As a wife, mother of four, volunteer, runner, and entrepreneur, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many tasks I have on my plate. The only way I can function well is by staying organized. For me, staying organized means keeping a to-do list. To-do lists come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. My favorite? A medium-sized Post-It. The number of items that fit on a Post-It seem manageable to me and not overwhelming. And there is something very satisfying about finishing my list, crumpling it into a wad, and throwing it away.
When is the best time of day to write a to-do list? Some say that it’s at night. There are some definite benefits to this. It’s much easier to fall asleep at night when your impending responsibilities have been removed from swirling around, inside your head, and put somewhere else (your list). When you start your morning, you can hit the ground running with your list that is ready to go. Others like to have a quiet morning, contemplating the day as they derive their to-do list. Find what is more effective for you. The important thing is to create one and to use it. Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, said, “When people don’t take control, they go through their days passively. They go to meetings, they answer email, and when they get to the end of the day, what they’ve done is responded to other people’s priorities and not their own.”
Here are 5 simple steps to creating and using an effective to-do list:
1. Write down all of your tasks you need to complete. Break down the larger tasks into smaller tasks that you can achieve. You may want to have separate to-do lists (work, home, etc.).
2. Assign a level of priority. “A” means urgent, “B” means important, and “C” means low priority. If you have too many urgent items, then take a second look at your list and reassign the priority level.
3. Now rewrite your list based on level of priority with all of your urgent items at the top, and so on.
4. Strike out each item as it is completed.
5. When all of the tasks have been completed, crumple your list into a wad and throw it away.
What about that pesky task that always seems to make it onto the to-do list but never seems to get completed? You know the one. Mine is “clean the baseboards.” You feel bogged down and guilty for not completing that one task. And then you can’t throw away your list, because you have one ridiculous task that you can’t seem to finish. Take it off. Remove the pesky task altogether. You will feel a sense of relief and be able to focus your attention on other things. In a little while, whether it’s in a week or a month, put that pesky item on the list and try again.
Now, get to work.
(If you'd like to purchase post-its, click here.)
Even though it has been more than 15 years, there is a particular interview that will always stand out in my mind. I had reviewed this young woman’s resume and was impressed enough that I called her in for an interview. We sat down across from each other and smiled. I started off with one of my typical questions, “Tell me about your recent job experience.” She told me that she has been a stay-at-home mom raising her children. What she said next, I will never forget. “Now, you have to understand, I wasn’t sitting at home watching Sesame Street for the last 8 years. I took my kids everywhere, letting them experience and learn and grow.” What was startling to me, being young in my own career, was that she felt she had to explain herself. That spoke volumes.
Reentering the workforce after an extended amount of time can be difficult and stressful. But there are some sure-fire ways to help you get noticed.
Leverage volunteer experience- This is crucial. Just because you weren’t paid, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t valuable work experience. The volunteering can even be included in the Work Experience section. This will help fill in any gaps in employment.
Let’s briefly think of some examples:
These bullets should, of course, be more in-depth. But this is a good starting point. Without lying, you can be creative with volunteer experience. When you stop to think about what skills you have acquired and the duties that you perform, you can come up with something substantial and meaningful.
Professional development- This shows your level of commitment to your career field, whether it’s by participating in a professional organization or attending conferences. You may even find a local business group that meets in your community.
Freelance projects- You may be the go-to person in your church for graphic design or photography. Whether or not you charge a fee for these services, it is beneficial to include this in your work experience.
Mentor- Most colleges and professional organizations have ways of linking mentors and mentees together. Not only does this benefit the mentee, but it also helps you keep your foot in the door with job-specific lingo and latest trends.
Most people should avoid including parenting as a job title on their resume. The only exception is if you are applying for a teaching or childcare position where those skills are directly related. If so, emphasize your relevant experience and use a title such as, “Household Manager.” (read more at Monster.com)
Are you still worried about a large gap in your employment history? Use your cover letter or the interview to highlight the skills that you have kept up to date. Keep it brief and focused on the skills rather than the time lost in the workforce.
Now that you’re ready to put all of your skills and experience onto a formal resume, start with a career summary (also referred to as a skills summary) at the top. Recruiters will focus on the many skills and qualifications that you can bring to their company, enticing them to continue reading. Then follow with reverse chronological order, listing your most recent experience first. Last but not least, the rule of thumb is to not list work experience that dates back more than 10 years.
Be confident in yourself. The young woman that “didn’t just watch Sesame Street”, got the job.
There's the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” But we do, right? It’s human nature to make a snap judgement when we are introduced to something or someone for the first time. Some people notice crooked teeth right away. On the flip side, others may notice how bright and white a person’s smile is. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, describes snap judgements in his book titled, Blink. He says that in our unconscious, we make lightning-fast decisions. We can look at something, and within seconds, have made initial opinions about something.
Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard Business School, has been studying first impressions for over 15 years. Cuddy’s research has found that our snap judgments serve the purpose of answering two questions. The first is “Can I trust this person?” And the second is “Can I respect this person’s capabilities?” She explains that first impressions are very hard to change.
My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, so I love applying these theories and principles. When I am searching for a new doctor, I first go by word-of-mouth. Once I have a few names, I look at their website. I want to see what they look like and see what they have to say. I even look at where they went to school. A few paragraphs (or even sentences) in, and I find a typo. And then another one. Eek! Put on the brakes! My confidence level in this doctor just dropped dramatically. The unfortunate thing is that the doctor is likely not the person that created the website, but it reflects poorly on him or her. Our brains make snap judgements within seconds. Seconds. And when you spot a typo on a professional website, their credibility immediately decreases.
There is a name for this. It’s called Face Validity. Does something appear (at face value) to do what it is supposed to do? Having face validity is strictly in the judgement of the reader. When you read a website that is supposed to promote the highly educated and skilled professional, and you find a typo, the validity goes down. You made a snap judgement. And as Amy Cuddy explained, it’s very hard to change first impressions.
Now, I’m not trying to single out doctors, by any means. We make these snap judgements all the time. And I’m sure you have seen typos on all sorts of things. The fact is that when we write something, it needs a second set of eyes. It is very difficult to catch our own mistakes.
So, while proofreading might not be important to some, it says a lot to the customer.
I'm Erin! I'm an MBA graduate with over 15 years of experience in HR, small business management, academia, and social media. I am an author, wife, mother, half marathon runner, and lover of the outdoors.