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.
Most people don’t like conflict. Most people don’t like change. And some people lack the confidence they need to do something that scares them. What if you could have that difficult conversation with an employee before your brain told you to “Stop! Be Careful! This isn’t good”? Or what if you could take that jump into a new business venture without fear creeping into your brain?
Mel Robbins (life coach, author, and motivational speaker) has developed a technique that she says will change your life. She calls it The Five Second Rule. And we’re not talking about the food that falls on the ground that you justify eating anyway. Robbins has identified that you have 5 seconds to act before your brain tries to stop you. Your brain is trying to protect you from a potentially dangerous situation, even though risk can be good. Starting a new project, setting a lofty goal, or introducing yourself to a new person are all risks. But the secret to productivity and confidence (according to Robbins) is to develop focus. You must stop the patterns of your brain by counting backward, 5-4-3-2-1. It’s simple, isn’t it? It almost seems too simple. But that’s all our brain needs to stop and redirect.
Just over a year ago, I had my ankle repaired. I had detached ligaments, torn tendons, and a floating bone spur. This was all from multiple running injuries. I remember laying in the operating room with the bright lights above. The anesthesiologist gave me some drugs and asked me to count backwards. The next thing I knew, 2 hours had passed and I had a new ankle. Did counting backwards redirect my brain and take me away from a potentially scary situation?
If you are skeptical of the Five Second Rule, Robbins challenges you to test it. She says to do something hard or annoying like waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal. When your alarm clock goes off, say to yourself “5-4-3-2-1” and change your pattern of thinking. Get out of bed. If you aren’t too excited about waking up early (I’m definitely not a morning person), try picking up the phone and having that awkward phone conversation that you’ve been putting off. I actually tested the theory this week with a phone call. I was nervous about it, so I let several hours pass before I did it. But I said to myself “5-4-3-2-1 GO”. I did it. I got it over with. And after all that worrying, it was no big deal! Huh! It worked! Okay, if I can get this theory to work with a phone call, what else can I use this for? Robbins warned that the 5 Second Rule will empower you. So if you don’t want to feel empowered, then definitely don’t use it.
But if you do want to feel empowered and more confident, then give it a try. Robbins explained that confidence is “getting yourself to take action when you don’t believe in yourself-it’s a willingness to try. And when you see yourself doing it, you build confidence.”
Five Four Three Two One. Go.
I Never Ran a Half Marathon, Because I Didn't Know I Could-How Setting Goals Can Help You Accomplish Things You Didn't Know You Could
I’ve always been a runner. It’s in my blood. My dad ran track. My cousins ran track in high school and college. I remember running 1 mile “fun” runs with my dad when I was about 10 years old. I ran the baton relay at field day in elementary school. And when I played softball, my coach called me “Wheels”, because I was the fastest base runner. I love to run. It makes me feel alive. I run in the snow, in single digit temperatures, in rain, through forests, on the road, on treadmills…I love to run. The very best is running in a light rain. That’s when I feel like I’m one-with-nature. I look straight up to the sky as the rain hits my face. It suddenly makes me very aware of my arms, my legs and feet that carry me. The strength. And I become aware of how grateful I am for the ability to run.
Running is my outlet. It’s my time to clear my mind, to ponder, to relieve stress, to be by myself, to feel strong. After I had my first baby, I felt like my life had turned upside down. It was good. It was wonderful. But it was different. And I craved running. We bought a Bob jogging stroller, and I bundled our little baby up, strapping her into her seat. We took off on the paved, Wisconsin trails just outside our front door. I pushed the Bob with one hand and held onto the dog leash with the other. They were my running buddies. I remember logging 8 miles one day. I had never run that far before. And I remember being kind of impressed with myself.
We moved to Dallas for my husband’s schooling, and I met some girls that talked about running a half marathon. A half marathon? 13.1 miles? I had never even considered that. Running a half marathon had never even crossed my mind, because I never thought I could! I decided if those girls could do it, and I love to run, then I would do it. I followed a strict training schedule for 3 months, kept a food journal, and completed the Dallas Rock n Roll Half Marathon.
I have come to love the half marathon distance. I had never run one, because I didn’t think I could. And this spring, I just completed my 5th.
How many times in life do we feel paralyzed to try something new, because we don’t think it’s something we are even capable of? How many times do we settle for something good, when we are capable of something great?
I didn’t wake up one day and run a half marathon. When I trained for my race, I stuck to a scheduled training program. I gradually increased my mileage. I kept my written training program in my kitchen, on a bulletin board, where I could see it every day. I marked off each training run with a feeling of satisfaction. The key was consistency. I always made time for my runs. And on race day, I was very ready.
Write down something that you never thought you could do. Then break it apart into smaller, attainable goals. Make your plan visible. You need to be able to see it every day. And give yourself a deadline. Be consistent. If you aren’t, you are only cheating yourself. And you will notice. The smaller goals will become easier.
And on the big day, you will be ready.
There’s not enough time in the day! I’m so behind! I’ll never get caught up! I’ll never get ahead! Have you ever said this? I’ll take a wild guess and say, yes. Our society has become so fast paced, that if you stop to blink, you miss something. People are checking their email and responding to texts while they’re stopped at a red light, waiting in the school pick-up line, or worse…in the bathroom stall. Everything seems urgent. And yet, how can we possibly keep up? Never mind the piles of laundry, the lawn that needs to be mowed, grocery shopping, and someone has outgrown their shoes again.
Have you ever observed someone that seems to be so busy, yet they always seem to get everything done? And sometimes even more? Let’s face it. We all know someone like that. Well, here are a few tricks of the trade.
Take time to plan your day- Whether you do this the night before or first thing in the morning, pause and really look at your calendar. Think about everything that you have to do and everywhere you have to be. This will mentally prepare you for a busy day.
Eliminate distractions- This can be difficult to do when you are managing so many things (like family, a business, etc.). But if you know that you MUST get something done, plan on turning off the phone, banning yourself from social media, or locking yourself in a quiet room until you get it done.
Plan on interruptions- There is no exception to this (unless you have locked yourself in a room-see above). You will be interrupted. You are working on a blog post, and your baby decides he’s not going to nap that afternoon. You are going over your slides for your afternoon presentation, and your laptop decides to freeze. When you know that you will be interrupted (even though you don’t know how), you can learn to roll with the punches. It’s just a minor setback.
Complete your most important tasks first- Can you imagine if you started out your day by crossing off the 5 most important things? You’d have the rest of the day to accomplish the less urgent tasks.
Sleep well, exercise, and eat healthy- We’ve heard this time and time again. Sleeping 7-8 hours per night, exercising daily (and walking to your car in the office parking lot doesn’t count), and eating healthy are all proven ways to boost energy levels and increase your focus. Of course you can accomplish more when you have a boost in energy!
Create organizing systems- For some, this may be a detailed to-do list. For others it might be a color-coded calendar or filing system. And others may ask Siri to give them reminders!
Set a time limit- I love this one. If you sit down and tell yourself that you have only 1 hour to get it done, you will. Here’s the trick. You will be so focused and deliberate, that it will probably be just as good, if not better, than if you had allowed yourself the entire morning.
Delegate more often- Good leaders are good at delegating. Business owners are visionaries and need to think ahead. They can’t get bogged down with the day to day operations, like proofreading and editing their materials. Outsource.
Put these tips to the test, and you will see a noticeable improvement in your time management.
She had on her best suit, responsible high heels, meticulous hair and makeup, and a beautiful string of classy pearls. She sat nervously in the hallway waiting to be called. Her fingers tapped her leather portfolio as she ran through her interview answers in her head. She was determined to be accepted into pharmacy school. The door opened, and it was her turn. She stood up tall and reached her hand out with a firm and confident handshake, a smile that was friendly yet serious. She sat down and one by one, the questions came. Out of habit, her fingers glided over the smooth and bumpy pearls that sat nicely around her neck. And then, in a split second, the string broke! Pearls scattered across the small room like fish in a pond startled by a heavy rock thrown in. And in that split second she thought, ‘what now?’
Confidence is maintaining control even in what could be a terrible situation. And sometimes that means faking it. Confidence is putting your best foot forward, knowing that you can’t control every variable.
Meghan and the recruiter got down on the floor and together picked up every little pearl, filling a dixie cup to the brim. And they laughed about it. Meghan stayed calm and left the recruiter with a lighthearted joke, not knowing if she’d ever hear from her again. But she did. And now you can call her a PharmD.
There are FIVE simple ways you can increase your confidence today.
Talk to yourself-We all have an inner dialogue. Use it to build yourself up. I do this before a speaking engagement. ‘You know this stuff. You are prepared. You aren’t nervous.’
Face your fear- Don’t hide from it. March right up to that person and have the difficult conversation.
Stand tall- Research shows that when you stand straight and tall, you actually feel more confident. That’s easy!
Dress for success- Have you ever noticed that professional coaches wear business suits to games? And doctors wear a white coat? That’s not by accident. And we’ve all heard the term “power tie”. Ladies, that new skirt and pair of shoes makes you feel like a million bucks! Use it to your advantage.
Exercise- Getting your heart pumping can increase your memory and thinking, improve your self-esteem, give you more energy, and increase your resilience to stress (www.helpguide.org).
Be confident in everything you do. Be confident in knowing that whatever it is that represents you (a resume, a blog, marketing material) makes you look your very best.
I recently heard a discussion about how busy people find time for everything on their plate. We all have the same amount of time in a day. Twenty-four hours. That’s it. It’s what you do with those 24 hours that can make you successful at what you do. That means deciding what is important and what has to wait. That means deciding what you (only you) can do and what things you can allow someone else to do. Some people hire a cleaning service for their home, some people hire a lawn service, and some people order their groceries. Some people even hire someone to pick up their dog’s droppings!
What have I decided to “hire out” to make my life easier? The vacuuming. We purchased a Neato vacuum about a year ago. We even named “him”. I’m telling you-coming home from volunteering at the school or from the grocery store to a freshly vacuumed house is amazing! I normally wouldn’t have time to vacuum every single day. But let’s face it, with 4 kids and a dog it needs it! It was a small investment, but well worth it for my peace of mind and for the sake of a clean house!
There are many times in our lives when we have to decide what is worth our investment for something that we might be able to do, we just don’t have time. And even though we don’t have time, it is still very important to us.
That’s where I come in. Editing and proofreading. It’s easy for me. I’m good at it. And while a lot of people can do it, they just don’t have time. But like my clean house, having a clean blog or a clean website is something we all desire. It invites people in and makes them want to come back.
Enjoy your very own twenty-four hours.
My mom tells the story that I was in kindergarten or first grade when a significant event in my life happened. My mom, my teacher (who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons), and I were standing outside of the classroom door one afternoon. We were talking about the school day, the art projects I was working on, the strep throat that was going around, and other generalities. My mom says that when Mrs. So-and-so used the incorrect use of "me and I" far too many times, I finally stepped in. "It's 'Erin and I are going to have a fun day tomorrow!' Not 'Me and Erin!!!'" There. I said it. It bothered me so much! How could my teacher get this so wrong? Here's the funny thing. Back when I was in school (but really, I'm not that old) kids didn't learn to read until the end of kindergarten to the beginning of first grade. So here I was correcting my very own teacher's grammar before I could even read! I know I'm not alone in this. Bad grammar bothers people!
I'm very fortunate in that my mom corrected my grammar from the time I began speaking. That is how I could correct my teacher's grammar before I could even read. My mom gave me such an invaluable gift. The reading/writing portions of tests were a piece of cake for me. I never had to study the sentence and think about parts of speech. I could read the sentence once and know what was wrong.
Here's another funny gift that I have. You might even call it an innate ability. I warned you that it's funny. Here it is. I have a gift of being able to find lost jewelry. I'm talking about a tiny earring back that fell off when you were taking off your sweater out at the barn. Or the little gold hoop that fell in the grass during a summer picnic. Gone, right? Nope! I can find it. Those little, tiny things have a way of catching my eye.
What does finding lost jewelry have to do with correcting grammar? I can spot typos and grammatical errors with one, quick glance! I'm serious. Not everyone can do that. We live in such a competitive, fast-paced world that having someone that can spot those accidental mistakes can give you the cutting edge.
Here's a little food for thought. Do you remember your teacher saying you can't start sentences with "But"? We probably all do. But here's the thing-there is no real rule for beginning a sentence with "But." In fact, experienced writers develop a talent for knowing how to convey their tone and talent. And sometimes that means starting a sentence with "But". The next time you hear someone say that you can't start a sentence with "But", go ahead...correct them.
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.