When You Just Need a Sounding Board

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Everyone needs at least one important person in their professional lives that has nothing to do with your boss, your co-workers, or your employees. Whether you’re the person who runs meetings or the person who cleans up after them, we all as professional people need a sounding board to get us through our professional crises and challenges.

Swapping work horror stories over margaritas with friends may be a fun way to unwind and let loose all of that nasty stuff that you’ve been holding in all week, like how tired you are of hearing your co-worker swoon over her new boyfriend, or how poorly-dressed the new supervisor was last Thursday.

Having someone to act as a sounding board for you is a more meaningful experience than that. It’s useful to be able to gossip (and depending on your relationship with your sounding board there may be some sniping involved). But more importantly, your sounding board is someone you should be able to go to in times of real difficulty; someone who knows you well enough to understand how you operate and which professional goals mean the most to you. They can help provide an objective perspective on your own unique challenges at work while keeping your personal and professional well-being in mind.

This person may be a trusted friend, a former colleague, or an acquaintance met through work connections. Maybe it’s a friend of yours that has similar career goals, or a relative who may have experience in your particular field. Whatever your relationship is to your sounding board, they ultimately should be someone you trust and ultimately someone whose opinion you respect. Ideally, your sounding board should be drawn from your pool of acquaintances outside of your own workplace (if you have one). Work relationships run the risk of going south quickly if sensitive or potentially harmful information is shared. Open communication between you and your sounding board is key; it’s important that you choose a sounding board with whom you can be candid, and who can return your candor in a constructive way.

A mentor may be someone with whom you share a working relationship, or hope to someday; a sounding board is someone with whom you can maintain a somewhat professional distance. You never want your own personal feelings or opinions to get in the way of a potential client or partnership. A sounding board is someone who will understand that you are not the sum of what you do to make money and that your career is not necessarily based on the current job you have.

I’m lucky enough to have a couple of different sounding boards in my life- people who I can rant to, people who can give me guidance when I’m feeling stuck, even people who are willing to look at my work with a fresh pair of eyes when I’m feeling like my brain is made of mush.

Choose your sounding boards carefully and you can find yourself in one of the best relationships you’ve experienced in your working career.  I know I have and as I continue to dream and grow (and mostly dream) my business, I hope to meet many more.

KBwB-BFlower-50Do you have a sounding board in your life? Give them a shout-out below, or if you’ve got a special story to share, email it to me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I may decide to include it in a future post (with you and your sounding board’s permission, of course).

I look at careers and working life a little differently than the rest- probably because I spend most of my life working and then reading books that are about working. To see where I get some of my inspiration, click here to read some of my business book reviews. If you’re looking for more ways to balance your professional life, I write a lot about doing business here.

 

Beat that Burnout

KBB_batteriesSome recent medical issues of mine caused me to rethink a lot of the way I work and how I handle stress. In other words, I needed to recharge my batteries.

In a world where we seem to judge each other in terms of the hours we put into a project, I think we’ve created a work culture that promotes working longer hours for fewer, less rewarding outcomes. As a society we’re stressed out, less focused and worst of all, less satisfied. At least, I know I was. This leads to what I like to call burnout.

The problem with living in that kind of work culture is that we self-perpetuate the myth that if we just work longer and harder we’ll be more rewarded. What exactly are we awarding ourselves with if we’re tired and stressed out all the time? When did money and job titles becoming more important than sleeping? Sitting down to a meal with your family? Getting exercise?

Obviously, feeling burned out is sometimes unavoidable- major life events, seasonal extracurricular and work activities, personal crises – these are natural occurrences in the ebb and flow of life. It’s still okay to feel inadequate, or ill-equipped during these experiences. What’s most important is taking care of yourself, and harnessing the help of others around you during this time.

One of the solutions I have discovered that has been one of the most surprisingly beneficial to my own issues has been communication. No one should have to suffer alone. You’d be amazed to discover how many people are willing to offer their help or support during your time of difficulty. At the very least they are better able to understand your absence, lack of focus, or your appearance of disinterest. Professionally speaking, you may want to share this information with a select few at your workplace depending on the nature of your issue.

If you protect yourself by seeking the help you need early enough, you may be able to delegate certain projects to co-workers, or delay certain deadlines. Sympathetic bosses may offer opportunities for cut-backs or short-cuts. Take these when are you are able. Your responsibility at this time should be to yourself.

Personally speaking, learn when to say no to social commitments and be select about the personal projects you take on. Give your time and attention to the things that are of immediate priority- personal hygiene, adequate sleep, eating nutritionally, getting enough exercise and giving yourself the mental space to breathe and recuperate. You may want to check in with your doctor at this time to make sure there are no medical issues that could contribute to your stress, or level of burnout. Vitamin deficiencies, sleeping disorders or thyroid issues could all lead towards feelings of malaise. Keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water can also help, as well as taking a multi-vitamin if your diet requires.

Type A people like myself will argue that they are superhuman and can do anything; most of us can if we put our minds to it. But our first responsibility is to ourselves, and to our own personal well-being. Learning how manage that in a crisis is the first step to empowering ourselves to work smarter instead of harder, and enjoying the benefits of a happy and fulfilling life, no matter what the world throws at us.

KBwB-BFlower-50What’s your best advice on dealing with a crisis? Is there something that’s worked for you in the past? Sharing is caring and I’d love for you to share yours below, or with me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com so that I might share them in a future post. No one should have to suffer through a crisis alone! We’re all here to help.

If you’re looking for more ways to find some balance in your life, I’m trying to figure it all out too here.

How to Make Up For Lost Time

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Life happens. Interruptions occur. Things get in the way. Despite our best intentions, most of us have had to deal with backlog in one way or another, but once you have a case of backlog it can start spreading like the plague. The more time you spend trying to catch up on the work that you’ve missed means you’re missing out on even more new work coming your way or worse; you’re so caught up with tasks that need your constant attention that you let your older projects slide until it becomes a bigger problem- you miss a deadline, you let down a colleague, or even lose a client.

The key to dealing with any kind of back log is to figure out a way to deal with your workload as efficiently as possible without getting overwhelmed.

At the beginning of any project, I recommend writing down all the tasks that are involved. The same can be applied to your backlog. Make a list of all your projects that are on your plate.

Working on a project is fruitless if you do not have all the materials or information needed for its completion. Organize all the necessary paperwork, gather your materials, and contact those involved for any additional information you don’t have. It’s better to know exactly what you’re dealing with then discover you’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle while in the middle of a project. If you’re waiting for other people to get back to you on something, accept that this task is temporarily out of your hands and focus on the things that only you control.

Now that you have a better picture of the things you need to work on, prioritize what you need to work on based on urgency. Is a project or colleague at risk if you don’t deliver something on time? Have you made a commitment to something you cannot back out of? Are you responsible for another person’s health, safety or well-being? All of these tasks need your attention first.

Next, see what you can juggle.  Are there tasks that you can delegate to others, such as personal assistants, subordinates, caregivers or secretaries? Is there a co-worker who can pick up that shift or take on that extra work for you? If there’s anything on your list that no longer holds your interest, has no direct benefit to you personally or professionally, or is a commitment that is bigger than you are willing and/or able to take on, consider deleting it.

Finally, decide what you can put off. This is officially your back-log and can only be processed once your other, more urgent tasks are completed. Even if it still seems enormous, you can forge ahead with the confidence that the most important aspects of your life are under control.

Like any other large project, it’s always best to break it down into small chunks. Try breaking down tasks based on category, or action (like “Meeting Notes to Type” or “Reports to Review”). Make room in your schedule for dedicated back-log processing time, paying attention to energy levels throughout the day. If you find yourself procrastinating, make your processing time a special date with yourself and take your work to a coffee shop, or reward yourself with a small gift or special treat. If you’re having trouble finding the time, try and find hidden chunks of time in your schedule to catch up on reading or other easily portable tasks, such as commuting or waiting for a flight.

Making up for lost time and getting down to dealing with your backlog is a task that’s often overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember I did it, and I was the girl who was accused of running a law firm out of her tiny apartment. I shudder to think about the months I spent dealing with all of that backlog, but the sheer amount of space I gained (and the peace of mind it gave me) was well worth the battle.

KBwB-BFlower-50Want more advice on how to deal with workflow? I make it my life’s work to figure out other people work. I share all my ideas on productivity, scheduling and organizing all in the Busy section of my blog.

Do you need to catch up on your clutter? Find out all about how I purged my apartment here, and all the papers I would not recommend getting rid of here. Cleaning out your closet? I did that too.

Still having trouble breaking down your enormous to-do list? Read my suggestions on how to best tackle it here. Or read this post to find out how I re-organized my to-do lists so I could actually get things done.