the workplace?  Share them below in the comments so that everybody can benefit!

How to Be Awesome at Life

be awesome at life

Sounds like a pretty tall order, right?  Usually, we reserve the term “awesome” for people who do amazing things like climb mountains or break sports records.  But the thing is, you can be awesome too with a little effort!

If you’re ready to break out of the rut you’ve been in, check out the following action steps that’ll turn your life around in no time.

Step #1 – Try new things

First things first – nobody was ever called “awesome” for doing the same old thing, day in and day out!  If you want to be truly awesome, you need to have awesome things to talk about with others – and that means taking risks and trying new things from time to time.

For example, could you…?

  • Try a new restaurant
  • Join a new meetup group
  • Take up a new sport or hobby
  • Learn a new language
  • Check out a new band

Really, the list of possibilities is endless, but you don’t need to go all out at first.  Challenge your comfort zone by starting with small activities and then work your way up to larger attempts.

Step #2 – Pick your passions

As you go about this whole “trying new things” process, you’ll probably find that some activities “click” for you.  Maybe you hate spending your weekend nights listening to loud bands playing in dingy clubs, but you love the camaraderie and exercise you get from having joined your neighborhood’s pick-up soccer team.

That’s great!  Part of being awesome at life is knowing what to invest your efforts into and what to give up right away.  After all, awesome people don’t waste time committing to things they don’t truly care about.  Instead, they evaluate their options by actively experimenting with new things and then paring down their list of engagements to the ones that really matter.

In general, it’s a good idea to have at least a few different passions – nobody wants to be stuck around that guy who has nothing more to talk about than his love of craft beers.  Instead, choose a few passions – say, your career, a sport and a volunteer opportunity – that you’ll dedicate your time to and weed out other activities that don’t appeal to you.

Step #3 – Give 110% effort

Every office has that guy who half-asses everything.  For some reason, it’s become passé in our culture to act like you don’t care about things.  And while that might make you look “cool” in the eyes of your coworkers, it’ll never make you awesome.

Awesome people give 110% of their effort to all of the passions they commit to.  They explore the full possibilities of every activity they engage in – probing these situations for the opportunity to learn more and do better in the future.  They aren’t “brown-nosers” – putting in extra effort just to attract the attention of senior management.  Instead, they engage fully for their own benefit, eventually turning them into better educated, more well-rounded people.

Take a second to think about your passions.  Sure, you say you value your career, but how fully are you dedicating yourself to its growth and development?  Are you taking advantage of networking and professional development opportunities?  Do you waste time at work that could be better spent advancing your skill set by completing more tasks?

We all slack off from time to time – and that’s fine.  But what’s not fine is consistently underperforming when it comes to your passion projects.  If you aren’t giving 110% of your effort to these key areas, you’re never going to be truly awesome.

Step #4 – Give back

Last but not least, awesome people give back.  This may take a number of different forms – from volunteering in the community to serving as a mentor for younger workers in your profession – but what awesome people recognize is that they didn’t become awesome on their own.

All of us rely on the support of others in some way or another.  If you’re learning a new sport as a passion project, it could be the coach or teammate who gives you pointers on how to improve your technique.  Or, if you’re trying to advance your career, your support comes from the professors who gave you your background training, the managers who have encouraged you and the mentors who have guided you along the way.

Awesome people don’t presume that they’re awesome because of some in-born, pre-determined greatness.  What they recognize is that we all depend on others to enable our success – and they aren’t afraid to show their appreciation by giving back in some way.

So as you proceed along your own path to awesome-ness, keep an eye out for the people or systems that help you out as you move forward.  Then, make it a point to find some way to recognize them, whether you say thanks directly, do charity work in their honor or undertake some other activity.  Above all, doing so will help to keep you grounded – one of the hallmarks of the kind of awesome person we all want to be around.


Learning to Own Up to Your Mistakes

sorry note

News flash – nobody likes making mistakes!  But unfortunately, since we’re all human, there’s no good way to avoid the occasional slip-up.  As a result, it isn’t the fact that you make mistakes that matters.  What really counts is how you handle yourself when these failures occur.

Let’s say you’ve goofed up on a big project at work and – as a result – your team won’t be able to meet an important deadline.  Now that you’ve made the mistake, you have two options.  You can:

  1. Pretend like it didn’t happen and wait until somebody discovers that you’ve screwed up.
  2. Own up to your mistake and present your boss with a plan of action for dealing with any negative effects that stem from your error.

If you take the first route, you aren’t really saving yourself any hassle (although it might feel like it at the time).  Eventually, your mistake will be discovered and when this happens, your boss and your team members will all be upset that you tried to shirk your responsibility in derailing the project.

On the other hand, if you let your team know right away what’s happened and how you plan to deal with it, you’ll still face the same frustration – but that anger will be paired with a level of respect for you because you’ve owned up to your mistakes.  Neither situation allows you to avoid professional judgment completely, but one option lets you minimize damage to your reputation.

Of course, knowing that owning up to your mistakes will help you save face – actually doing it is another thing altogether!

If your “go to” move is to deflect and defer responsibility, don’t worry.  You can learn how to own up to your mistakes – even in the most uncomfortable of situations.  It won’t be easy, but it’s a valuable skill to develop when it comes to managing your professional reputation.

Here’s how to do it:

Step #1 – Assess the scope of your mistake

As soon as you’ve realized that a mistake has occurred (whether by that sinking feeling you get in your stomach or through the actions of a coworker), take a second to determine how severe of an issue you’re facing.  Is the mistake something that can be easily resolved, or will it require significant reparations to correct?

If you’re facing a small issue (like an email etiquette mistake), you may be able to correct the problem without the involvement of other parties.  In this case, owning up to your mistake may not be truly necessary.  However, if the issue is larger, take a few moments to trace out its eventual ramifications.  You can’t move on to the next step in the process – coming up with a plan of action – until you understand exactly who and what will be affected by your mistake.

Step #2 – Come up with a plan of action

Once you have a rough idea of how your mistake will affect others, it’s time to brainstorm a game plan.  As a general rule, you’ll find the owning up to your mistake is much easier – and much better received – if you also offer a series of possible action steps to resolve your issues.

Following from our delayed project example earlier, identifying this type of mistake could prompt you to develop a plan of action that includes any of the following steps:

  • Working nights to make up for lost time (if doing so will help)
  • Shuffling resources to ensure that other parts of the project can be finished on schedule
  • Apologizing directly to the customer (if necessary) for the delays you’ve caused

In the worst situations, it might not be possible to come up with a game plan if there are no actions that can be taken to help remedy your mistake.  However, even in this case, it’s important not to skip the next step…

Step #3 – Use scripts to make confessing easier

After you’ve completed the first two steps, it’s time for the most difficult part of this process – actually owning up to the issues you’ve created.

If the thought of telling others that you’ve screwed up leaves you shaking in your boots (especially if the person you need to own up to is your boss), you can make the process easier by creating a script and practicing it before you fess up.  For example, try something like the following:

“Hi [Boss] – do you have a second?  I just wanted to give you a heads up on an issue that might delay our project [or lead to some other issue].  I made [this mistake] and I expect that, as a result, we’ll have to [deal with these consequences].  I’m sorry for the inconvenience and my part in this, but I think we can make the situation right by [taking my game plan actions].”

Resist the urge to make excuses when delivering your script.  Everyone has excuses and they tend to be perceived as attempts to deflect, rather than to accept responsibility.  Hopefully, using this type of script will mitigate any disciplinary actions coming your way – but there’s no guarantee.  The only thing that is guaranteed is that you’ll avoid the humiliation of being called out on your mistake later on by owning up to it and taking responsibility from the start.

How to Leave Your Job without Burning Bridges

burning bridges

We’ve all been there.  A once-promising job that’s soured to the point where even the thought of waking up and driving to work leaves you shaking with cold sweats.  Where it’s impossible to imagine working diligently at your desk for even one more day without exploding in rage at your incompetent and/or abusive boss.

If you’re lucky enough to find an exit strategy – whether to another position or to a temporary career break – it’s tempting to use your resignation as a chance to make your true feelings known to your coworkers, to HR and to your boss.  But all the career advice out there recommends that you not burn bridges on your way out the door.  Should you follow these recommendations or make a one-time exception to the rule in order to let of a little steam once you’re able to quit your job?

Here’s the thing…  The world is a small place.  Even if you can’t imagine any possible connections between your boss and other members of your personal life or business community, that doesn’t mean that none exist.  And really, the last thing you want is to belatedly find out that the boss you just cursed into oblivion is actually second cousins with the HR manager at the company you now desperately want to work for.

The bottom line is – don’t do it.  Don’t risk your future career prospects on a somewhat-fulfilling blowout speech on your last day.  Your reputation as a blowhard will follow you no matter where you go – even if you can’t yet see the mechanisms by which this will occur yet.  In just about every case, it’s better to be safe than sorry when leaving your job.

Of course, holding your tongue is easier said than done.  Here are a few guidelines and recommended steps to help you leave a difficult situation without burning your professional bridges:

Separate the personal from the professional

To be fair, it isn’t always the best idea to bottle up your emotions and leave your current position without uttering a peep to anyone.  Not only can this be damaging emotionally, it’s also important for the human resources department of your company to know why exactly you’re leaving.  If they identify a trend – for example, a series of talented employees leaving as the result of a single bad boss – they may want to take action to prevent further losses.

For this reason, if certain on-the-job conditions have prompted your resignation, it can be a good idea to share them with HR during your exit interview.  The key, though, is how exactly you do this.

If you go into your final interview ranting and raving about your boss, your feedback won’t be taken seriously and won’t be used to promote positive changes within the company in the future.  What you need to do is to separate the personal from the professional in order to provide your HR personnel with useful information.

For example, saying, “My asshole boss was a huge jerk who never gave me enough time to get things done,” isn’t going to help your case.  Instead, telling HR that, “My manager struggled to provide timely feedback and prioritization advice in a professional manner,” is much more likely to result constructive changes for the future employees who will take up your position.

Vent frustrations through the appropriate sources

Of course, it isn’t nearly as satisfying to phrase your personal complaints in a professional manner as it would be to run through your office’s halls, gleefully yelling about how you’re finally free.

But really, that’s why you have friends.  That’s why you have family members.  And that’s why you have coworkers who have gone through the same grief that you have.  Buy these nice people a round so that they’ll indulge your frustrations periodically.  Just be careful that any coworkers – whether current colleagues or soon-to-be ex-coworkers – are the discreet type who won’t go running back to your office with news of your job bashing!

Focus on the future

Finally, if taking these steps isn’t enough to prevent you from going crazy on your last day, try to keep the future in mind.  Remember, you’re out of the bad situation.  You’ve found your exit strategy and, very shortly, you won’t have to deal with your bad boss or your company’s frustrating policies any longer.

Truly, the only way the grief of your almost-former job will continue to bother you in the future is if you allow your frustrations to cause you to do something stupid in the moment – something like burning bridges that you may need to rely on for professional advancement down the road.

So before you dish out the verbal beat-down you’ve been longing to share since day one, take a deep breath and focus on the future.  Your career’s long-term well-being just isn’t worth the risk of burning bridges in a short-lived blaze of glory.

How to Build Rapport with Anyone

building rapport

Quick – off the top of your head, what’s one of the most valuable sales and business skills that anyone can possess?

Let me give you a hint…  It’s not negotiation, it’s not copywriting and it’s not networking.  In fact, it’s the ability to build rapport with everybody you encounter!

When you’re able to build rapport with a diverse range of people, you improve your ability to form the relationships needed to advance both your personal and professional life.  Whether you’re petitioning your boss for a promotion or trying to convince a new senior-level buyer to purchase your company’s product, being able to develop rapport immediately gives you the edge needed to get things done.

But if forming person-to-person connections doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry!  The following steps to building rapport with anyone are easy to implement and can quickly make a major difference in the way you interact with new people:

Step #1 – Mirror your subject’s body language

One of the most important contributing factors to rapport is your body language – and one of the most important things you can do to build rapport using this tool is to mirror your subject’s posture and gestures.

This is important for two reasons.  First, mirroring body language creates an unspoken level of comfort between you and your subject.  When we see ourselves in the people we’re talking to, we naturally feel more at ease – making this technique a powerful way to minimize barriers that would otherwise threaten to derail your conversation.

At the same time, keep in mind that we all have nervous physical habits that manifest themselves whenever we’re uncomfortable.  This could include things like constant leg tapping or tightly crossed arms – whatever your case may be, these behaviors telegraph your lack of confidence, diminishing the rapport you hold with your partner.

By mirroring your subject’s body language, you’ll be able to prevent these behaviors on your part.  Just be careful to not mirror your subject’s own nervous habits!

Step #2 – Match your subject’s vocal tone and pacing

Next up, focus on your voice in order to build rapport with your subject.  Again, we tend to respond more favorably to the people who look and sound like we do, so any of the following techniques could come in handy when it comes to forming new relationships:

  • Match the tone your subject is using – Is your subject speaking loudly or softly?  Does he tend to speak from his diaphragm or his nasal passages?  Are his sentences spoken in a way that sounds authoritative or unconfident?  While it’s important that you avoid coming across as condescending, allowing some of these vocal qualities to filter into your own speech is a great way to build rapport.
  • Match your subject’s vocal pacing – Listen also to whether your subject is speaking slowly or rapidly.  Though many people tend to think of vocal speed as something natural that can’t be controlled, it is possible to modulate your voice in order to better match your subject’s.
  • Match accents carefully – One advanced rapport-building technique is to allow some of your subject’s accent to slip into your own speech (whenever his native accent is different from your own).  Although it’s tough to do so without appearing to mock your conversation partner, mimicking this vocal element in a subtle way can build a major bridge of rapport between you.

Step #3 – Repeat and affirm

Aside from the ways in which you can manipulate your own physical and vocal performance, one simple technique for building rapport is to simply repeat and affirm the things your subject says to you in conversation.  As an example, consider the following conversation:

Subject: “So, you’re telling me that you need to raise your rates?  That’s unacceptable – it’s been a tough year for my company and we don’t have the extra budget for this.”

You: “Subject, I know it’s been a tough year for your company and that budgets are tight.  I completely understand, but I hope you can see that…”

In this example, you could have just as easily responded to the subject with a careless, “It doesn’t matter what your budgets are like – our rates are going up.”  However, by taking the time to repeat and affirm the subject’s concerns, you’re building rapport that could go a long ways towards helping the two of you resolve the situation successfully.

Step #4 – Assume rapport from the start

Finally, be aware that one of the biggest inhibitors to building rapport is the discomfort experienced upon meeting and interacting with new people.  And really, it’s natural to be afraid of saying the wrong thing or looking stupid in front of a new contact.

But here’s the thing…  Everybody feels that way!  It’s not that you’re the least confident person in the world – just about everybody in the world goes through the same type of social anxiety at various points throughout their lives.

So if everyone else feels as nervous as you do in social situations, one simple solution is to assume rapport from the start.  Treat everyone you speak to as if you were already close friends – effectively negating the discomfort that many people feel when interacting with new people.  With practice, you’ll find that assuming this level of rapport puts people at ease and makes implementing the steps described above feel much more natural and much less like an uncomfortably foreign process you’re working towards artificially.

Any other recommendations on how to build rapport with the people you encounter in your personal and professional lives?  Share your tips in the comments section below!