Facing the Scariest Truths about Writing

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

What scares you most about writing? Perhaps it’s the fear of staring at a blank page? Or perhaps, like most folks, it’s a fear of rejection or failure that prevents you from writing.

Yet again, it might be a fear of performing. When you think about it, writing is a form of performance, except it’s done on a computer screen or piece of paper. So staring at these devices can be intimidating for a writer. Maybe all you are really suffering from then is stage fright.

Being fearful is natural. If you weren’t afraid of anything, you wouldn’t be human. Your fears are only bothersome if they interfere with your ability to produce your best work, or worse, prevent you from getting started in the first place.

Below are some common fears writers have about the writing process as well as a few strategies for overcoming them. There might be others that aren’t listed here. Only you know what scares you most about writing, and how you can overcome it.

1. Fear of the blank page. Yes, I would categorize this as a legitimate fear. For many writers, getting started presents the biggest fear. You stare at the blank page or the blank computer screen with no idea what to write about. In those moments, it may be easier to close up shop and try again another day. But don’t give in to that temptation. Instead, try working with a writing prompt. Begin with either “I remember…” or “What if…” and let your imagination go. “I remember” connects you to your past, especially helpful if you want to write a memoir. “What if” helps you imagine events or situations in the future, also great if you want to write science fiction or fantasy.  For more writing prompts, do a Google search, and you’ll find hundreds more.

2. Fear of negative feedback/criticism/rejection. I bundled these three into one category because they seem interchangeable. To get past these fears, you will have to rethink your response to criticism. First of all, not all criticism is bad. When given constructively and honestly, it can help you improve your writing. Think of criticism as a necessary part of the writing process. That’s why there are editors – to point out problem areas that you may not see in your work. Without criticism or negative feedback, your writing will not improve, and in fact, will likely remain stale and stagnant. Who wants to read stale writing?

If showing your work to people is still too scary, then keep your showings to only one or two people who are close to you and who you trust. As you gain more confidence in your writing, you can expand your circle of readers. Remember, you don’t have to show your work at all if you don’t want to, especially if you’re just writing for yourself.

3. Fear of success. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that a fear of success may be holding you back, but it can. One way the fear of success can manifest is as a series of incomplete projects. You start one with enthusiasm, then another story idea presents itself and you chase after that one, leaving the first story unfinished. You get close to the finish line and you suddenly decide you have more important things to do. You find reasons for not finishing your writing project.

Why this happens, I do not know. Finishing the story is a success in and of itself. It doesn’t matter if it ever gets published. To overcome this fear, try following a simple rule: Don’t begin a new writing project until the first one is complete.

4. Fear of failure. Perhaps the most common fear is the fear of failure. But what does it mean to fail? Numerous rejection letters? If so, turn those rejections into a positive. You made the effort to put your work out there. True failure is not writing at all. True failure is giving up before you have even started.

5. Fear of revealing too much of yourself — or not enough. In today’s social media world, it’s easy to share more of ourselves than we may be used to. Stories are different. Writing and sharing stories requires digging deeply into our past or our present, and sometimes facing some of the darkest aspects of ourselves that we may prefer to hide away. You can’t be afraid to dig deep within yourself for painful life experiences for your stories. That’s where all the juicy stories lie.

6. Fear of aloneness and isolation. Let’s face it. Writing is a solitary and often lonely occupation. If you don’t like being alone, you may delay writing projects because you don’t want the solitude. So instead you look for the ‘right’ environment with people around before feeling comfortable about writing. Coffee shops and libraries, where you are surrounded by people, can help ease those feelings of isolation – as long as you’re not spending time chatting with them and not writing. Writing groups can also help if you’re the more sociable type. Otherwise, take advantage of these quiet periods of aloneness to reconnect with yourself. (I say aloneness because you can be alone and not feel lonely.) Your writing muse will thank you for it.

7. Fear of not being good enough. In the back of your mind, there may be a small voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough. It may come from a long-ago desire to please someone else, someone who dictated what was good about your writing and what wasn’t so good. Only you can decide who you are trying to please. What would happen with your writing if you wrote to please yourself and not for anyone else? When you create a safe environment to write and express yourself, the fear of not being good enough will fade into the background.

Once you become aware of what your fears are and take steps to conquer them, the sky is the limit. Your writing can take you wherever you want to go.

For Some Writers, The Pen IS Mightier Than the Keyboard


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Why Longhand Writing May Be Beneficial for Your Writing

Stephen King does it. So does Kristen Hannah. So do Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates, Joshua Ferris and Andre Dubus III.

They are all writers who write their first drafts in longhand with pen and paper.

Whether you are writing a novel, short story, essay or even a business writing project, like a report or white paper, it may seem counterintuitive to write the first draft longhand rather than use a computer. Writing longhand is too time consuming, you might say. Who has the patience for that?

Lots of writers have weighed in on this topic. You can find links to some of their opinions at the bottom of this post.

Funny thing is, writers who previously wrote their stories on their laptop and experimented with writing longhand say they are sold. There is something about that physical process that helped them be more productive and access their imagination more readily. Some writers claim that there’s a stronger hand-to-heart connection that helps them access deeply held emotions which comes across in their writing.

The process of writing longhand can be liberating. By writing my stories longhand, I’m able to focus on the story development process. Writing longhand seems to open up a pathway to the brain where the core of creativity lies. Amazing things have happened as I write. Characters began showing up that hadn’t been part of the story before, and scenes went off into different unanticipated directions. That’s the fun part of writing.

Writing longhand provides physical proof of your progress. Every notebook or legal pad you write on shows the results of your daily efforts. Seeing your work in black and white can make you feel good about your progress and you’ll want to keep writing. It’s a great motivator to your writing practice. If consistency (or lack thereof) has been a problem for you, try writing longhand and see how it affects your writing practice.

When choosing between the mighty pen and laptop, also think about your typing skills. How fast do you type? If you aren’t fast or accurate, writing longhand might also be a better option for you. Writing might seem slower than typing, but ideas may begin to flow at a rate you can keep up with.

When I first tried writing stories on the computer, I didn’t get very far. I was too busy editing as I was writing. Or I would go back to correct misspelled words. The process you think would be faster and easier was actually slower because I was trying to do both writing and editing at the same time, which means I was using both sides of the brain.

Multi-tasking might be fine, but not when your brain is engaged. Now I use a pen and notebook for writing while I reserve the laptop for typing my stories from the page and editing them. Yes, that might seem like an extra step. But maybe it isn’t. I am editing as I’m transferring my words during that process so it now becomes my second draft. I feel I have gotten more done because I am focused on one activity at a time and I’m not overloading my brain.

Another problem with doing your writing on the computer is the temptation to check details via the Internet, which is obviously more accessible. If you stop writing to check a piece of information, chances are you won’t get back to your writing for another three hours because you got lost in the World Wide Web. You won’t have that temptation if you write longhand.

Here are a few other ways writing longhand can improve your writing:

* Writing longhand may help undo writer’s block. The next time you feel blocked, try writing longhand. Experts say the process of writing has a cognitive benefit. It is directly connected to the part of the brain that governs creativity. By writing longhand, you are actually getting in touch with your creativity.

* It forces you to focus on one activity at a time – writing — which is actually more productive than trying to write and edit at the same time, which uses both sides of the brain. That kind of multi-tasking might actually be counterproductive.

* Brain dumping is easier when writing longhand. Let’s face it. The first draft is always a mess. So what if you write it by hand? You give yourself permission to write crappy copy from the start. With a pen it’s easier to cross out, add, write in the margins, or make notes about what to look up later. Yes, it will look messy, but that’s your brain at work.

* Pen and paper are more portable and lightweight. These writing tools travel easily anywhere you go, whether it’s your front porch, your bedroom, the local coffee shop or the library. You don’t have to worry about missing cords or recharging batteries. It’s just your pen, paper and your ideas. That’s what I call traveling light.

* Pen and paper isn’t hard on your eyesight the way a computer screen is. Sitting in front of computer screen for hours each day is hard on your eyesight. Is it a wonder so many of us wear eyeglasses? And the rays from the screen can affect our ability to sleep at night. Paper and pen don’t have the same impact.

Before you dismiss the idea of writing your stories longhand, give it a try. See how it affects your writing.  Are you more productive? Are you more focused on your story and less distracted by the Internet of things? The computer has its place in the writing process. But when it comes to launching your first draft, pen and paper may be the best way to get you to “The End.”

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

Nine Ways to Survive Without Communications Technology

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

There are times when you need to take a technology break; other times you’re forced to take a break due to circumstances beyond your control.

That was my predicament last week when I lost my cable Internet and TV service. In the meantime, the battery on my mobile phone went on life support and I had to order a new battery. While I waited for the new battery to arrive, I had to keep the phone plugged in at all times.

There’s nothing like losing your cable TV, Internet and mobile phone service all at one time to make me appreciate communications technology.  One wonders what any of us did with our time when we weren’t tethered to our mobile phones, cable TV or Internet service.

Modern technology is wonderful – when it works. But what do you do when it doesn’t? What are our options? How can we communicate with one another when there’s no phone or Internet? Messenger service? Smoke signals? It made me feel that the Universe was forcing me to tap into my own personal reservoir of resources by cutting out the extraneous noise that could interfere with my creative genius.

It was a tough few days, to say the least. After losing technology, I felt I had lost touch with the rest of the world. Rather than wallow in self-pity, I looked around at things I could be doing instead. I found I had more time to do other ore meaningful things, such as volunteer work, communing with nature,  catching up on reading and writing, catching up on sleep, to name a few.

Without technology hogging my time and attention, I was able to get more stuff done in less time. It forced me to slow down my work day, to pay more attention to tasks in front of me. I didn’t feel the added “busyness” of life that I usual did. The experience taught me the value of a “noiseless” environment to help me accomplish my daily writing goals.

If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, without technology, without access to the world at large, don’t fight it. Use the time and space to complete unfinished projects or work on tasks that you’ve been meaning to do. Think about other things you can be doing instead, such as:

1. Volunteer. Get out in the community and do something constructive to help others, whether it’s caring for someone’s pet, helping at a local shelter or food bank, or teaching someone to read. Whatever you do will be good for your soul.

2. Enjoy live music. It’s summertime and that means outdoor concerts and festivals. Tune out the phone and tune into the music.

3. Catch up on reading. Without cable TV and Internet service, you have plenty of time to indulge your reading passion.

4. Catch up on sleep. Oddly enough, without TV and Internet to overload my senses, I fell asleep more easily at night and slept longer than usual. I guess it is true that our technological devices can interfere with our sleep habits. If you need to sleep, turn off your tech tools a few hours before bedtime. Your body will thank you for it.

5. Catch up on housework and home repairs. Without tech distractions, you can tackle those home repair jobs you’ve been meaning to get to. Paint the living room a new, fresh color, fix the leaky kitchen sink, or clean out the closet.

6. Get cooking. Without tech interference, you have more time to explore new recipes or put a spin on an old one. As I like to say, when the going gets tough, the tough get cooking.

7. Catch up on your writing. Got a novel you’ve been hankering to work on for months? Now is the time to work on your manuscript. No technology is needed either – just good ole’ pen and paper and your imagination.

8. Start a conversation. Sometimes we can become so immersed in our phones and laptops that we forget what it’s like to have a real, down-to-earth conversation with a real live person. Head to a nearby coffee shop and leave the phone at home. Instead, look around you and strike up a conversation. Isn’t that what coffee shops are for?

9. Take a hike. You don’t need a mobile device to commune with the great outdoors. All you need is a good sturdy pair of shoes and some sunscreen. Then sit by a pond, or walk in silence through the woods. When you don’t have access to cable TV or Internet, when your phone is running low on battery, it’s time to soak up the sun, the clouds, the moon and stars. How else will you be able to hear yourself think? Sometimes you have to shut out the distractions of your life to hear the messages Mother Nature is sending you.

It’s never fun to lose technology tools. You might find yourself feeling upset and anxious at first, knowing you have to live without these modern conveniences, but after a few days, you may find yourself chilling out more, not feeling rushed and perhaps even feeling a little more clear-headed.

So while you may lose your connection to the outside world, you may find a better connection with yourself instead.

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

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Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

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Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.

 

 

7 Ways to Improve Your Professional Life in 2018

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Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018!

With the flip of the calendar, not only have we changed months, we have moved on to a brand new year. I always look forward to this time of year – a time to reassess where I have been and where I would like to be in the coming year. It’s an exciting time for me because I have an opportunity to make changes in my life to produce the kind of success that I want for myself. Rather than resolutions, I prefer to call these efforts “calls to action” or “priority-setting” because I think it’s more positive and helps drive my efforts for the rest of the year.

What about you?  Have you made any promises to yourself to change some things in your professional life?

Whether you call them resolutions, goals or calls to action, you can always find ways to improve your professional life. There’s always room for improvement, especially if you want to stay relevant in your industry or company. Here are a few examples of improvement goals any worker might consider achieving in 2018.

1. Learn new skills. Take time to assess the skills you already have. Then take a few minutes to assess what skills are most in demand for your job or in the workplace overall. If you work in sales, perhaps you need to brush up on your public speaking skills, visual design skills for your presentations, or learn a new system for tracking your contacts and sales results. You can never have enough skills, and the more updated your skills are, the more in demand you may be at your company or in the job market.

2. Mind your manners. Be aware of how you think and how you behave around others. B respectful of everyone you know and meet on a daily basis. If we have learned anything from 2017 is that sexual harassment happens everywhere every day. Be mindful of your own actions. And if you experience or witness harassment in your workplace, speak up. The best way to combat harassment is to bring it out in the open and make people aware of their behavior when it happens.

3. Take care of your health. Let’s face it, you can’t be productive at your job if you are sick. If you catch a cold or flu, stay home and get the rest you need. Your co-workers will thank you for it. Good health also means good health habits, such as getting at least eight hours of sound, restful sleep at night, getting annual physical and dental exams, eating more healthful meals, exercising regularly, drinking water instead of soft drinks, and practicing stress reduction techniques like meditation. When you feel your best, you will produce your best work.

4. Build your network. For some professionals, a strong network is vital to their business. If your own network is lacking, resolve to build it up in 2018. It isn’t how many people you know, but WHO you know. The quality of your relationships may be more important than how many people are in your network. Those who know you better are in a better position to give you what you need, whether that is career guidance, business referrals or job opportunities. Remember to offer your assistance in return. Don’t be shy about giving testimonials for good business service, pass along job leads or give helpful advice to a colleague. The good you do now can come back to you in spades later when you need it.

5. Get organized. Most people aren’t born with good organizational ability. Sometimes you have to train yourself on how to be organized. Did you ever stop to think that your lack of organization may be holding you back from performing at your best? For example, if you keep misplacing your keys or your bills keep getting lost in a pile of papers on your desk, put up a little shelving unit on your wall that contains hooks for your keys and pockets for your bills. That way you know where to find them and you don’t have to keep looking for them when you need them. Developing systems at home and at work can help you operate more efficiently.

6. Update your financial skills. If finance has always baffled you or you have difficulty making and sticking to a budget, it may be time to seek some help. There are numerous apps available to help you with budgeting, for example. Take a class at your local library or community college or download e-books that can help you understand basic finance principles. If you really feel stuck, seek out the advice of a professional financial planner. Learning about financial planning can help you not only personally, but also at work where you may need to manage a department budget.

7. Practice better work-life balance. In the competitive business world, it is easy to keep saying yes to business opportunities, projects, invitations, and so on. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day business obligations that we neglect our personal lives. Or likewise, we get caught up in our personal obligations that our professional life suffers. Practicing better work-life balance may be a simple as learning to say no. We all need time to catch our breath. Living life at full throttle eventually catches up to us. We’re not meant to live life at full speed, or we’ll simply crash and burn. To avoid burnout at work or in life, slow down. Start saying no to things that are non-essential to your happiness. Work-life balance can happen; it just requires an assessment of your priorities and making some tough decisions. But you’ll be happier for it in the long run.

8. Give back to your community. Speaking of work-life balance, one way to bring more balance into your life and your career is giving back. That can mean anything from fostering a dog or cat in need to mentoring a young professional in your office. When you do something for someone else, it gives you a warm feeling inside knowing that there is more to life than your work.

These are all common sense objectives. You don’t have to pursue all of them. Choosing one or two can make a difference in your life, not just for today but for many years to come.

Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Overcoming First-Day Jitters at a New Job

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers will hold at least four jobs before they reach the age of 40. In addition, the youngest workers – the millennials – will likely hold 12 to 15 jobs in their entire lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

That’s a lot of first days on the job.

Looking at my own career path, I can honestly say this is true. By the time I turned 40, I was on my 12th job. That’s counting temp and freelance gigs.

With so many jobs – short-term, long-term and in between – I had a lot of first days, and a lot of first-day jitters. It never gets easier as you get older. There is always a certain level of excitement, anticipation, and yes, anxiety, when starting a new gig.

Some anxiety is normal. It’s okay to feel nervous about meeting new people, entering a new work environment and facing new challenges without, hopefully, falling flat on your face. But if those anxious feelings are so overwhelming to the point where you can’t perform, let alone step inside the door to your new office, then it may be time for an attitude adjustment, or at least, better preparation for your first day.

Below are a few tips for overcoming the first-day jitters based on my own experience in the workforce. Each person is different, of course, so some of these practices may work for some people and not for others. Find the right balance that works best for you.

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Many studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is needed to feel refreshed and mentally alert. You may be able to get by on five or six; other people require more than eight. But ahead of a busy first day, going to bed a little earlier than you usually do and getting more sleep may be a smart way to start your new gig.

2. Eat a healthful breakfast. Another smart way to start your day is by eating a healthy breakfast, including some protein, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Avoid heavy carbs like pancakes which can make you sleepy. Instead, choose healthy options like fruit and yogurt or eggs and toast.

3. Dress for success. No matter where your new gig is located – even if the gig is a telecommute job from home – dress for the occasion, especially on your first day. Avoid overly casual clothes, like sweatshirts and jeans. Save the casual wear for another time. You want to make a good impression, so dress the part. It might also put you in a more professional state of mind.

4. Allow plenty of time to get to your workplace. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late on the first day of your new job. If commuting, check and double check train and bus schedules. If you ride a bike to work, get it tuned up beforehand so you won’t have accidents or breakdowns on the way to work. Ditto with your vehicle. Check traffic conditions and find alternate routes if the one you planned to take is blocked for some reason.

5. Go with the flow. Your employer or client will likely have an agenda that first day. So relax and let them take the lead.

6. Be an active observer. One of the benefits of being a new kid on the block is that you can remain detached and somewhat anonymous. By being an active observer in the office, you can learn a lot about a company. Pay attention to the office environment. For example, note how workers behave, not just toward you but also toward each other and toward their bosses. Are they friendly and treat each other with respect? Or do they gossip about co-workers and badmouth their bosses?

7. Smile and be friendly. Offer a firm handshake when you are introduced to other people on your team.

8. Listen, and ask questions. On that first day, you will likely receive tons of information about the company, the project and the team members. If you are confused about something, be sure to ask questions so there are no misunderstandings. Don’t start off on the wrong foot because you misunderstood an instruction.

Don’t let your nerves get in the way of a successful start at a new job or client project. Plan ahead and arm yourself with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast and a confident, get-it-done attitude, and you are sure to start your new gig on the right footing.