Why It's So Hard to Trim Your To-Do List (and How to Make it Easier!)

Why It's So Hard to Trim Your To-Do List (and How to Make it Easier!)

Written by Tracy Stanger. First appeared on www.tracystanger.com

“But Tracy, I literally have to do everything on my to-do list.”

I hear this all the time, and I’m sure it really feels that way...for lots of reasons. These are the big two I see A LOT.

You’re an Obliger

Gretchen Rubin developed a personality framework she calls The Four Tendencies that divides the world into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Her research shows the majority of the population is Obliger. 

If you’re an Obliger, you might feel great pressure to meet outside expectations, but have a hard time meeting your own. 

If that’s you, you probably subconsciously feel that it’s more important to do all the things than it is to consider how things should be easier on you.

So when you’ve tried to trim your to-do list in the past, you’ve had a hard time cutting things that you think you have to do for someone else, but you’ve easily cut things that are just for you, like rest, self-care, or activities that only you like.

That’s how it’s always been

Even if you’re not an Obliger, it’s easy to get stuck on this idea. Newton’s law of inertia says an object in motion stays in motion. 

You said yes to a task or responsibility once before, so now you just do it by default.  That’s what so-and-so does, so you better do it, too. You’ve taken on all these tasks, so now you just have to figure out how to get it done. 

Big nope to all of that!

So can you really trim things from your to-do list? 

One trick for determining whether something is actually essential to you is to think about whether you would choose that task again if you weren’t already doing it or if you weren’t just trying to meet outside expectations. 

Ask yourself these questions:  

IS THIS A WANT OR A SHOULD?

Do you think you need to do this task to meet your own expectations or someone else’s? Are you doing it because you enjoy it, because you know it’s going to make a great impact, because you’re good at it? Or are you just doing it because some “expert” scared you into it?

Obligers can think about how you also deserve your expectations met, or at the very least, how meeting your own wants will help others in the long run (because you can’t pour from an empty cup, right?).

And just because this task works for someone else (build this funnel! use discovery calls to sell!) doesn’t mean you have to do it. 

DOES IT ACTUALLY HELP YOUR CUSTOMERS? 

Does this task directly impact your customers and help you serve them the service you’re literally in business to provide them? 

Obligers, you’re all about helping others right? Don’t waste your time on stuff that isn’t really gonna help!

DOES THIS TO-DO LIST TASK “SPARK JOY?” 

Do you groan everytime you see this task on your to-do list? Does it take you forever or make you resentful?

Just because you’ve always said yes, someone expects you to do it, or you feel like you should, if you don’t like it, you can totally choose to toss it!

Think of purging your to-do list like cleaning out your closet. You’d look at each item and think about whether you really want to keep it, whether you actually lie to wear it. If you didn’t already own that dress, would you buy it? If you weren’t already used to trying to get that task done, would you sign up for it? 

Treat Your Brain: Learn Something New for Yourself

Treat Your Brain: Learn Something New for Yourself

If you’re around kids much these days, you’ve probably heard about “growth mindset” at least once. I don’t remember learning about growth mindsets growing up, but it’s definitely something I’m focusing on with my children.

Growth Mindset, as coined and defined by Carol Dweck is where, “…people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” This is opposed to a fixed mindset: where we believe see struggle as a sign that we just aren’t good at something and it is what it is.

The beauty of teaching about growth mindset lies in teaching how the brain works – that as we work to learn new things, our brains are creating new neural pathways. That’s legitimately hard work that burns calories (but probably won’t be the next fad diet), so we teach the kids (and ourselves) to have patience with our brains and realize that working and feeling frustration learning something doesn’t mean we’re “bad” at it. We learn to give ourselves grace.

Why is this so important?

This leads to a love of learning, which leads to life-long learning, which leads to new neural pathways constantly being formed. New neural pathways allow our brain to work more quickly and efficiently...and also creates denser brain matter, which makes our thinking even quicker!

All this to say: TREAT YOUR BRAIN! Set aside some time to learn something for you. Not for work. Not for your kids. For you. Find something you’re interested in: a new skill, a language, an art or craft, a sport, whatever! Learn it. Learn how it works, the nuances. Let it bring you joy as you build your brain, because that will not only fill your self-care cup, but it will also strengthen your brain for all aspects of your life!

Trim the Fat: 5 Tips to Effectively Condense Your Resume

Trim the Fat: 5 Tips to Effectively Condense Your Resume

Your resume will get no more than a 10-second cursory overview to decide if it’s worth digging into. Can someone skim your complete resume in 10 seconds?

If your resume is over three pages long, odds are it’ll be tossed...and your chances for an interview were tossed out along with it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to list one bullet per position so that it fits neatly on one page either! I’m happy to report that the rule of the one-page resume has lived its life, but excessively long resumes are still a no-no.

For most professionals, a solid overview of your experience can fit nicely onto two pages, leaving the resume easy to scan and get the highlights in a matter of seconds.

Struggling?

You aren’t alone. I work with people all the time who just can’t seem to cut down their experience to fewer than five pages. And trust me, 8pt font is not the solution. So how do we trim the fat?

1. If it goes without saying…don’t say it! There are some responsibilities that we know you did even without mentioning. Emailing? Answer the phone? Monitoring systems? We already know.
2. Leave it off if it isn’t relevant! Most of us have previous roles that aren’t directly related to our targeted role. Hit the highlights on those, but don’t waste space detailing experience that isn’t relevant.
3. Cover it in the accomplishments. When you detail your results and accomplishments, you can overview (if needed) how you got to them, but often it’s implied. Sometimes you can shorten the content by converting it to results, but you can always combine the responsibilities and results into one.
4. Use industry-standard acronyms. Self-explanatory, but do make sure they aren’t corporate lingo. It’s also not a bad idea to have the whole thing spelled out once somewhere else in the resume just to be safe.
5. Thin it out as it gets older. As your experience gets 10 or more years old, it will most likely warrant less detail. Sometimes relevance overrides this rule, but it’s a good general rule.

Overall, the idea is: no fillers, no irrelevant information…just the meat that is going to grab their attention and get them to read more.

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Back to School: 3 reasons to register for an online course

Back to School: 3 reasons to register for an online course

It seems like all we’re hearing about recently is school, with the ongoing debates on how to handle K-12 and even college education during a pandemic. Maybe you are reveling in the fact that none of the headache applies to you, maybe you’re knee-deep in figuring out how it’ll all work in your life.

No matter where you are in the mess, it’s worth considering if some continued education would be a good idea for you. It doesn’t have to be a whole degree program, either! It could just be a course on Excel, marketing, leadership, or Photoshop.

There are so many reasons we come up with to say no. “I’m too busy.” “I’m already where I want to be.” “I hated school. I certainly don’t want to do it again.”

But what if an online course could drastically improve your life right now?

Leadership

Courses on leadership (here are 10 resources for online courses), can not only open new doors for you, but they will improve your daily professional life where you are. By learning improved communication methods, techniques to improve engagement, feedback skills, and so many other skillsets, you will form better relationships with your current team allowing you to increase productivity and improve culture.

Efficiency

How much time do you spend googling how to lock cells or perform different functions in Excel? Do you use your software to its fullest potential? LinkedIn has a wealth of training courses from Excel to SharePoint to Zoom to QuickBooks and even Time Management techniques. Invest a little time now to save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

Enjoy Your Work!

Everyone has aspects of their role where they don’t feel as strong. If you find that there’s an area that you dread, put off, or avoid because you struggle with it, take some time to learn more and improve your skillset! Once you’ve mastered these skills, it won’t be nearly as stressful to accomplish those areas of your responsibilities.

What online courses are you considering?

Back to School: Get Ready to Up Your Networking Game

Back to School: Get Ready to Up Your Networking Game

It’s 2020. Everything’s canceled. The Olympics. Concerts. Big10. But even while we’re socially distancing, networking is still very much a thing.

As an introvert, I really can’t decide if everything being remote is easier, harder, or the same (though I am looking forward to handshakes being a thing of the past), but technology is here to make sure we can keep up with each other. Expanding our circles, however, is definitely a little trickier.

No more meeting new parents in your kids’ class or on their sports teams. No more happy hour with your work friends (and theirs). No more of so many things.

BUT, with some effort and creativity, we can get around and through this.

Since you’ll be missing out on sports this fall, go ahead and schedule some networking in as your Friday night entertainment. No, really.

Grab your laptop and a drink and do a Zoom round table on some professional topics and have your colleagues invite other guests. Give it some structure so it isn’t just a free for all and you can really start conversations with people you didn’t already know. Be sure to exchange contact information so you can continue the conversations after the round table!

Get involved in relevant conversations on LinkedIn. Use that social network to…you know…get social and network. Focusing on thoughtful responses and building relationships.

Whatever you do, try not to engage hermit mode during this time. Connecting with others will help prevent depression during isolation all while hopefully propelling your professional life forward!

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How to Tell a Story That Will Get You Hired

How to Tell a Story That Will Get You Hired

In this line of work, I talk to countless people who have incredible experience, skills, and credentials, but just can’t land an interview or new job.

The problem is almost always the same. They think the hiring process is about them.

It’s not. It’s about them and their problems…and how you can solve them. And it’s on you to show them how you can solve their problems and make their lives easier.

Whether we’re talking about an elevator pitch, networking, resume, cover letter, or interview answers, your job is to convey that you understand their pain, and know-how to ease it (and even better, have demonstrated success in the matter). You have no choice but to talk about you, but do it from the perspective of what you can do for them.

Imagine a world where superheroes interview for their job and Tony Stark is meeting with Nick Fury about joining the Avengers.

With all of that Tony Stark arrogance, he talks about having finished two Master’s degrees at MIT by 19, how much Stark Industries is worth…and then prattles on about all the technological details about the Iron Man suit and how he built it.

Turns out, Iron Man CAN be boring!

Instead, even with his volatile personality, Fury would know immediately that Tony Stark belongs in the Avengers if he had said, “I fight all manner of bad guys with my scientific know-how, ability to fly, sound logic and planning, and repulsor beams, so that the Earth doesn’t get destroyed and you can go on living your life.”

Not a superhero? You can totally apply this rule as well.

The first step is truly understanding who the main character is, what their goals are, and what is standing in their way. Why? Because they will feel understood on a deeper level. It’s like when you meet someone new and they’ve been through the same struggles as you, whether they’re familial, medical, professional, or whatever…you connect more quickly because of those similar experiences. You feel like they understand you, like you can relate to each other.  

Once you determine what their new services, mergers, growth opportunities, etc are, you narrow down to your specific expertise that will solve their problem. Do you excel at rescuing failing projects? Can you sell ice in a blizzard? What is your unique skill set that will allow them to succeed?

Take time to go through your accomplishments and determine which ones demonstrate your ability to solve their problems. This is what you will want to highlight in your resume. And note: we’re talking about results and accomplishments, NOT responsibilities.

Write your resume with your audience at the forefront of your mind and you will be on your way to an interview!

Automation: 3 Ways to Touch the Things You Don't Like Less

Automation: 3 Ways to Touch the Things You Don't Like Less

No matter who you are or what job you have, there WILL be aspects of it that you don’t particularly enjoy. When those aspects start outweighing what you love about your job, you find yourself headed straight for burnout, frustration, and ultimately a job search.

Thankfully, modern technology can help us touch those undesirables less through automation! Here are 4 ways to touch the things you don’t like less!

1.Scheduling

It can’t just be me who dreads every “let’s find a time that works for everyone” email thread that pops up. Whether you’re scheduling for two or twenty, this can be an absolute nightmare.

For scheduling interviews and, I live by Calendly. Connect your Google or Outlook calendar, set your availability windows and buffer, and send your link. The other person will be able to look at the choices and reserve a time that works for them as well. The appointment will be automatically added to your calendar! You can also use Calendly for round-robin, collective availability, and group meetings.

2.Emailing

If you’re like a lot of us, once you send the email it gets marked of your to-do list and forgotten forever…whether they respond and things are actually done or not. Or you think about an email that you should really send next week and then when next week comes around you completely forget. Or you find yourself answering the same questions over and over.

Enter: Email Automation! Check out this Zapier article overviewing some amazing email automations!

3.All the Little Details

Raise your hand if you love tools like Trello! The sky seems to be the limit on what and how you can organize and manage with Trello, but sometimes you can get overwhelmed by all the little details that can go into it. Thankfully Trello gets that and you can utilize Butler and Zapier to automate the little things and extra steps like marking things complete, taking ownership, or even publishing to Facebook.

All of these tools will take some time to learn and setup, but the payoffs in time saved and annoyance avoided will be well worth it! What are some of your favorite workplace automations?

How to Talk About Yourself: 6 Tips to Create Engaging and Meaningful Conversations

How to Talk About Yourself: 6 Tips to Create Engaging and Meaningful Conversations

Whether you’re interviewing or networking, talking about yourself can stress just about anyone out. How much is too much? How personal should you get? Isn’t it impolite to drone on and on about yourself? Who really cares??

These tricky questions can stop you in your tracks, make you doubt and question everything you were about to say, and bring your conversation to a screeching halt. So how do you deal with them? Here are 6 tips to help you talk about yourself in an engaging and meaningful way:

1. Believe in Your Value

This comes much more easily for some than others, but at the end of the day, it is 100% essential for success here. Your story is worth sharing. You bring unique experiences to the table and you solve problems. If you are struggling to believe in your value, make sure you’ve taken the time to really determine what your value is. Once you truly understand how you positively impact others, it’s easier to see the value in your own story.

2. Stay On Topic

One common problem people have when talking about themselves is staying on topic. It can be such a broad topic – and let’s be real, everything that’s ever happened to you is related to every other thing that’s ever happened to you…because, well, it’s you – that people find themselves segueing from story to story, leaving relevant information out completely. That means: don’t get distracted talking about the cute dog you saw hiking in the Alps during your study abroad. Talk about the unique experiences you had overseas that play into your professional experience.  

3. Make it Relatable

One of the best ways to ensure your “All About Me” is engaging for your audience is to make sure it is relatable. By knowing your audience and the context for your conversation, you can carefully choose your stories based on what the listener will be most interested in. If you are in an interview, you will want to tell your story from the perspective of how you will impact their organization. For example, I’ve recently picked up mountain biking as a family hobby, but I’ll probably leave that out of my introduction if I’m interviewing for a job as a Resume Writer.

4. Be Unique

All Project Managers manage projects. All Programmers write code. Talk about something that makes you uniquely qualified for the role. What are you bringing to the table that others aren’t? Were you a musician in a former life and interviewing for a marketing position with a symphony? Is this a sales role with a large customer base in Asia and you spent 3 years living in Beijing?

5. Own It

Don’t be shy about your accomplishments. No one else is going to sing your praises, so it’s up to you to do so. That doesn’t mean you have to be arrogant or obnoxious. Present the facts, quantifiable if possible. You aren’t bragging. You are sharing relevant information about how you will help solve their problems.

6. Make it a Conversation

This is possibly the most important tip and it’s one of the easiest to implement. All you have to do is pay attention to the other person! Watch for non-verbal cues about interest (or lack-there-of), elaborate or move on as appropriate. Ask them questions. Allow them to ask you questions! Make it a two-way conversation and ensure that they are engaged in what you are saying!

How to Build a Strong Relationship with a Recruiter

How to Build Strong Relationships with Recruiters

We all know having the right connections can open doors that were otherwise locked, but what do you do if you don’t come from a well-connected family or friend network? One of the best choices you can make is to identify a good recruiter in an appropriate industry and form a solid relationship.

Recruiters can be your best advocate, sell a non-traditional background, and bring your profile to the top of the pile (or eliminate the pile all together). I have worked with people who stepped out of the IT industry and spent a few years as an HVAC tech and gotten them back into a great IT position, helped people change industries, and brought them from nursing to sales…but it takes more than just sending in a resume on your part. You need a relationship to gain their buy-in. How do you get there?

Do Your Research

Don’t just sit around waiting for a recruiter to contact you. They might never come across your profile, you might not look ideal, or if they do contact you, they may not be the right recruiter for you.

Ask for recommendations from folks in your network! If you aren’t having luck with recommendations, make sure you find some recruiters who will schedule “intake interviews” to really learn your goals, personality, and skillset…and interview them also to make sure you mesh!

Show Up

Such an important step in so many aspects of life. Respond to our calls and emails in a timely manner, answer pre-scheduled calls. In general, show your interest and dedication, show that you won’t be a headache to work with, and show respect. If the recruiter is spending a lot of time chasing you down and following up with you, not only will you become too much work to make it worth it, but they will start wondering if they want their name tied to you with a client.

Be Honest

Full disclosure; no surprises. Just like you should never lie on your resume, don’t lie to your recruiter. A good recruiter wants you to be hired into a job that’s a good fit. If you’re happy, you’ll work hard, be a good employee, and stick around. This all reflects positively on the recruiter. So, if you aren’t feeling the position, talk to us about your reservations! We can work to fix problems or find better fits if we have all the information. If you are interviewing with multiple companies, we can manage the process with the client to hopefully avoid a “bird in the hand” decision.

The more upfront you are, the better we can manage the situation and the more help we can be in finding you a perfect role.

Obviously, having complementary personalities goes a long way toward building relationships, but these three areas are things you can actually control.

Have you ever had a recruiter that truly went to bat for you?

Career Growth: Let Your Personality Guide You

Career Growth: Let Your Personality Guide You

Have you ever looked at someone and just wondered how on Earth they enjoyed their job? Some of us can’t imagine sitting at a computer all day, getting up to present to rooms full of people, or even starting up conversations with perfect strangers all day every day. And yet, others thrive in those environments! It takes all kinds, right?

It can be easy to look at an environment or role and know straight off that it is absolutely not a fit for you, and you can probably tell which ones will be passable and even good. But how do you know what environment and role will be the best fit for you?

There are many factors involved and trial and error will probably play a big role, but understanding yourself, what drives you, and your personality type can be the perfect starting place.

Whether you use Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Enneagram, or one of the many other tests out there, these tools can help you understand the why you work the way you do, what drives you, and where your natural strengths lie. Some people feel certain tests reflect who they are more accurately than others (personally, I found my MBTI to feel more accurate than DiSC and Enneagram, but that’s not the case for others), so be willing to take more than one…but stick to established and credible tests rather than discovering which Hogwarts House you should belong to.

Once you’ve taken the test and have your results, read the assessments thoroughly and with an open mind. Most of us don’t fit the mold 100% perfectly, but be sure you aren’t dismissing valuable insight out of defensiveness or denial (especially when reading about your weaknesses).

Use these assessments to help you understand:

Your strengths and underlying passions. You probably already know what you enjoy, but this can help you understand why. This can expand your options for environments and roles you had never before considered.

Your weaknesses. Without much introspection, most of us have weaknesses we’ve never acknowledged or addressed. Take these in carefully, assess where you can improve, and take steps to grow. Also consider which weaknesses will impact your contentment and success in different environments and roles.

Your work style. Much like understanding your learning style can affect your success in learning, understanding how you think and work can allow you to increase productivity and eliminate counterproductive activities.

Many personality tests even recommend “ideal” career paths based on your results, which can broaden your horizon and open new possible paths. Working with a certified professional can help guide you in career paths specifically based on your results.

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