Summer Vacations Make Us Stronger. Here’s Why.

Summer vacations make us stronger. Period. Why?

Let’s cut to the chase. In ten short days, you’ll have a summer to enjoy.

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Say that your goal numero uno this summer is landing a new gig (a new job, new client, etc.). Now let’s look at two other goals, or maybe you call them plans, that could be on your list:

2.  Visit the Taj Mahal
3.  Hang out with family at the beach for a week

We are tempted (in the wisdom of our modern society) to say that goals #2 and 3 are a distraction from goal #1. How can you play when you are supposed to be doing something more important? But if you look at the facts, visiting the Taj Mahal and finding a new gig have a lot in common. How so? Each one requires you to envision, plan, execute and move out of your comfort zone in a big way.

It’s not just the precious downtime of vacation that makes you stronger, it’s the mindset of creativity, openness, goal-setting and action. It’s also the stimulus and satisfaction that come from achieving what you set out to do.

Compare that to procrastinating at your desk, or letting your body leave the office while your brain stays virtually trapped there. How is that improving your mindset?

Even goal #3 of the beach, admittedly much less dramatic than a trip to the Taj Mahal, requires vision, planning and execution. It will also take you out of your comfort zone, unless you are fortunate to live at the shore or your business card currently reads “beach bum.” A trip to the beach requires focus and action, and it exposes you to a whole new set of information and challenges that you will never find at the office.

Hmmm, a day at the beach…. It’s not just hot sand and folding chairs. You may find something washed up on the shore that makes you say “what the heck is that?” And while your mind races through its catalog of information trying to make a match, the other problem you were looking to solve (your new gig) gets a hit in your brain, and your eureka moment arrives. You have figured out the missing piece to make real progress.

Compare again to procrastinating at your desk. No synapses firing wild. No catalog of information activated in your brain. Nope. Guilt for not being productive. Boredom. More guilt. Repeat pattern.

Maybe you can even make a new connection at the beach, someone who can answer the question of what that thing you saw actually is. (Eureka again?) And just maybe, in the way that fate and coincidence often play their hands, she might be exactly the right person to introduce you to the right person.

Need I mention this would not happen at your desk? Or if you miss the weird sea life thing and connection because you are mentally checked out?

Reframe summer: less guilt, more possibilities. Stay in the moment. Vacation strong.

Ten Ways to Beat Procrastination

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Have a lot to do today? This week? This lifetime?

So why aren’t you finishing that little task that should take 10 minutes (two hours later) or that looming project that should take 10 hours (back-burnered for two months)? And what can you do about it?

There are many different motivation killers, and you could be suffering from one or more of them. Are you bored? Ambivalent? Out of your comfort zone? Here are ten common reasons you may procrastinate, and how to get going:

1) You are tired. It happens. We have high-energy days and low-energy days. So what do you do? Finish the small tasks that will make you feel that you’ve accomplished something on the days that you are dragging, and save the bigger tasks for the days (and times of day) when your energy is at its peak.

If there is a day you can get more done, schedule some time to relax on another day, such as on a Friday afternoon. Procrastinating is time-wasting, and it is non-productive. Reprioritizing your time is taking advantage of your normal highs and lows, and catching yourself at your best. Nap or have downtime if you are tired, and later make it up. Or finish your memo or report first, then get an hour of reward time. And don’t squander it on Facebook or mindless web searches, you earned that hour!

If you know you’ll be tired this Friday (your deadline) because you plan to be out late Thursday night, let your motivation be enjoying Thursday night because you’re finishing the project by Wednesday.

If you are consistently tired, of course, get more sleep and nutrition. You have to keep yourself running well to do good work, and a tired brain or body can’t go the extra mile when needed.

2) You are hungry. In the modern world, we put off lunches and dinners because we think we will be more efficient. In the long run, we are racing to finish things but not being more effective over the course of a month or a year.

Eat when you are hungry. Have an apple with some almond butter. Or whatever suits your fancy and fuels you up.

I don’t keep it a secret that I have food with me at all times and stash the storable variety in desk drawers at my office. If your workplace does not have a refrigerator, consider investing in a mini-fridge for yourself or with a group.

3) You are bored. Boring tasks are hard to finish. It’s just a fact of life. The worst part is when they take over half a day or more because they are SOOO boring that they rain on your happy-parade. (Yes, I did say that.) I have two solutions for making boring tasks less tedious: get creative and drum up a deadline.

Make a boring task less brain-draining, and keep your focus, by using brightly colored pens or highlighters or crossing out lines on the page as you complete each one. In other words, dress up the task to make it more interesting.

You can also create a deadline, even if one doesn’t exist. I often set a timer on my phone and bet myself how quickly I can finish something. This doesn’t mean you do everything on ASAP mode or ignore important details. It does mean, however, that you get the hard parts done with the momentum of adrenaline. Sometimes, it works even better if you have someone else who can be your designated “taskmaster” on the task. For example, bet that you will pay a friend $1 (or $10) if you don’t finish the super-boring-thing by noon. Or more, if that’s not enough to motivate.

Betting yourself you can finish early doesn’t mean you do everything on ASAP mode or ignore important details. It does mean, however, that you get the hard parts done with the momentum of adrenaline. 

4) You need to move. Maybe you are procrastinating because your muscles feel as stiff as hard as the chair you are sitting in. Get up from your desk. Stretch. Walk around. Oh, and make a plan to go to the gym this week, or get outside and run, walk or swim in the sunshine.

5) You are distracted. Distractions abound, and you need to find ways to get around them. Sometimes they are physical distractions, like conversations you can’t help overhearing that drown out your own thoughts in your head. Can you take action to create a more peaceful atmosphere? Or can you relocate?

Sometimes distractions are emotional, like expecting an important phone call or being upset. Take a moment to recognize the feeling and, if possible, address whatever come up. If it is a phone call, for example, and you are worried about what you’ll say, write down five speaking points for the conversation. If you are upset, maybe the priority for you in that moment is to work out what is going on (or, if you are on a deadline, take at least take five minutes to honor the feeling, rather than trying to bury it). Then you can go back to complete the other task that you have been distracted from.

For the five procrastination triggers above, the key is being aware of yourself and your surroundings. For the five below, beat the procrastination game with tactical strategies and your own priorities.

6) You haven’t broken a large project into smaller tasks. Create a chart or list to map out what you need to do, then cross off each task as it is completed. You will feel a sense of accomplishment to have 6 out of 10 parts done, rather than a sense of defeat that you still have not finished the project. Consider breaking it down by function or mini-deliverable (even if the only recipient is yourself) rather than a step-by-step list.

7) You are out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you may not have the skills or information to tackle what is expected of you, or what you have designated as a new area that you would like to master. Where can you get it? Who can you ask? Or can you start first and fill in the details later? For example, can your first task be to familiarize yourself with the process? Cross that off your list, and you are one step closer to your goal of completion.

8) You have forgotten your priorities. Next time a work project or task is taking more time than it needs, ask yourself what you could be doing with the time if you were more efficient. What’s your big picture, based on your own values and priorities? Chances are that you’ll have lots of good answers about how you could be using that extra time.

At the same time, sometimes we focus more on a smaller task because we don’t want to get to the larger one that is really the priority. It’s fine to do that if you are really getting things out of the way to have a clean slate to concentrate, but not if the lower-priority items weigh you down or are time-wasters masquerading as helpful tasks.

If you looked back on your life a month or a year from now, would you be thankful for how your spent your time. Does it fit into your big picture?

9) You are ambivalent about whether you want to do it. This point is similar to the one above. If you are consistently late responding to someone or deciding whether to commit to a project, maybe you are uncertain whether it is the best use of your time or resources, or if you can make the emotional commitment to see it through. This can manifest as procrastination, but really it’s your gut talking to you. Can you hear it?

Take the time to sort out your thoughts and feelings. How does this person or project fit into your bigger plan? Will you have more energy, move yourself further toward a life or professional goal, do important work and enjoy it? I used to think that at least one of these had to be true to make the commitment. Now I look for all four.

(Note: the” important work” from time to time may only be keeping your job, but if it often feels like that’s the only importance of your work and time spent, maybe a life change is in order?)

10) You want it to be perfectLife is a process, and so is work. Deadlines require that we complete things before they are perfect. And frankly, what may be “perfect” to one person may be only “pretty good” to another, or even to your future self!

You will get more points for getting something done, on time, when you are fresh, than belaboring it through to a long and bitter end, where the big thought could get lost in the polishing of details. Take satisfaction not from perfection, but from valuing yourself and each moment of your time on this planet.

You only get one life, after all. How do you want to spend it?

Anne Marie Segal is a business and career coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. She writes a blog on career and business issues and often posts on LinkedIn Pulse. You can find her website here.

If you have any more tips to get motivated and beat procrastination at its own game, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Copyright 2015 Segal Coaching. Originally published on LinkedIn here.

Your Elevator Pitch: Who Are Your Clients and How Do You Serve Them?

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If you are like me and many others I know, you have spent way too many hours in front of the computer or a blank piece of paper, working on your elevator pitch. If you had two minutes or less, what would you say about “what you do?”

As I have learned the hard way over the years, if you can’t spell something out on paper, you aren’t there yet. You have the germ of an idea, but no architecture. Hence the need to write first, then speak. Only when you have honed your thoughts through multiple revisions, and then rehearsed it in front of a sympathetic audience, can your words come to life. Very few of us can express what we do in a short phrase – “I fix bicycles” – without attempting a couple of iterations on the theme. Yet we need to distill it, or we lose our audience.

So what happens when I say:

Your elevator pitch. You have two minutes. Or maybe thirty seconds. Go.

Can you make it interesting, fresh and versatile enough to keep people’s interest and deliver those same few lines to contacts the world over and in your own backyard? How do you dress it up for the formality at networking events and down for the banter at kids’ soccer games? How does it look in print?

I recently joined a women’s entrepreneurship group, and six of us presented our elevator pitches today. We all have useful, personalized services to offer. We did not all, however, make a concise or compelling argument about why anyone should buy our services. In fact, a few of us were great in the first fifteen seconds or so, and we should have quit while we were ahead. Others delivered an “information overload” that would send any real prospect right out the door.

The essential elements in an elevator pitch are not what features you offer a client, but what clients you serve and the benefits they get from hiring you. People don’t hire you for your experience, or your fancy “tools” that get the job done, but for what you offer them. Focus on your target audience (i.e., niche) and the benefits of hiring you:

Who do you serve?

What value do you bring?

I would love to hear your answers.

Post originally published on LinkedIn Pulse as Your Elevator Pitch.

Five Key Questions to Ask When Creating a Personal Advisory Board

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In a prior post, I explored why you should have your own personal advisory board to facilitate your professional growth. Regardless of your seniority, industry or role, here are five key questions to ask yourself as you assemble your board.

1) What do you most need right now? We all have our blind spots and skill gaps that evolve over time. Can you find someone to meet each of your current, most pressing needs? For example, you may have all the emotional intelligence in the world but not know how to run numbers. Or vice versa. If there is a gap between where you are and where you want (or need) to be, the advisors who can fill that gap should be front and center.

2) Can you call them in a crunch? Make sure the people you elect to your inner circle can be reached when you actually need them. This doesn’t mean that they all will pick up the phone at 3 a.m. when you call, but it does mean that they will make time out of their day or week to help you address a concern. It also means that they will make time for you to check in regularly, which you’ll need to keep the relationships fresh and assure your advisors are current on your professional goals and milestones.

3) What role can each advisor play? In addition to the needs and gaps to be met (mentioned above), consider what role each advisor would have in your professional development.

In many organizations, for example, you need a “sponsor” to help promote your career. Without one, you can toil away without growing into greater levels of responsibility and renumeration. A similar rule applies if you are looking to raise capital for a business, and even top level management need support of their board, close colleagues or fellow partners. If possible, choose someone who knows you well enough to credibly sing your praises, has the motivation to help you and has the “political capital” to make a case for you to the right audience.

You will also want a mentor within your firm, as well as someone at your own level in whom you can confide. Save the most thorny issues for advisors that you know you can trust without a doubt (hopefully this would apply to all, but sometimes extra care is required), possibly a mentor or other advisor outside of your firm.

Build your advisory board with individuals that offer different ways of supporting you professionally, and re-evaluate from time to time as your career progresses.

4) How does the team fit together? Imagine all of your advisors were seated at a single table. Do they round each other out? Have you missed anything?

For example, do you have someone who can be your cheerleader when you need to be motivated, someone who can see you clearly enough to give you realistic, targeted advice and another who knows how to get out of sticky situations? Do you have someone who knows your industry as well as you do (or better) and another who can give you an outside perspective? Think top-down to whether your advisory board has the right range, or if you have too many similar talents or a missing voice. You should also strive for some variety in gender, age and affiliation, or at least a group of people who do not all approach problem-solving in the same way that you do.

5) Will you be motivated and committed to help them in return?  Every relationship is a two-way street. If you can’t offer something of real value to your advisor, it will be hard to count on that person’s commitment when you most need it. People are just too busy, with too many demands, to support someone who is a metaphorical dead end.

For a sponsor or mentor, this may mean that you support initiatives the person has spearheaded, mentor a younger colleague in the person’s group, act as a sounding board or simply deliver great work. For a colleague, it may mean that you support his or her professional or personal life in a way that’s helpful and meaningful to that individual. There are creative ways to show your support in return for someone who has helped you, especially if you truly focused on that person’s life and needs.

Make sure to choose advisors with whom you can authentically request and return support. The last thing someone wants is to think your interest is insincere or that it is an effort for you to show up on their behalf. Even a hired advisor (like an accountant or career coach) needs to be a good fit, with mutual trust and rapport, or there will not be enough goodwill generated in the relationship for you to draw out the support you are hoping to achieve.

Whenever possible, surround yourself with people whom you are more than happy to help succeed. If you choose well, the feeling will be mutual.