Better Workplace Boundaries: Saying “No” Strategically

workplace boundariesYou might be feeling overworked or overwhelmed because there doesn’t seem to be enough time for you to do what you want and must do. So many people want you to weigh in or work on something. So many tasks need to be accomplished now! You might feel torn in so many directions, or feel you’re not moving forward with the important or critical work.

It’s hard to hear, but chances are it’s mostly your own fault.

If this sounds like your experience, it’s very possible you established boundaries that serve everyone else instead of you. Consequently, your boundaries aren’t working for sanity or productivity (although they might be serving your ego identity and that will be another blog post for the future).

Why would you put yourself in the position of being pulled in too many directions for your own good? As a woman, there are biological and cultural forces that might be contributing.

Female Biology and Cultural Attitudes Encourage Women to Foster Relationships

Biologically, research using brain scans shows that female brain structure and function put a premium on bonding with others and building relationships. Additionally, the female hormone estrogen and the hormone oxytocin (usually higher in females), promote bonding with others. Moreover, many cultural norms expect women to be “warm”, accommodating, and passive.

While there’s nothing wrong with showing warmth, putting others first, and not always getting your own way, it’s not always required or even healthy for you to put your needs, wants, and priorities last. When your own attention and priorities slip to the bottom of the list on a regular basis, you’ll feel negative emotions, such as taken for granted, underappreciated, or overwhelmed. You can avoid these feelings by enforcing healthy boundaries that serve to honor your priorities while allowing you to be a team player who appropriately pitches in to assist others.

In order to do this, you’ll want to consciously and strategically choose when to say “no” to protect your own time, attention, and energy and when to work on others’ priorities for the good of your team or company.

If your plate is already full, here are some guidelines for when, to whom, and how to say “no”:

Who’s Asking?

Consider your experience and position. The more senior you are, the more leeway you have to “say no” to others with less experience or seniority, unless it will be good for your career in the company; gives you desired/important job skills; or will be personally gratifying.

As a general rule, you will honor requests from your boss or other senior leader. If that feeling of overwhelm creeps in, work with your boss to ensure you both agree how you will re-prioritize your other projects and tasks as necessary.

When Saying “No” Is Warranted.

Consider declining a request for your time, attention, and energy when the request does not come from your boss and when at least one of the following is true:

  • The work does not align or correspond with your current personal and work priorities.
  • You can’t accept the request without your other work priorities suffering;
  • The requested work does not offer you a significant opportunity for learning or career development; or

Another way to look at it is consider saying “yes” if the requested work fits in with your current priorities; you can take it on without putting your own work on hold; or the requested work is a great opportunity to learn or meet other people that will be great for your current position or your career trajectory in general.

How to Say “No” Without Appearing Uncaring or Selfish.

In general, it’s best to say “no” as little as possible and in line with your current time commitments and career aspirations. One suggestion is to indicate you’ll accept if certain conditions can be met. For example, you could say, “YES, I am happy to be a part of that project IF it will only take about an hour of my time each week.”

Other ways to say “no” include:

  • Indicate that the relationship is important by being gracious when “saying no”.
  • Take time to consider the request before declining. A fast, abrupt “no” can leave the other person believing you didn’t even listen to what they asked.
  • Be clear that you are saying “no”. Too much sugar-coating or hemming and hawing will bury your “no” and lead to misunderstandings.
    Show respect by declining requests in person if possible.
  • Don’t refuse a request just because it’s outside your comfort zone. Say “yes” if it won’t take away from your current focus and/or is related to your work priorities, learning, or career development.

You probably say “yes” to many requests to look like a team player when you really don’t need to. It’s okay to decline a request. However, when you do say “no”, it won’t always be easy. Keep in mind you are going against your biology and family or cultural norms. So, be smart about how you decline a request. Others will respect knowing where your boundaries are, and you’ll teach them over time when to ask.

WANT TO USE THIS  IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Your Own Fault: 8 Tips to Stop It

calendarThe world moves so quickly these days, it feels hard to keep up. With the proliferation of available information, you can trick yourself into believing that you need to keep up with all information and happenings. However, it isn’t simply paying attention to everything that’s going on that makes you productive and valuable; it’s staying intentionally attuned to the things you’ve identified as important and relevant to your business that keeps you productive and on target.

In short, you’ll stop feeling overwhelmed when you learn to say “no” to everything that is not fundamentally important to achieving your current goals.

Here are eight tips for reducing feelings of overwhelm and keeping yourself on track with the things you’ve identified as important:

  1. Get comfortable with the fact that most information is just noise. Just because information is accessible doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you.
  2. Determine what’s fundamentally important to maximize your business and yourself. The really important things for business tend to be the basics: mission, vision, values, current goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), key relationships, and professional development for you and your staff.
  3. Base your everyday tasks and activities what’s fundamentally important. Look at your calendar. Do your day-to-day appointments and scheduled blocks for projects etc. reflect the fundamentals as they relate to your position? Whether you’re the CEO or the VP of Human Resources, there are things you ought to be doing to further the company’s current goals. Are you? If you find items that have low value related to the company’s goals, figure out what to do about them, including delegating them to others who have the capability and could grow from the opportunity.
  4. Reduce your connection to irrelevant information. Doing simple things to decrease distraction can reduce feelings of overwhelm, like turning off pop-up email notifications, creating email rules that dispense with low priority email messages, and unsubscribing from email lists that you rarely find helpful.
  5. Train your staff about your response priorities. Which topics are front-burner for you? What counts as an “emergency” when they should definitely interrupt you? What’s your response time for texts versus email versus phone calls and when should they use each method of communication?
  6. Build time into your schedule when you are intentionally available for drop-in conversations. This presumes that you set aside “do not disturb” time when you are focused on strategic and project work. Having “office hours” when you’re readily available encourages others to access you on your terms, not theirs.
  7. Find root causes to other disruptions or time wasters. “Fires” usually occur when they wasn’t a good process in place for handling a situation. Look at ways to create or refine processes for handling most things that are likely to challenge your staff, so they learn to do things without you.
  8. Question whether you really need to have or attend the meetings on your calendar. Maybe you do, but it’s good to review whether a particular meeting is really a good use of your time.

Practice seeing through the “charms” and “alarms” of life to keep your center. Knowing what’s important and saying “no” to the rest is the key to reducing feelings of overwhelm.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams.  Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

2 Decisions That Will Revolutionize Your Productivity

personal productivity, time management

How’s your personal productivity? Do you keep papers, desktop files, and emails from time immemorial because you are afraid you’ll need them “someday”?

You won’t.

Do you claim the 1000+ emails lurking in your inbox are easier to retrieve that way?

They aren’t.

Stop making excuses for why you don’t have a more efficient and effective way to handle paperwork and information flow. You can make two decisions that will revolutionize your personal productivity.

Decision #1: Decide What’s Important

For better personal productivity, determine what’s important. Look at your current company and department goals as well as routine tasks and activities required of your role. These the main “buckets” or categories for the stuff flowing through your office. Use these categories to create physical folders for hard copies, computer folders for electronic documents, and possibly email folders for incoming messages.

For example, you may need physical and electronic folders for current projects (“Project XYZ”), meetings (“Weekly Operations Meeting” or “Quarterly Off-Site”), committees (“Safety Committee”), and individual folders for each of your direct reports to store routine or important papers, e-documents, and email messages.

Decision #2: Decide Each Item’s Fate

Next, better personal productivity means you must decide how you will appropriately dispense with each item coming across your desk. This requires the discipline of allowing information to collect in your inboxes without getting distracted by them being dropped in a physical inbox or by an electronic alert that appears on your screen each time a new email arrives. It also requires the discipline of taking time up to two times a day to go through your inboxes  — top to bottom — to handle what’s there.

After you assess each item in your inboxes, the dispensation of it might require you to: do something with it (e.g., make a quick phone call, put it on a meeting agenda, sign it and forward it on, etc.), appropriately re-route it to someone else, schedule it for a later time or date, or discard/delete it as unimportant or not relevant.

Other tips for deciding:

  • Let email rules decide for you. Set up email rules for automatic handling of incoming email. (In a corporate setting, I really liked having a “CC” rule that automatically routed email I was merely CC’d on to a special folder.)
  • Limit the time you spend looking at the stuff coming your way by checking your inboxes no more than twice per day. (Better yet, train an administrative assistant – if you have one – to screen your inflow, so you see only what is truly important.)
  • Don’t worry about discarding or deleting most things — if it’s that important to someone else, they will follow up with you about it, and can usually send you another copy if needed.

Once you decide what’s important and decide how to dispense with each item as part of a regular routine, you will feel more on top of things and will have revolutionized your own productivity.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?
You can, as long as you include this information with it:
 
Beth Strathman works with executives who are willing and courageous enough to challenge business as usual. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.

 

How to Protect and Maximize Your Time

What is your most precious asset as an executive?

Some say money and investments. Others believe their professional relationships and networks top the list. Still others put personal health, vitality, and energy as number one.

However, there is one asset that is not renewable and that makes it more precious than any other:  Your time. Every second you use up is a second you cannot get back.

While money, relationships, and health are valuable and even precious, they are all renewable to some extent. For instance, you can earn back lost money and can find new opportunities and investments to replace others that went south. You can renew relationships by repairing strained ones and by meeting new people to bolster your network. Additionally, you can make healthy choices regarding diet and exercise and can manage stress to enhance or maintain your health, vitality, and energy.

You know time is precious. Yet, at work, you act as though you have all the time in the world. You insert yourself in situations that are more suitable for or best left to others. You waste time doing things that are not essential to further your career or to achieve your company’s strategic priorities. You spend time handling tasks that are not the most important things for your particular leadership role.

The results? You feel overwhelmed. You lose focus. You fail to move the important or high-impact items forward. Consequently, your other assets suffer as well. The stress of too much to do causes a corresponding loss of energy and vitality. You do not relate as well with others because you are distracted and cannot give your full attention. Ultimately, you are apt to make poor decisions that cost money.

Time is indeed your most precious asset. To protect it, treat it as respectfully as you would your money, relationships, and health by doing the following:

  1. Measure how you use it. You routinely use data when analyzing the performance of your company, your employees, and yourself.  In the same way, gather data to measure how strategically you spend your time. Two or three weeks’ worth of data is usually enough to get an idea of the types of activities you pay attention to. Go longer to get a fuller picture. You may be surprised at what you think you spend time on versus what you do in practice.
  2. Analyze your decisions regarding how you use it. Based on your company’s strategic priorities, are you spending time on role-related tasks that move those priorities forward? Chances are you could create better alignment.
  3. Make more strategic choices going forward. Adjust the use of your time to reflect the things that are most important for your life, your role, your career, your company at present. This might mean you decide to delegate tasks to an administrative assistant or other direct report. It might mean you intentionally schedule appointments with yourself in your calendar to define and protect the time necessary to attend to priorities that are important for you.
  4. Do what it takes to set boundaries to execute those choices. Some of the biggest time wasters are interruptions, “emergencies” (usually not yours), poorly run or otherwise unproductive meetings, poor work processes, and hours spent perfecting your work product, such as memos or other reports that don’t need to be perfect.  Also set boundaries by signaling your unavailability when you need time to concentrate by shutting your door or by using your administrative assistant as a gatekeeper.

In the case of time, sunk costs are truly sunk forever. For more impact, maximize the time you spend at work. You will be surprised at how your personal productivity increases.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Tips for Taking Control of Your Attention

attention, listeningBemoaning the maddening busy-ness of your workweek? Why do you feel you have to be constantly connected to incoming input?

You’ve done it or seen others do it: constantly texting (probably multiple conversations at once), emailing, browsing, gaming, or talking on the phone.  To what end?  There is no way that ANYONE has that much they NEED to engage with throughout their waking hours. Maybe it has to do anxiety that constantly taps your shoulder, making you believe you must be on the lookout for real time problems or new opportunities or risk missing out on something important.

I call it “rocking chair” behavior: you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Just because you have the technology that provides a constant stream of information doesn’t mean you should or must stay at the end of its tether.  You are deluding yourself into believing that everything that is reported in a 24/7 culture is relevant or important for your survival and success.

It’s not.  Most of it is simply noise.
“Life . . . is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

You are hard-wired to perk up at anything perceived as “negative” in the environment for your own self-preservation.  However, in today’s world, this caveman threat response is working overtime. Your residual reptilian brain equates almost everything you encounter in the modern world with a wild animal attack. Consequently, the constant assault of 21st century information translates into a stream of perceived survival threats, creating feelings of overwhelm and locking you in a constant threat response.  Contrary to the benefit you thought you were getting by drinking in all this data, the resulting chronic threat response actually decreases your thinking capacity and narrows your focus instead of expanding it.

Just stop it.

I’m not advocating burying your head in the sand to avoid what requires your attention.  Simply, become smarter about where you put your attention.  Have the courage to pull yourself loose from the constant stream of input focus on what is really important.  Become intentional about what information you allow into your awareness, then consciously and deliberately determine what to do with it.

 “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”  — Lao Tzu

Here are 3 suggestions for uncoupling yourself from the barrage of input and deliberately attending to what matters:

1. Set an intention

. . . an intention to stop getting sucked in by each piece of information coming your way and the temptation to respond immediately to it.  The earth won’t stop spinning if you don’t immediately text someone back or allow a phone call to go to voicemail.  And no one will hate you.  Others are probably surprised that you are so available most of the time anyway.  (Try not watching TV or streaming news for a week.  You’ll be surprised on how much you DIDN’T miss.)

2. Set boundaries with yourself and others

. . . about what you respond to and when.  When do you choose to be most available to respond immediately to texts and phone calls?  What times throughout the day do you choose to return emails? What times of day do you choose not to respond immediately to phone calls, email, or texts?  What is the definition of an “emergency” that will justify an interruption and trigger an immediate response from you?  To whom do you choose to always respond immediately — Boss? Parent? Child? Spouse? Bookie?

3. Clarify the purpose and current vision of success

. . . for yourself and your organization.  Knowing this, you’ll know what information is relevant to attend to.

At bottom, you must have the courage to choose.  Choose what you allow into your world.  The rest can remain noise.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations with greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Tips to Increase Your Personal Productivity

personal productivity, time managementYou’re smart. You’re hard-working. You have the necessary resources and good employees. Yet, you feel as though you get nothing done during most days. Most of the time, you feel off-balance and pulled in a hundred different directions. You spend to much time feeling unfocused and wondering why you can’t get the “important” stuff done.

In short, you feel overworked and “unproductive”.

When looking to increase employee productivity, many leaders often look at the structure of their business, employee performance and engagement, and work processes. And these are excellent places to tweak to make sure the business is hitting on all cylinders. However, when it comes to your own personal productivity, it’s something you probably weren’t taught in school.

You might underestimate the impact you have on their employees, not realizing that your energy, habits, values, and focus radiate throughout your company or area of responsibility. For this reason, any productivity gains from improving company-wide work processes and employee performance can be hampered if you haven’t examined your own ability to be more personally productive.

Being personally productive doesn’t mean you need to be pitching in and doing the work that is assigned to and more appropriately done by others. Rather, it requires you to do the work appropriate to your leadership role effectively.

To maximize your personal productivity, start with these three ideas:

1. Design your calendar to reflect business priorities.

Your company’s current goals come from the strategic plan. In turn, your calendar must reflect these strategic goals and priorities. For example, if your company is aiming to increase revenues by 10% over at 24-month period, you must schedule the appropriate weekly activities that ensure you are doing your part to achieve that goal.

Examples of these types of valuable tasks might be (1)  recognizing employees who are going the extra mile toward the company goals; (2) meeting with your direct reports to monitor progress toward the overall goal; or (3) working with a team to help them determine how work processes can be improved to help achieve the goal.

It seems like such a simple concept. Yet it is easy to get caught up in the daily swirl of “administrivia” and lose track of the next steps you must do or follow up on to keep the larger goals and initiatives moving forward.

And you really probably need to concentrate on these goal-driven activities about 20% of the time you spend at work (or about 10-12 hours per week). The remaining hours of your weekly calendar will reflect the routine activities that normally consume your time – meetings, phone calls, email, keeping up on industry trends, reviewing financials, board business, meeting with key customers, processing through the information that lands in your office, etc.

2. Create a personal workflow system.

Make sure you are comfortable with the way information flows through your office. Then, consciously and intentionally dedicate time everyday to process through the information coming into your office via your physical inbox, phone, email, and other systems in use within your company. Again, the goals from your strategic plan help you prioritize the items to do or delegate to others.

3. Delegate more.

And speaking of delegation . . . .  Because your aim is to be productive rather than merely busy, make sure you are doing the work that is appropriate to you goal. Other tasks can be delegated to others. Be sure to fully utilize your administrative assistant and direct reports. Delegating to others will free up time for you and give opportunities to develop through delegated tasks to those who have the skills and expertise. Delegate work if it is not critical that you perform it and if it’s work that is appropriate in responsibility level for the position to which you want to delegate it.

You will find that putting these simple steps in place keeps your mind clearer and more focused and reduces stress by creating a framework that helps keep your most important work moving forward and in perspective.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.