It’s Not Time Management, It’s Energy Management That Matters!

Lately, it seems like you can’t stop by a single productivity website without running across yet another article on the importance of good time management.  And sure, managing your time is important – but it’s only part of the picture!

Suppose you sit down and map out a schedule that you’ll apply to your work life over the coming week.  Perhaps you’ve read some article that says morning people are most productive, so you design a schedule of future habits that involves working on priority projects first thing in the morning, and then trickling down to less important activities as the day progresses.

For all intents and purposes, this represents good time management.  But what if you happen to be an afternoon or evening person who hits his stride around 4:00pm?  In this case, waking up early and chaining yourself to the desk because some productivity expert told you to isn’t going to do you any good!

Instead, you need to map out your schedule to your highest energy periods.  Not only will you get more done this way, you’ll fight the fatigue and disinterest that have sunk more than a few well-intentioned time management plans throughout business history.

Here’s how to start planning your time according to the principles of energy management, rather than time management:

Step #1 – Identify your peak productivity periods

First things first…  We aren’t all built the same, which is why it’s so frustrating that the modern workplace has many of us stuck in cubicles from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  Instead, we all have naturally different times when we’re feeling on top of things (and, conversely, naturally different times when we want to crawl under our desks to take a nap).

The key to matching your energy management to your work load is to identify those times when you tend to have the most energy.  Some of you will already have your peak periods figured out, but others will need to spend a few days tracking how their energy levels fluctuate throughout the day.

Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to do.  Simply check in with yourself every hour or so and rate your natural energy level.  If it’s helpful, keep these records stored in an Excel spreadsheet or other tracking program so that you can compare them from day-to-day.  Keep an eye on any trends you see over time, and you should eventually be able to identify a pattern of peak productive times and low energy periods.

Step #2 – Find ways to boost your energy

Now, while it’s true that all of us have internal circadian rhythms that control when we’re naturally most productive, there are also plenty of things that we can do to boost our overall energy levels.  For example, we can:

  • Skip the coffee and donuts.  Serious boosts of caffeine and sugar might provide a temporary surge in energy, but they’re short-lived and lead to crashes later on.  In general, it’s best to wean yourself off of these items, rather than developing a dependency on them.
  • Eat energy-producing foods.  Beyond laying off the sugar, try to sneak a few more super foods into your daily diet.  Doing so will give you a natural energy surge that will help you to maintain productivity – even outside of your peak hours.
  • Get enough sleep.  Pulling all-nighters isn’t a sustainable strategy – even if you’re still a college student!  Think about the fact that some studies equate sleepy driving with being as dangerous as drunk driving.  If you aren’t any better off when you’re tired than when you’re drunk, it’s easy to see why getting the sleep you needed to sustain your overall energy levels is more important than staying up late in order to fit more into your day.

Step #3 – Align your work life with your natural energy fluctuations

Once you’ve gathered enough information on when you’re most productive throughout the day and how you can boost your energy levels using natural stimulants, try to schedule your work life with your regular energy fluctuations.

For example, if you find that you’re the most focused around 10:00am and experience a natural energy lull around 2:30pm, try to schedule any necessary meetings for the mid-afternoon in order to keep your mornings free for productive work on your top priorities.  Or, if you find that you’re more mentally alert at night than you are in the morning, see if your boss will be flexible enough to allow you to work from home some days.

Obviously, you may not have this luxury in your workplace – and you’ll likely come across a few meetings or other time-sucks that are unavoidably scheduled for your peak productivity times.  However, by understanding when your most engaged times are and making an attempt to base your schedule around these cycles as much as possible, you’ll get much more done as the result of proper energy management (rather than through arbitrary time management activities).

7 Business Books You Must Read

I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of people who have wound up in business-related fields without any type of formal training in the subject.  Sure, I’ve worked with a few MBA grads in my day, but for the most part, the people who wind up in management positions come from a more diverse variety of backgrounds than you might expect.

As a result, plenty of today’s corporate leaders lack a full understanding of the foundational principles of business.  While they may have picked up enough on the job to be successful, chances are they’ll still benefit from knowledge gained by reading through the following classic business books:

Book #1 – “Good to Great” – Jim Collins

“Good to Great” is a seminal business strategy book written by industry authority Jim Collins.  The text focuses on case studies of companies that have made the leap from “good” companies to “great” companies, in addition to sustaining these results for at least fifteen years.  By comparing successful institutions like Coca Cola, Merck and Intel, Collins was able to draw conclusions on the leadership styles and corporate cultures needed to achieve greatness – making this a fascinating read for managers at all levels.

Book #2 – “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – Dale Carnegie

Let’s face it – we could all stand to be a bit more persuasive in our careers.  That’s why I’m always quick to recommend Dale Carnegie’s classic text, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Inside, you’ll find expert advice on how to communicate more effectively – which Carnegie sees as a more important predictor of business success than great ideas or instincts.  It’s a great choice for anyone who struggles to connect with others (and therefore misses out on the substantial business benefits of being able to do so).

Book #3 – “Think and Grow Rich” – Napoleon Hill

In “Think and Grow Rich,” author Napoleon Hill shares the sixteen lessons he learned from studying individuals who became self-made successes throughout their lives.  Even if your primary goal isn’t to become financially wealthy, you’ll still find plenty of great information on how to achieve greater success in all areas of your life within this classic, Depression-era book.

Book #4 – “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” – Steven Covey

Surely you’ve heard of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” before, as it’s featured on nearly every list of “business books to read” ever written.

But even if you’ve seen it mentioned before, how many of you can say that you’ve not only read it, but are actively implementing the positive habits described in the book?  Chances are, we could all use a refresher on the guiding principles of effectiveness outlined in Covey’s text – not to mention the kick in the pants needed to put them into action!

Book #5 – “The Magic of Thinking Big” – David Schwartz

The first four books on this list have been mostly strategy-oriented – that is, you should read them for concrete ideas on how to improve your personal productivity and business growth.

However, Schwartz’s entry to this list – “The Magic of Thinking Big” – is a little different.  Instead of focusing on business success, this book provides both the motivation and the specific techniques needed to help you achieve satisfaction in all areas of your life.  If you’re feeling stuck in your current career path or find yourself unable to get out of a rut in your personal life, it’s an absolute “must read!”

Book #6 – “Awaken the Giant Within” – Tony Robbins

As with “The Magic of Thinking Big,” Tony Robbins’ classic text, “Awaken the Giant Within” is based on the idea that we’re all innately powerful and talented, but that we occasionally need help channeling this inner power into tangible benefits within our lives.

“Awaken the Giant Within” is a long book, and the amount of research covered can feel a bit technical.  It’s also one that you need to be ready to apply to your life in order to get the greatest possible benefit from the book.  However, if you’re willing to make the slog through it and implement the principles described within Robbins’ book, you’ll find yourself better prepared to tackle major challenges that arise within your life.

Book #7 – “Getting Things Done” – David Allen

Finally, add another entry to the “read and then implement” category with David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.”  “Getting Things Done” – or “GTD” as it’s referred to by its practitioners – is a method of organization and task management that’s widely praised by both users and productivity experts alike.

If you find yourself struggling to maintain order and clarity within your business and professional lives, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this classic book today!

Are there any other books you’d like to see added to this list?  Share your own business book recommendations in the comments section below!

Self-Promotion for Normal People: Earn Recognition without Being an Asshole

These days, you can’t simply sit back, do your job well and wait for the praise to roll in.  In today’s tight economy, you’ve got to make others aware of your accomplishments – lest you wind up ahead of your office’s resident ass kisser in line for a lay-off notice.

But with self-promotion – as with so many other things in the current business environment – there’s a right way, and a very wrong way to go about doing it!

Think about it for a second…  How many of you know somebody who just won’t shut up about the amazing things he’s done (even if they aren’t all that awesome in the first place)?  You can call it “managing up” or you can call it “brown nosing” – either way, it’s frustrating for fellow employees to be around and for managers to tolerate.

You don’t have to go down this road.  In fact, it’s very possible to promote your accomplishments and earn the recognition you deserve without coming across like a complete tool.  To see how exactly to do this; give any of the following strategies a try:

Strategy #1 – Phrase updates to mention the work you’ve done

One of the sneakiest ways to let people know that you’re on top of your game is to work your accomplishments into the updates you give to others.

Let’s look at an example…

Suppose you’ve just finished work on a big report that had you working all hours of the night.  When you run into your boss the next morning, which of the two following statements do you think puts you and your achievement in a better light?

“Hey boss!  I had to put in a few 80-hour workweeks to do it, but I just finished that report you wanted.  I can’t wait for you to see what a great job I did!”


“Hey boss.  Now that I’m finished with the report you requested, is there anything else I can help you with?”

One of these two options makes you look like an asshole; the other showcases your efforts without coming across as “braggy.”  Guess which one’s going to come across a hell of a lot better to the person who ultimately makes the decision about your continued employment??  Basically, cut the crap and start finding ways to showcase your accomplishments in a positive, mature way.

Strategy #2 – Give credit where credit is due

Another shortcut that assholes often take when it comes to self-promotion is taking credit for other peoples’ work.  This is especially common when work involves committee or team work, as it’s all too easy for one employee to start making bold proclamations to senior management regarding his involvement in the project, as soon as other team members are out of ear shot.

Obviously, this usually backfires.  Not only does “Captain America” usually alienate his coworkers to the point that it jeopardizes future projects, managers are usually pretty quick to catch on to this type of behavior.  And really, the last thing you want to be is the guy that all the managers laugh at behind closed doors!

Instead of being quick to accept all the praise for group achievements, go out of your way to say good things about your coworkers.  It might seem risky – especially given how much of today’s career opportunities rely on strong performance reviews and demonstrated accomplishments – but trust me.  Managers notice when a single employee repeatedly appears on successful teams, and that recognition will translate into appreciation.

Strategy #3 – Announce achievements quietly

Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be recognized for your hard work in some way, the last thing you want to do is run your mouth off to the entire office.  Again, this type of overly-aggressive behavior is only going to alienate your coworkers and frustrate your manager.

But, at the same time, you don’t want these achievements to go entirely unnoticed, as some level of recognition is a vital part of ensuring that your efforts result in tangible career benefits.  Consider any of the following strategies, should you find yourself in this position:

  • If you complete a training course or receive a small award certificate, ask your manager to have a copy of the documentation placed in your personnel file.
  • If you earn a larger reward or trophy, place it on your desk without calling attention to it.  Believe me; your coworkers will notice!
  • If you earn a promotion, title change or other achievement, update your resume and online business profiles (for example, your career page on LinkedIn).  Pass on new copies to your business acquaintances where appropriate, and trust that these close contacts will notice the changes in your status.

If you’re struggling to find a balance between self-promotion for normal people and coming off like an asshole, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What would I think if my coworkers took the actions I’m considering?”  If your answer is, “I’d think he’s a douche bag,” find a more subtle way to earn recognition for your accomplishments.

The New Networking: Using Technology to Forge Connections

These days, we do just about everything online – from ordering food to maintaining connections with old friends, and even running entire companies from the comfort of our computer chairs.  And yet for some reason, when it comes to the subject of networking, plenty of business people view this practice as an “in person only” type of thing.

In fact, there are plenty of different ways to utilize technology to conduct the same type of networking that was once only carried out in stale ballrooms at business conferences.  Online networking represents a great opportunity for business professionals who are pressed for time, those with shyness issues or

Step #1 – Select your online networking venue

When it comes to online networking, there are dozens of different approaches you can take across several hundred social websites.

For example, you could focus your online networking efforts exclusively on LinkedIn by participating in industry Groups and sending messages to other professionals with whom you have some shared connections.  Alternatively, if your industry has a centralized social website (for example, “Legal On Ramp,” which serves the law community), building a presence on one of these sites may make more sense in terms of potential connections.

And heck, don’t count out traditional social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  As more and more professionals begin seeing these websites as legitimate business tools, the number of business introductions that occur via social media sites is sure to increase.

Step #2 – Present yourself professionally

Once you’ve decided where and how you’ll go about forging your online connections, take a few seconds to assess the first impression given off by your existing digital presence.

Unlike in face-to-face interactions, the way you’ll be judged in the digital world isn’t tied to your hair style, the way you’re dressed or your personal mannerisms.  Instead, new contacts must go off of your profile picture, email address and general use of language in order to form the same impression of who you are and what you stand for.

As a result, if your profile picture comes from a wild Saturday night at the bar and your written communications are more suited to texting than to business language, you probably aren’t going to be taken seriously by your new online contacts!

To prevent this from happening, clean up your profiles (or at least improve your privacy settings so that what happened in Vegas actually stays in Vegas) and make sure the language you use in any professional conversation online uses proper spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation.

Step #3 – Target the right people

When you network online, you’ll have access to a much wider range of potential contacts than you ever would in real life.  While a local business networking event may only draw the same 10-20 people that show up every time for the free cocktails, networking online has the ability to put you in touch with professionals from around the world.

Of course, you don’t necessarily want to make the acquaintance of every single person in your industry, which is why one of the other major perks of online networking is that it allows you to laser-target only the people with whom you’d like to form new connections.

So before you start reaching out to new contacts, take the time to think about the people you’d most like to be in touch with.  If, for example, you’re looking to move into a new industry, identify professionals within 2-3 organizations that have the connections you’ll need.  Or, if you’re looking for a new mentor within your field, use services like LinkedIn that will allow you to search out new contacts according to existing connections and job titles.

Step #4 – Build relationships with low commitment interactions

Now, if you were networking in person, you wouldn’t immediately bully these new contacts into providing you with information on key business or job opportunities.  Instead, you’d open conversations with new networking partners with a bit of small talk – only attempting to cash in on your new contact’s knowledge once a stronger relationship had developed.

The same thing goes for online networking.   “Woo” the people in your online business network by exchanging messages of simple pleasantries, by promoting their digital content to your own online followers or by commenting on their most recent business blog posts (where applicable).  Allow these relationships to develop naturally before you attempt to extract any type of value from them, in order to avoid alienating the connections you’ve worked so hard to build.

Step #5 – Transition your online relationships to real life

Finally, whenever possible, make the effort to advance the relationships you’ve built online into real-world connections.

Obviously, you can’t do this with contacts that are located around the world.  However, if a new network member lives in your area, ask if it’s possible to meet up for coffee or for a working lunch.  One of the few disadvantages of online networking is that the relationships formed through these services tend not to be as strong as person-to-person interactions, which could put you at a disadvantage compared to the real-life members of your contact’s network.

To avoid missing out on the benefits of real-life connections, do your best to move your online relationships to the offline world.  Don’t be pushy, but do make an effort to get to know people away from the computer in order to form the types of connections that will lead to business or personal benefits down the road.

7 Prompts to Jump Start Small Talk

No one really likes making small talk – except, I suppose for the rare extrovert who’s done amazing things with his life and can’t wait to share with others.  But for the rest of us, carrying out these frequently-tedious conversations is, at worst, a waste of time and, at best, a part of the relationship building process that simply can’t be avoided.

And since there’s no way to avoid it (short of holing up at home and living out your remaining years like Howard Hughes), you’re better off making an effort to improve your small talk skills.  To help get you started, here are a few specific prompts that you can keep in your back pocket and pull out whenever awkward conversations start to get the best of you:

Prompt #1 – “What are you up to these days?”

Simple, yet effective.  What I love about this small talk prompt is that it provides your networking contact with the flexibility to take the conversation in any direction he chooses – whether that’s “shop talk” about his job or more personal details about his home life.

It also meets the key small talk criteria of being an open ended question.  Worded a different way, as “Are you keeping busy these days?” gives conversation partners the easy out of a “yes or no” question, which should be avoided at all costs when it comes to small talk!

Prompt #2 – “Have you seen the recent news story about…?”

Discussing world events can provide a nice, arbitrary place to begin a small talk conversation (especially if you don’t know your networking contact well enough to inquire about his personal life).  But be cautious!

As with all light conversations, the subjects of religion, politics and money should be avoided at all costs.  This is sort of a no-brainer, but saying something like, “I can’t wait for Obama/Romney to win the election” isn’t likely to keep your conversation smoothly.  Instead, stick to lighter news topics – like whether you expect the Giants or the Tigers to win the World Series.

Prompt #3 – “How do you know the hosts?”

If you’re mingling at a private party, asking new conversation partners how they’ve arrived at the event can be both a good conversation starter and a useful way to learn new things about the people in your life.

For example, if you’re at a party thrown by your boss and ask a fellow attendee how he knows your supervisor, you may be surprised to find out that their initial introduction happened on a deep sea fishing expedition.  With this new piece of information, you’ve now got a conversation starter to use with your boss, should you ever need to make polite conversation.

Prompt #4 – “How long have you been in the area?”

When it comes to small talk, keep in mind that most people really enjoy talking about themselves – they often just need a little prompting to get started!

For this reason, asking about a person’s origins can be a fun one.  Most people will jump at the chance to share how their personal histories led them to your town, potentially setting off an interesting and lengthy conversation.

Prompt #5 – “What do you do for fun?”

Yes, this one can backfire – as you’ll occasionally use it on the type of “all work, no play” person who can’t wait to tell you about how he’s just too busy to have fun these days.

However, in most cases, asking people about the hobbies they’re into provides great fodder for conversation and may even garner you some great recommendations on fun things to do in your area.

Prompt #6 – “Really?  Tell me more about that…”

This prompt isn’t a conversation starter, but it’s a great phrase to pull out later on in order to keep your interactions going.

As an example, if a networking contact responded to Prompt #5 with a mention of a recent family vacation, asking, “Tell me more about that” both keeps the conversation going and gives you more information on future vacation options.  Just be sure to mix things up every once in a while so that you don’t wind up sounding like a “Tell me more!” robot.

Prompt #7 – “Let me introduce you to…”

Sometimes, the reality of small talk involves conversations that clearly aren’t going anywhere.  Maybe you can’t find any common ground, or maybe your new contact’s BO is so overwhelmingly powerful that it cancels out any potential networking benefits.  Whatever the case may be, this prompt gives you an opportunity to excuse yourself from a conversation gracefully, while still appearing to provide value for both parties.

To give an effective introduction, don’t just share both parties’ names – give a reason for the introduction as well.  Saying, “Jason, meet Benjamin,” and then fleeing reflects much more poorly on you than sharing something like, “Jason, meet Benjamin.  He’s a Java developer like you.”  Since you’ve provided a commonality, you’ve given Jason and Benjamin something to talk about – giving you the chance to make a graceful exit.

If you still don’t feel confident about your ability to deftly manage small talk, try to remember that nearly everybody gets nervous about maintaining conversations with strangers.  Most people will be so thrilled that you’ve taken the lead using your small talk prompts that they’ll be happy to respond to your prompts – boosting your confidence and reinforcing your newly-developed small talking skills.

What Can Sports Fans Teach You About Succeeding in Business?

Take a look at any group of dedicated, committed sports fans, and it’s obvious that there are some pretty tight bonds that form between fans and their teams.  Sports fans don’t just follow their teams’ activities passively – they publicly announce their affiliations with clothing, social networking posts and regular attendance at games.

And while your business probably doesn’t have games or publicly-available logo wear, wouldn’t it be great if you could build this same type of passion with your company’s customers?

The following are five lessons that all businesses should take from the way sports fans interact with their chosen teams.  I hope you find them useful when it comes to developing brand loyalty between your business and its customers!

Lesson #1 – Good brands are transformative

The visual image of groups of beer-bellied, bare-chested men with team logos painted on their torsos is a staple of sports imagery – but take a second to appreciate just how unusual that is.  Really, is there anywhere else in the world where these groups of men would feel as comfortable letting it all hang out in this way?

Good corporate brands can achieve the same level of commitment by making customers believe in things they wouldn’t otherwise.  Middle-aged men don’t by sports cars because they like the paint color – they buy them because they’re already picturing the sexy blonde sitting in the front seat.  Because they believe in the brand, they’re willing to commit a significant amount of financial resources just to participate with such a transformative brand.

So when it comes to your advertising efforts, stop thinking about what people want to buy or what features your latest product has.  Think about how you can make your customers feel something, and then let that spirit of transformation guide your promotional campaigns.

Lesson #2 – Traditions can be magical

When taken objectively, plenty of well-loved sports traditions seem downright silly.  From ceremonial coin tosses to annual match-ups played to decide the winner of some arbitrary trophy, there’s a lot that goes on in the world of sports that doesn’t actually relate to the mechanics of the game.

However, it is these traditions that make sports as enjoyable as they are for fans.  What would baseball be without a beer and a hot dog?  Would attending a live game be as fun without a team’s standard chants and cheers?

In fact, businesses can learn a thing or two from the adoration that sports teams are able to generate through the strategic use of traditions.  While your corporate traditions don’t need to include trophies or cheers, putting together a few memorable traditions – perhaps based around holidays or annual events – can help to increase the loyalty that exists between your business and its customers.

Lesson #3 – Criticism will be loud and public

While companies are often called out on their perceived failings and misdeeds, no entity faces as much public criticism as the sports team.  When plays go wrong, coaches and their star players are called out in a variety of media sources, and are brought to task in weekly press conferences that break down their mistakes in a very public way.

If you think that it must be fun to get on stage, week after week, to apologize for disappointing fans – think again!

But despite how unenjoyable being ripped apart by the media must be, coaches and players learn to develop the thick skin needed to brush off public criticism.  Your business must do the same thing when your brand is condemned in the press or on social media websites.  Even if your receive an unnecessarily bad review on Google+ or Yelp, remember that people will be watching your reaction – so stay as classy and professional as sports figures do in their post-game interviews.

Lesson #4 – There are always going to be haters

No matter how well-renowned your sports program is or how many top-tier athletes your recruiting class has been able to sign, there will always be team fans who disagree with your decisions.

Similarly, when it comes to business, you’ll always have detractors who seek to tarnish your brand’s reputation at every turn.  Maybe these people had bad experiences with your company in the past, or maybe they’re just mean-spirited.  Either way, you can take a page out of a sports teams’ book by responding in a tactful manner and doing your best to improve your performance in the future.

Lesson #5 – …but you’ll always have “true blue” fans as well

Of course, on the flip side of that argument, you’ll also find that both teams and businesses benefit from the loyal support of “true blue” fans.  No matter how poorly a team plays during a given season, there will always be diehard supporters who buy tickets, watch games and brag about their underdog affiliations on Facebook and Twitter.

As a business owner or professional, you’ve got these fans in your life as well.  However, if you want to continue to maintain their support, you need to identify who they are and what you need to do to keep these relationships strong.  Take the time to recognize and reward these fans’ commitment to your company, and you’ll see the goodwill returned in the form of repeat business and increased referrals.


5 Ways to Be More Self-Reliant

They say that no man is an island, but it’s just as true that no man should rely on others in his life for things that he could handle on his own!

No matter what field you’re in, developing self-reliance is an important part of being taken seriously and being deemed able to handle the additional responsibilities that come along with promotions and career advancement.  And from a personal standpoint, nobody wants to be the team member who’s seen as being unable to carry his own weight!

If you feel like your self-reliance skills could use a little brushing up, give any of the following ideas a try:

Idea #1 – Take responsibility for yourself

Think about the most self-reliant people you know.  Chances are one of the things that makes them appear so self-reliant to your mind is that they take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others for their mistakes or misfortunes.

A self-reliant person says, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake and I’ll fix it” – not, “I swear, it wasn’t my fault!”  It’s incredibly easy to take responsibility for yourself when things are going well, but learning to develop self-reliance in the face of challenging situations is much more of a challenge.

To get in the habit of taking responsibility for yourself, pay special attention to your thought and feelings whenever your competence is being challenged.  You’ll probably feel the desire to shift the blame others, but force yourself to stop this behavior.  Instead, get in the habit of accepting blame (when it’s due) and refocusing your energies towards making things right in order to appear more self-reliant.

Idea #2 – Grow your savings account

In many ways, being self-reliant is a mind-set.  When you decide to be responsible for your thoughts and actions, you automatically become more self-reliant than someone who seeks to blame others for his problems.

However, there’s one concrete, measurable way to increase your self-reliance – and that’s by bumping up the size of your rainy day savings account.  Having an extra cushion in the bank allows you to make decisions and absorb unexpected expenses without needing to rely on others to pick up your slack.

Again, developing self-reliance in this way isn’t exactly easy.  If you want to grow your savings, you’re going to have to make some hard decisions about cutting expenses in other parts of your life.  Ultimately, though, being able to rely on yourself to cover surprise costs will more than make up for the challenge associated with setting more money aside.

Idea #3 – Have a plan for everything

A big part of self-reliance is feeling confident in any situation – and in general, you’ll feel more confident in these encounters when you have a plan ready and waiting in your back pocket.

One place to start is with emergency scenarios.  Do you have a plan in place for what you’ll do if you’re confronted with a natural disaster or other emergency at home or at work?  You don’t need to go as far as mapping out routes or buying several months of MREs, but challenge yourself to think through what you’d do if your daily routine was unexpectedly disrupted.

Over time, you’ll find that this attitude of constant planning carries over to other aspects of your life.  As an example, you may find that you’re more comfortable brainstorming “worst case scenarios” for projects at work, leading others to view your professional self as being more prepared and more self-reliant.

Idea #4 – Stay informed

Education is a key part of self-reliance.  The more you know, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself and confront unexpected challenges.

Within the workplace, staying informed on company politics and changes might give you the heads up on upcoming changes needed to put contingency plans in place.  If, for example, you hear that a major contract has fallen through or that your project may be terminated, staying abreast of internal news may give you the time needed to put an escape plan in place.

Without the pursuit of this necessary information, you won’t be able to act in a self-reliant way in order to protect yourself and your livelihood.

Idea #5 – Learn new skills

By most definitions of the word, true self-reliance includes things like foraging for your own food and sewing your own clothing out of handmade fabrics.  And while you can definitely take self-reliance to this “Doomsday Prepper” level, start your journey to self-reliance by focusing on skills that are more relevant to your daily life.

For example, are there any tasks at work that you rely on others to do that you could learn to handle yourself?  If you rely on others to send you data sets for analysis, is there a way you could pull this information on your own?  Or if your department relies on another for certain materials, is there a way you can help to expedite the process?

As a rule, the more skills you have, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself in whatever situation may arise.  And, really, it doesn’t get much more self-reliant than that!

Practicing Calmness: Maintaining Control in Difficult Situations

Unfortunately, when it comes to facing stressful situations, Master Yoda, you are not.  Developing the type of Zen-like calm that will enable you to exit trying circumstances gracefully isn’t easy to do, but it’s vital.  If you’re prone to outbursts of anger or tears whenever you feel threatened, learning how to remain calm will ensure that you’re taken seriously in both your professional and personal lives.

So if you’re sick of being dismissed by others or feeling that you’ve let your anger get the best of you, consider the following 5-step process for managing your emotions in stressful situations:

Step #1 – Acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed

As usual, the first step to resolving a problem is to admit that you have one in the first place.  After all, you can’t learn how to maintain control in difficult situations if you aren’t able to identify when your reactions are getting out of hand.

Generally, there are a few key symptoms we can use to assess when stress is occurring.  Our pulses increase, our faces flush, our hands begin to shake and we feel a rush of emotion – whether anger, teariness or some other strong feeling.

The key to managing difficult situations is to detect these symptoms at their onset, before you become so overwhelmed that a graceful exit is no longer possible.

Step #2 – Excuse yourself from the situation

Now that you know which symptoms indicate that you’re becoming stressed, practice excusing yourself from difficult situations as soon as you notice them.  If you delay and try to force yourself to regain control, you’ll typically only compound your emotional response – making you even less likely to come out of the scenario in a calm, controlled way.

To do this, use the following template:

“I’m sorry.  I’m feeling [stressed, upset, angry, etc] because of [this situation].  Could we regroup in [a certain period of time] once I’ve had a chance to think more clearly?”

Sure, there are some situations that you won’t be able to get out of, but you’ll likely find that these are few and far between.  Most people will respect your ability to advocate for your own needs and will give you the space necessary to gain control of your emotions privately.

Step #3 – Analyze your frustrations

Once you’re alone, take a few moments to think about why you experienced the reaction you did, putting a particular focus on your personal emotions and rationale.  For example, complaining to yourself that, “My boss is such a jerk,” doesn’t give you much to go off of, since you can’t do much to change your boss’s personality.

However, what you can do is to identify which of the elements of your earlier encounter are making you upset.  As an example, while your boss might truly be a jerk, you might also be able to identify that what’s really got you frustrated is the way he gives your co-worker better assignments than you ever seem to receive.  Knowing exactly what’s got you upset will go a long way towards helping you to brainstorm potential solutions and eventually change your mood.

Step #4 – Identify potential solutions

Following with the example above, if you’ve identified that you’re upset over perceived favoritism, it’s now on you to explain to your boss that this is how you see the situation.  And quite frankly, that conversation is going to go over much better if you can pair your observations with some practical ideas for solutions.

In this case, you could be missing out on prime opportunities because your boss thinks you’re too busy to handle them.  As a solution, you could offer more frequent check-ins or ways that other priorities could be handled more efficiently in order to free up your time for higher profile projects.

Of course, not every difficult situation has a solution.  Your boss might just not like you, and if that’s the case, no amount of calmness is going to resolve the scenario you’re facing (though you might also take that as a hint that it’s time to find a new job…).  But really, nine times out of ten, excessive displays of emotion can be avoided by taking the time to calmly think through what’s really bothering you and what can be done to improve your situation.

Step #5 – Carry out necessary follow-up professionally

Finally, if you promised anyone involved in the difficult situation you faced initially that you’d follow up with them at any point, now’s the time to do so.  Don’t let your discomfort prevent you from sticking to your word, as that’ll do much more damage to your reputation in the long run.

With consistent practice, you may find that you don’t even need to excuse yourself and follow up with the people in your life at a later time.  As you practice keeping your cool when faced with difficult situations, you’ll find that you’re able to identify your core emotions and deal with them in a calm, rational way in the moment, preventing your feelings from ever getting out of control in the first place.

Are You Perceived a Self-Confident Person?

It’s not exactly a secret that people with higher self-confidence tend to better in life.  They’re more likely to stand up for the benefits they deserve, more likely to attract partners who treat them well and more likely to succeed in whatever jobs or activities they take on.

But while most people think of self-esteem as something you’re either born with or not (or, something that’s instilled in you by a lifetime of grade school “Participation Awards”), it’s actually a skill that can be learned – just like any other!

So if you feel as though you’ve missed out on opportunities on the basis of your low self-esteem, consider the following tips on how to project a more confident image in order to draw in the things you deserve.

Tip #1 – Dress well

Now, saying “dress well” doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy designer clothes at top-dollar prices.  Dressing well isn’t about the label on your clothing or the amount of money you’ve paid – it’s about wearing clean clothing that fits you well and is free of rips, tears or other defects.

To determine whether or not your wardrobe needs some updating, think about how you feel when you wear the items found in your closet.  Do you feel confident?  Or do you feel uncomfortable because your clothing is out-of-style or ill-fitting?  If you fall into the latter camp, investing in some new wardrobe staples could provide you with a quick boost of confidence.

Tip #2 – Improve your posture

Once you’ve got a great outfit on, show it off by standing tall.  Perfecting your posture tells people that you’re self-confident and assertive – and much less likely to accept treatment that you don’t deserve.

It can be difficult to straighten out your spine after years spent hunching over on the couch or at a computer desk, but committing a little bit of effort to this pursuit will amaze you in terms of the difference in the way you’re treated.

Tip #3 – Smile more

Much of our low self-esteem comes from worrying that others perceive us incorrectly.  And while it really shouldn’t matter to your overall level of self-confidence what others think of you, there’s one surefire way to change this public perception to a more positive one – smiling.

People simply react better to those who smile more frequently, as smiling is an easy way to convey a pleasant personality.  Don’t go all Joker on the people around you and become an “over the top” smiler, but do make an effort to put a happy expression on your face whenever possible.

Tip #4 – Compliment others

If you’re insecure about how you’re perceived by others, shouldn’t it stand to reason that everyone around you experiences the same weakness at some point in time?  In fact, even the most confident people in the world struggle with low self-esteem sometimes, which makes this tip all the more important.

Instead of getting down on yourself for some perceived inadequacy, focus outward by giving someone in your life a genuine compliment.  Don’t fake it (or you’ll risk coming off as insincere), but do let the people in your life know what they’re doing well.  Not only will this make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside – boosting your self-esteem significantly – you’ll find that you’re treated better by those in your life who feel more valued as a result of your compliments.

Tip #5 – Practice gratitude

Feeling insecure?  Take a few seconds to brainstorm a list of the things in your life you’re grateful for.

Don’t just constrain your list to the physical possessions you’ve managed to acquire.  Taking the time to feel gratitude for your natural, inborn strengths is a great way to boost your overall self-esteem.

Tip #6 – Work out

For me, there’s nothing in the world that makes me feel better about myself than getting a good workout in the gym.  I’m not the world’s best athlete, but there’s something so inherently fulfilling about taking time out of your day to improve yourself that it’s hard not to experience a boost of self-esteem as a result.

Of course, working out doesn’t have to be lifting weights or running – it might be something as simple as a walk through a nearby park or an easy game of Frisbee with friends.  What’s important is that you’re taking the time to invest in yourself and demonstrate conclusively that you’re worthy of self-improvement.  When it comes to self-esteem, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

Tip #7 – Turn off your critical voice

Hopefully, the tips described above will help you to feel more naturally self-confident, although be aware that these activities alone may not be enough to shut off the critical voices inside your head.

We all have these voices – so there’s no shame in hearing an inner monologue that critiques your every mistake and misstep.  However, by learning to tune it out or to replace it with more positive thoughts based on the self-esteem behaviors you consciously adopt, you’ll be better able to position yourself as a self-confident person who is worthy of all the benefits listed above.

Learn to Remain Calm in Any Situation

These days, there are enough stressors in our modern life to raise the blood pressure of even the most devout religious monks!

However, learning to remain calm and change your mood in the face of these stressful situations is vitally important, as people are less likely to trust and respect the people they see flying off at the handle in the face of minor challenges.  Over time, being perceived as a person who can’t maintain control of his emotions can do serious damage to your personal and professional reputation – so take the time to implement any of the following tips to learn how to maintain a calm exterior:

Tip #1 – Take a deep breath

First things first, when you feel stressed out or anxious, pause and take a deep breath.  Not only will this increase the amount of oxygen flowing throughout your body – which provides an immediate calming benefit – it’ll also help you to avoid making rash and regrettable decisions.

Tip #2 – Put things in perspective

As you’re taking your deep breaths, take a second to put your situation into perspective.  On a scale of 1-10, with one being surrounded by unicorns and rainbows and ten being living in box on the street corner, how bad is your situation?  Chances are even if you’re facing a legitimate stressor, there are plenty of other things in your life that could be much worse.

Tip #3 – Compare your experience to the “worst case scenario”

If you’re struggling to keep your stressful experiences in perspective, get in the habit of imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could occur.

For example, suppose you’re facing rumors of possible layoffs at work.  While this is certainly a stressful situation, allowing your anxiety to influence your on-the-job performance won’t do you any good!  Instead, think through what the absolute worst possible thing that could happen to you would be.  In this case, if a layoff might be in your future, your worst case scenario might be losing your job, running out of money, being turned away by your parents and finding yourself in the “living in a box” scenario described above.

Now, take a closer look at each of those elements.  Could you lose your job?  Possibly, but there are also plenty of things you could do to either improve your performance or make it easier to find a new gig.  Might you be turned away by your parents?  I suppose, but even if this unlikely situation comes to pass, you probably have at least a few close friends who’d be willing to help you out of a tough spot.

By taking the time to envision the absolute worst possible thing that could occur, your own stressor will diminish in importance, allowing you to move on in a calm, clear-headed way.

Tip #4 – Give yourself a break

When faced with stressful situations, try to remember that your immediate reaction may not be your best one.  You might initially jump to conclusions that aren’t correct, or you may experience an emotional reaction that will change as you’re able to consider the logical, rational side of your dilemma.

So instead of reacting rashly, remove yourself from the situation and grant yourself the necessary space to process the stressor.  You’ll likely find that, after doing this, you’re able to return and address challenging situations in a much calmer manner.

Tip #5 – Take care of yourself

It should go without saying, but you’re a lot less likely to be stressed out when you take the time to get adequate rest, feed your body with nutritious foods and take part in regular exercise.  If you need convincing, think back on the last time you dealt with a stressful situation while you were tired or hungry.  How much more likely were you to snap or jump to conclusions as the result of external stressors?

By taking the time to ensure that you’re rested and healthy, you’ll be better prepared to remain calm in the face of challenging situations.

Tip #6 – Surround yourself with supportive people

Another great way to handle stressful situations is to build relationships with people who tend to be level-headed and calm.  While these people can help you to see the positive side of a stressful situation, you may also find yourself embarrassed to freak out in their presence.  It may not be the most honorable of motivations, but heck – I say, do whatever it takes to project a calm demeanor!

Tip #7 – Fake it

If none of these solutions help you to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of stressful situations, you have one more option – fake it ‘til you make it.

Because there are plenty of negative consequences associated with blowing up or acting rashly in the face of stress, you’ll find that you’re taken more seriously and that you’re more likely to achieve your desired ends by simply putting up a calm exterior.  Even if you’re seething on the inside, never let the people around you see you sweat!

Do you use any of these techniques in your personal or professional life?  Share your personal “remaining calm” strategies in the comments section below: