Disconnect from your work

Most of us are connected to our phones, tablets or computers more than ever right now. From the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep, most of us are a few steps from our office from anywhere in our home. Like many, my summer travel plans were cancelled, taking away a time I actually disconnect from work and email. Losing that time and the current circumstances are wearing on me and those around me. We all need a break, but it’s hard to do when day and night are spent in the same place.

It’s always hard to disconnect because of some perceived emergency situation for a client I may or may not remember a year in the future. When I do disconnect, I am reminded we all need to do so. It’s so relaxing and provides a much needed break from work and the continuous need to stay on top of email and various forms of electronic media and information. When is the last time you disconnected?

It’s more important than ever to do so, but it takes even more planning. Maybe you are willing to travel by plane or car and take a few days away. Even if you aren’t, there are ways to take time. Plan an outdoor activity. If the weather is bad in your locale, you may have to drive a few hours, but you can do so and be home the same day. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something and force yourself to disconnect.

We walk around with these small computers in our pockets that we use to communicate with others, take pictures, surf the Internet, and stream video and audio content. We also use them for work. Most of us really are connected all day long whether because of a level of addiction or the need to be accessible at all times to customers and clients. For those working at home, the lines have become even more blurred.

As an attorney, I definitely have clients who think I should be able to immediately respond to any email or text at almost any time of the day. I try to set reasonable expectations of my availability and general response times, but many people think because a message was sent it will be immediately viewed and responded to. I had one client who used to text me “????” if I didn’t respond or call him within a few minutes of his text. When I would get back to him he logically understood I have other clients, a family and things going on, but because he is an instant responder on email and text, his knee jerk reaction is that everyone else is too.

Use your phone to Google it and you will find numerous articles and studies about how bad it is for your brain and, generally, your well-being, to be using technology so much and accessible at all hours. How bad has it become? Someone my wife previously worked with used to (and hopefully, for her and her husband’s sanity, doesn’t) keep her phone under her pillow and answer texts at all hours of the night. That is so bad on many levels.

Just like your body and brain need you to take vacation, they need you to disconnect from technology for at least short amounts of time. But it isn’t easy to disconnect – our phones help us fill downtime or dead space. The problem is that our downtime is time we used to spend thinking, coming up with ideas, and being creative. In the big picture, for most of us, technology is a creativity killer. For me it may mean the great legal argument or idea for one of my cases won’t come into my head out of the blue like they used to. For you it probably means something different, but there is something you have lost from not taking time to let your mind be unoccupied, even for a moment.

At the same time, I am a big fan of technology both in my professional and personal worlds. I continually am trying to balance its use better, with varying results depending on the day. The truth is you have to focus on turning away from your technology to reconnect not only with the people around you, but yourself.

Try taking a short break from technology and see what positive effects it has for you. I know some of you are saying to yourselves “but when I turn it back on I will be so behind and have to catch up.” You have to do that anytime you go on vacation, are in a meeting or unable to constantly be online, so accept that as a given. If you try to take a break, even for a short time, you will come back looking forward to the next time you can do so and try to make it a regular thing.

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Imagine you are in a car with others on a long drive, have somewhere to be, and out of nowhere traffic on the highway comes to a stop. What is your first reaction? It may be to curse under your breath (or out loud). It may be to voice your frustration or you may be upset knowing you will be late to your destination.

I had this happen earlier this week. My first reaction definitely was frustration. But then I sat back and thought about what I can control and what I can’t control. It didn’t make sitting in traffic for around an hour stopped or barely moving fun by any means. At the same time it gave way to good conversation, made it easier to change the music and provided some time to think. There is good and bad with all things and I tried to find the good and let go of the frustration.

Patience is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Being able to do so is a learned talent. We all want what we want now. Learning that isn’t how the world works when you are young is a hard lesson. Aging, and hopefully maturing, doesn’t make it any easier. It also is impacted by the situation, whether you didn’t sleep well last night and a host of other factors.

That is why patience always is a work in progress. I try to exercise patience in situations where it’s needed. Sometimes I do better than others. No matter my reaction, I do look back to try and figure out how I could have reacted better and with a plan (and hope) to do better the next time.

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Organize yourself

Organization is more important than ever. Many of us are working remotely. Even if you aren’t, being organized makes a difference. If you have children, school is about to start around the country with remote learning, pulling even more on your time. Being organized will put you in the best position to be successful in all facets of your life.

Now is the time to organize or, if you are organized, to reorganize. Delay rarely helps in any situation and disorganization leads to disaster. It not only can make you late on your commitments, it can adversely affect your business and personal life.

We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world that demands that expectations not just to be met, but exceeded. Through being organized you can regularly set realistic expectations you know you can meet. If you are unorganized you will have trouble meeting expectations and your clients, co-workers, and others will see it as a negative.

To do this you need to come up with strategies that work for you. It may be keeping lists and calendaring items. Maybe you need another person, such as an accountability partner, to help keep you on track. There are many tools you can utilize to be better organized and keep on task. You have to know yourself well enough to know what will and won’t work for you. Of course, you then have to put what will work in motion and commit to it.

You should start today. The better you organize yourself, the sooner you will set yourself up for success. The point is you have to work hard to be organized. If you try you will see how it benefits you in business and generally.

If you are not sure where to start, find someone you know who is successful and organized and see if they will formally or informally serve as an accountability partner for you. It is investing in yourself and worth every minute you put into it.

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Mentoring is more challenging than ever

Most professionals still are working remotely and will be for the foreseeable future. This makes mentoring relationships more challenging. You can have phone calls or Zoom calls with a mentor or accountability partner, but mentoring relationships grow from forging a relationship based on knowing each other. Getting to know each other is harder to do by phone or Zoom unless that close relationship already existed. Even then, it’s not as good as being able to spend time together in person.

All of this makes beginning new mentoring relationships more challenging because it’s easier to build the relationship and trust through meeting in person, which then can be supplemented by phone calls or other manners of communication. This doesn’t mean solid new mentoring relationships can’t happen without meeting in person, it just means it is harder.

Imagine you switch jobs now. You are coming into a new company. Maybe it even has a formal mentoring program to help integrate new employees into the company and its culture. It’s much more difficult when you are sitting in your home office than if you are at the company’s actual office.

This is because the basis of the mentor mentee relationship is trust. Trust may be assumed at first, but it really is earned over time. The better the level of trust, the more both parties to a mentoring relationship gain. If you are in a mentoring relationship and it isn’t helping your professional growth, it may not be a good fit or maybe it has run its course. Your hope should be that by participating in such a relationship, you both evolve in many ways that benefit you in the long run.

So, depending on where you are professionally or in life, it always is a good time seek out a mentoring relationship. It will help if you are doing so now to acknowledge it may be more difficult or take longer to forge the bond that really allows such relationships to grow and flourish. But I challenge you to do so and look to play an important role in another’s story.

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Preparation is everything

Have you ever trained or practiced something with a goal in mind, such as improving your time on your daily run, memorizing your lines for your role at the local theater, or something similar? When you do, you have to make time to work up to your goal. With no preparation, you may finish the race, but it won’t be fast and you likely will feel it in your body for quite some time. If you don’t practice those lines and really get them down, the opening night will be uncomfortable, at best. These are examples of why preparation matters.

Similarly, why wouldn’t you prepare for any important event or conversation, such as a meeting with a supervisor regarding performance, salary or bonus issues, a job interview, an important conversation with a child, co-worker, spouse, etc. If it’s important to you, it’s worth your time, and not preparing hurts your chance to achieve whatever you define as success for the event or situation.

It helps if you know what you want to accomplish in a given situation. If it’s an important conversation, knowing the message you want to communicate will increase your chances of making sure you and your position(s) are understood and you will be able to give it your best shot. Preparation will put you in a better place to communicate clearly and effectively, which can help you achieve goals or desired results. Being prepared also will bolster your reputation and what others who deal with you think about you, which is important because reputation is everything.

So prepare for those important events, meetings or conversations, and see where it gets you. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Don’t be that person!

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Change is constant

I have been thinking about change during the last few months as many businesses have had to convert to remote working, and others have lost their jobs or businesses. It caused me to go back to a post I wrote in January 2014, which resonates today (and everyday). I have updated it, but it remains truth that change is constant.

Winners know this. What do I mean?  Being able to adjust on the fly is important.  In my world it can mean abandoning the entire oral argument you spent hours preparing because of a question or statement by the judge, a position taken by my opposing counsel or a client question. It also means having change forced upon you where you need to figure out how to network and develop business in a world where social distancing is the new norm and many businesses remain closed. The ability to shift gears on the fly allows you to be focused on the prize, whatever it may be.

Many times the change or adjustment does not need to be a split second decision.  What if you plan a new business initiative, spend hundreds of hours on it and then learn something has changed or you missed a piece of information that makes it more challenging to succeed?  Change is needed. Is it to scrap everything in the face of adversity?  Is it to rethink and tweak your plan?  Of course the true answer is that it depends on the situation.  But once you acknowledge change is needed you have taken the first step.

Change matters in your professional life.  Don’t become stagnant because the current circumstances don’t allow it, i.e. if you don’t change and adjust others will do so and pass you by.  To be on the top of your game you have to know when to adjust.  Stay up to date on what you need to know to do what you do.  Information is power.  Information is another thing that lets you know when you have to change or adjust.

Life is both a gift and a challenge in which we all can do a better job of doing our best for our customers and clients, as well as ourselves.  So pay attention!  Look for when you have to make adjustments or when change is being forced upon you by circumstance. Being open to change will bring creative ideas and opportunity, and allow you to shape your future.

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Reputation matters

Reputation takes a lifetime to build and mere seconds to lose. This is why your reputation and the reputation of your business matter in all you do during work hours and outside of those hours. This relates both to an overall picture of what others think and what you do that fits within those general thoughts, or not.

We all are ambassadors for the companies we work for. No role is bigger or smaller than other roles, just different. All roles are important and allow your business to function. It’s important to act in a manner that reflects well on you and your business to allow the business to function and to maintain its good reputation you have helped it earn.

Reputation is mainly is defined to two ways:

  1. the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something ; and
  2. a widespread belief that someone or something has a particular habit or characteristic.

I think the definitions are different, though connected. Your reputation clearly is what others in your circles or communities thing of you. An example could be that you have a reputation for being honest, charitable and a hard worker. At the same time, the beliefs of others are built on knowing your habits and characteristics that support such a reputation. An example of this is that each Saturday morning you volunteer at a local foodbank. Because of your habit to volunteer, part of your reputation is that you are charitable. What you do translates into who you are in your own eyes and the eyes of others.

Actions and inactions that can affect your reputation, and that of your business are numerous. Examples include not getting work done timely or within expectations, lying, or being careless on social media, even on your personal accounts. Do one or more of these and the response will be swift and negative.

On the other hand, when you do good, you have to continually do so for it to become part of your reputation. If you continually miss internal or external deadlines others at your business or the customers you need to succeed may not want to work with you again. If you volunteer each week, it may be months (if you are lucky) or more likely years before that habit becomes part of your broader reputation. It may not seem fair one bad act or mistake can follow you for a long time while doing good can take years to penetrate your community as to who you are, but knowing this should help guide choices you make.

Your reputation is built on peoples’ experiences with you. The reputation of your business is built on peoples’ experiences with you. We all deal with a broad group of people. This includes co-workers, clients, vendors, and people we deal with in our personal lives, from friends and family, to the person who cuts your hair or services your car. How you deal with and treat these different people reflects on you and your business.

Doing your best at all times is one way to work on and protect your reputation by doing things in a way that reflect well on you and your business, and positively affect the way others think of both. Once in a while, think about whether there are things you can do better at work or home. Then do your best and a good reputation will follow.

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Stay healthy for your business

Being healthy obviously is good for you. It also is good for your business. It gives you energy. You can work out with others, including people you work with, customers, referral sources, etc. It is what you make it, and that can turn into something powerful in your life.

People seemed to really get into exercise when the quarantines and stay at home orders started. As time has gone by (and it has gotten really hot where I live), the amount of people I see out exercising, even early morning, has significantly decreased. We all should make exercising part of our routine because it has huge benefits for your body, brain and mental health. And to your business, if you make it so.

Everyone seems to be losing a bit of focus as the pandemic continues. Exercise gives you something else to focus on. It also can help you find your center. Plus, we all can use stress relief in relation to our personal and professional lives.

Some people like to exercise by themselves. It can provide tome to think about your day, your work, relationships or whatever else may be on your mind. Others want to do so with others because it helps keep them accountable to show up and do their best. Or it may be for social reasons. You can exercise with the same person regularly or do different things with different people, from friends to family to business connections.

I have a partner who hikes with a woman she met professionally and who later became her friend. When they hike together the range of topics discussed run the gamut from personal to business, and they each have had business referred from the other over the years.

As we head into summer, it is as good a time as any to think about your health and what you can do to maintain it or improve it, as well as deepen connections if you choose to, like my partner has.  Don’t only think about this when coming up with New Year’s resolutions.  Whether changing your diet, exercising more or starting for the first time, do something.  Invest in yourself.

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Set and revisit goals

Do you set goals? You should, and they should be in writing. If you have, you should revisit them often to see where you are on the road to achieving your goals. Writing goals and not reviewing them will negatively affect your chance to reach them.

You need to write down your goals. I currently am outlining my goals because June is the fiscal year end for my firm. Everyone at my firm writes down SMART goals for the next fiscal year. We also have mentoring and accountability groups that meet throughout the year to discuss goals and help our people be in the best position to reach their goals.

You need to keep your goals where you can see them. I keep copies on my desk and on my computer desktop where I can see my goals every day and review them regularly. It can help to make a weekly or monthly calendar event to remind you to review your goals. 

Work on your goals. The idea is to set goals, review them and work on them.  Yes, work on them.  This is important planning and work. Doesn’t your career or business deserve your focus and attention?

Change your direction. I saw a great quote from Jim Rohn, which inspired my topic this week. He said “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” How true. So get on it and change your direction!

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Focus on one thing at a time

What are  you doing right now? Are you focusing on reading these words? Do you have an eye on your email, texts, or social media? If you are working from home, are you dealing with your children? Or maybe you are do some combination or all of these activities.  Or are you on the phone?  We all think we can multi-task and do it well, but the truth is we can’t.

How many times a day, when you are on the phone, can you hear the keyboard and mouse clicks on the other end of the line?  Are they taking notes or looking up something relevant to the conversation, or are they surfing Twitter or Facebook?  Or maybe they are reading an unrelated, substantive email? You know they weren’t listening when they ask you to repeat what you just said after you ask them a question because they don’t know what you asked.

Doing any of these activities while talking to someone on the phone is comparable to looking at your emails and texts while in a meeting or at lunch with someone. In both cases you are checked out and telling  the people speaking or who you are dining with that they are not as important as whatever is on your phone.

It simply is very hard to focus on two things (or more) at once.  Coming across as your best possible self or doing your best work matters. It’s your reputation and people remember.

For a week (or for those truly device or multi-tasking addicted, a day) try to focus on what is in front of you, whether a person or a project.  If you are heading into a meeting, don’t  bring  your phone or leave it in your pocket or purse. Better yet, turn it off. When you are on the phone, leave that mouse alone and keep things that interest you off of the screen(s) in front of you. If you have room and a wireless headset, get up and walk around focusing on the conversation.

This is about focus and respect. No one may know you are trying to multi-task other than you, but it is amazing what you learn when you actually listen.

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