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Secrets to Getting Stuff Done – Prove Your Competence by Saying No

If you’re like me, when someone starts talking about a new project, you get excited and might want to get involved. This is a great quality, which has served me well both personally and professionally, and something that I never want to lose.

Unfortunately, this tendency can have some unexpected side effects, like overextending yourself. About five and a half years ago, I had put entirely too much on my plate at work and it was really difficult to deal with.

One of the contributing factors was that I worried that if I said no to a project, I felt like the person asking (usually my boss or someone senior to me in the organization) might think I declined because I lacked the skill or ability to do the work. In other words, I was worried they might think I was incompetent.

In hindsight the exact opposite was true.

Getting stuff done (the important stuff) means something else probably won’t happen

How many times have you found yourself saying something like:

  • There aren’t enough hours in the day…
  • I wish I had time to learn that…
  • If only I could find the time to…

Nobody wants to be in that kind of situation because it means that there’s something you really want to be doing, but you can’t. I focus a lot of effort on using my time on the things that are most important. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day (and only 168 hours in a week).

I can hear you saying “OK, sure Matt, only spend time on what’s important. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when my boss might think I’m not carrying my load if I can’t take on this new project or task.”

That’s a fair point, however, test my logic in the following scenarios.

Which situation actually makes you look incompetent?

Let’s consider two different people, Mark and Sara, who are each asked by their boss to help out with a project.

  • Mark says yes to everything. He knows he is capable and wants to prove that to his boss. He was already overloaded with projects, so what’s one more project in the queue. He misses commitments because he has too many. People think he must be competent because he said he’ll do everything, but proves to be incompetent because he’s not delivering
  • Sara often says yes, but also sometimes says no. She is capable but wants to make sure she can focus and follow through. She delivers on commitments because she’s not getting crossed up in too many things. People might think she is incompetent because she said no, but her track record of getting stuff done proves otherwise.

Who do you think looks incompetent, Mark or Sara?

Whether you say yes or no, there’s always a risk that someone might think that you’re incapable or even incompetent. Let them think whatever they want to but prove yourself and your personal brand by meeting the commitments you make. Your track record is an objective scorecard that you can reference back to.

Careful! I’m not suggesting that “no” is a get out of jail free card

Quite the contrary.

Doing work. Doing good work. Taking on projects that are new and challenging, or that will take learning on your part. These are all part of growing your career. Saying no, and especially saying no “the wrong way” can make you seem difficult to work with or unwilling to cooperate. This is potentially dangerous territory to wander into.

I say this because there’s a temptation when you’re learning to say no to misuse this developing skill. It may not even be a conscious thing. It’s an easy trap–in fact, it’s natural. If you’ve ever talked with a two-year-old who learned to use the word no, you know how they tend to go overboard.

What I am saying is that saying no in the right situations will help make sure you’re able to focus on getting stuff done. In the long run, this will lead to people seeing your competence because you do the stuff you say you’re going to do and they also don’t mistakenly assume you’re going to do everything that comes your way.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve actually been quite guilty of saying yes to too many things. I rather enjoy the challenge of completing a lot of stuff that I’ve committed to. However, I’ve seen the dark side that can include late nights, exhaustion, and stress that doesn’t need to be there. In those times I realized how much additional risk of seeming incompetent came because I committed to a project that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on.

I’ve worked hard to develop the skill of managing this particular risk and I highly encourage you to do the same. One of the first places I recommend starting is in situations like the ones above, where you’re saying yes for the wrong reasons.

Do you agree that saying no can prove your competence? Let me know in the comments below.

Announcing ProdCast – the Personal Productivity Podcast

I’ve teamed up with my co-worker and friend Joel Lindstrom to create a bi-weekly podcast on personal productivity, called ProdCast (Productivity Cast). The topics we’re planning to cover are very much in line with the topics of many blog posts here at Connecting the Data–the apps, systems, and strategies that help with personal productivity and time management.

In the first episode, we discuss the format and direction of the show. Along the way, we cover a couple of tips from my recent Skype for Business e-book release.

You can subscribe on iTunes right now or listen to the latest episodes on the web at prodcast.show. We’re joining up with the crm.audio podcast network–so if you’re already subscribed to the CRM Audio podcast you’ll see ProdCast in your feed automatically as well.

 

via ProdCast 1: What is productivity

 

 

Some Things I’ve Learned After Writing Over 4,000 Daily Journal Entries

Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I’ve kept for the last 11 years! That’s 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.

daily journal pages

Here I am flipping through the pages of the daily journal that I just finished filling up.

Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.

As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I’ve learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I’d like to share with you.

  • There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with
  • There’s big value in a DAILY journal habit–and keeping up can sometimes be hard
  • It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with

When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It’s the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I’m very closely tied to.

There’s also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can’t compete with that tactile experience.

Writing the day’s entry down helps better commit the details to memory–and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper–much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.

Daily journaling can be hard, but leverage some good tools to help make that easier

Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I’ve fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.

Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)–and this is a place where technology can help. Here’s a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:

  • Emails – I’ll sort my email (Outlook for work email, Gmail for the personal stuff) by date and look for the date in question. After reading a few emails I’m usually able to remember some other things that were going on that day.
  • Social media – while I’m not much of a Facebook user, I do use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media services. It’s pretty easy to go back through my timeline to find something worth writing about
  • Evernote – I’ve mentioned before that I love using Evernote–and one of the powerful capabilities it has is its search. I’ll search for items created or modified on the day I’m missing
  • Text messages – I will check the history with some of the important people in my life to see what we communicated about

There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.

It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.

picture showing the journal page format

You can see the layout of the journal with the page-per-day that is built out slowly over the years.

The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.

Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I’m able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at “what happened this day 3 years ago”.

Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at “this day in my history”.

I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn’t even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles–the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn’t last).

Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as “Matthew the chauffeur”, if I didn’t have this little reminder every year?

Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn’t even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.

Final thoughts

My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was “of course”!

If you’re interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.