Category Archives: Career

Checklist, Priorities and Time

Time management has always been the subject of many books, studies and talks.  One of the most well known is the book:“The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. In short, there will always be urgent things amongst which are stuff that you definitely need to respond to and those that you would probably respond at some point in time.

With experience, you have learnt not to allow yourself to be dictated by the tyranny of the urgent. Each person views the world differently and, therefore, what is considered as urgent varies according to each person. Your boundaries have sometimes been “invaded” by people who have tried to forge bonds to create a sense of solidarity in an effort to gain your support for their personal challenges. Attempts at highlighting what you both have in common: shared ethnic identities or common passions have been used to encourage you to view the world from their point of view. Your strong sense of self have finally helped you regain control of your boundaries and push back any further attempt of influencing your agenda for today’s work.

On the other hand, developing your own list of priorities at work is actually not only about your own sense of urgency. It also needs to take into account the diverse expectations of the people making up your working environment.  Decoding what would actually work for you and for your colleagues/team members sometimes require that you probe further to develop a better understanding of the inner workings of your environment. Asking the right questions, using the right approach to enquire and probably verifying that you have well understood takes valuable time but worth you putting the effort.  Making a checklist for today that is actually very different from the expectations of your team members or co workers may be sending the wrong message – “I want to be left alone and I don’t need you…”. You may be reminded of that single mindedness at a time when it matters for you to rely on the valuable contributions of your colleagues.

Determining your work priorities correctly require a working understanding of the different boundaries which permeates your workplace.  These boundaries can only be determined through your various interactions with your co workers.  Respecting those boundaries sometimes lead to vain efforts of complying to conflicting priorities. Your efforts to perform at your best are completely undermined by the dynamic power structures at work. Maneuvering the margins of your workplace require you to take an active role. Choosing to negotiate the boundaries would actually add value to your work brand. It is through these social negotiations that your work brand is constantly being moulded giving you opportunities to grow professionally and personally. Your ability to deal with both complexity and ambiguity and at the same time, managing your sense of confusion is crucial for you to successfully navigate your workplace.

There are times when you will feel trapped by those same boundaries that you are trying to redefine. You may then feel a looming sense of frustration and you tend to become very self conscious.  It is at this very moment that your resilience needs to kick in. Resilience is not about continued success but more about your ability to cope with crises, failures. It is an enduring process where at times you will feel vulnerable and lost but you will ultimately emerge stronger over time.

In the end, your approach to managing your priorities and defining your daily checklist is not linear. It does not necessarily follow the construct of any recommended framework. It is in constant flux imbued by the various experiences that act to enrich your time management skills.

Swapping Identities As You Journey Through Life.

Each person has multiple identities: as a sister/brother, daughter/son, colleague/boss, neighbour, alumni/teacher, friend. With globalization, the flow of people crossing borders is increasing and our interactions are not only an emotional experience. It is also about having new cultural experience shaping our view of the world. As a result, most people have “fluid” identities – moulded by life experiences, interactions with a variety of people, overseas travelling, job changes, amongst others. You also would tend to tweak your “personal brand” to fit your new personal and professional goals as you go into a new phase of your life.

Every industry or workplace or country has its own norms and values which must be understood and embraced if you hope to be considered as being “one of them”. It does not necessarily mean that you have to be a completely new person.  Remaining true to your core values and at the same time being open to new possibilities is a century old challenge to anyone who embraces change.

In integrating a new environment, you will probably choose those elements that enable you to “fit in” and that are, at the same time, aligned with your core “self”. Keeping your own sense of “balance” requires a constant management of uncomfortable emotions coming from a sense of confusion, being misunderstood, harbouring contradictory beliefs and a feeling of being “out of place”. In those times, it is important to have access to some kind of social support where you can voice out your anxieties and feel heard. This is also where your problem solving skills can help you to directly address the sources of your discomfort. Remaining open to suggestions made by people who have been in your shoes is another means to successfully achieve this transition.

As you constantly renegotiate your identity over time, your relationships tend to change as well. Most people would use their own personal experiences to make assumptions and behave accordingly. As a result, you will sometimes be perceived differently from your own self image. It is important to bear in mind that no matter how much efforts you put into setting things right, the outcome is largely to the discretion of the other person.

Using an approach characterized by dialogue can sometimes dissolve the misunderstandings. Dialogue is not about having a number of conversations. It is about being fully conscious of your own personal bias and having an understanding of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes at the same time. It is creating the necessary space so that the parties involved can freely express themselves and be “seen” in their own personalities. Such engagement would become possible when the parties involved perceive that “the stakes are high”. Engaging into this “dance” to reach common ground requires personal commitment and a level of self confidence. Only then, the relationship can continue to flourish and evolve in a way that is both mutually beneficial to both parties.

There is always an element of risk when you go into a new career/country/workplace.  You can actually end up valuing more what you have lost. However, being curious about other people’s views and experiences can only broaden your vision and improve your interactive skills. Going out of your comfort zone is actually healthy because it is good to know what lies beyond and to test your own sense of self. No matter the age gap or difference in cultural background and/or in their career path, people, having experienced similar life situations, have much more in common. You will eventually make new friends and widen your network.

It is important to be bear in mind that each encounter in your new environment is only a snapshot. People make up the very fabric of any environment and because people’s identities evolve,  making hasty conclusions can only validate your self doubts, strengthen your resistance to change and lead to self marginalization.

In the end, navigating through the twists and turns of your journey can only provide you with opportunities for personal growth and can help you develop a stronger sense of self.

Strong Resilience Equates Strong Self Worth.

As 2017 comes to an end in almost six weeks, some of you will be expected to make a review of your performance during your appraisal session by your team or by your superiors. There is nothing more exhilarating to remind yourself of all the goals you have achieved for this year. It would be perfect if you have been able to achieve 100% of the targets that you have set yourself to for 2017.

As perfection is a myth, there will be a few goals that are still not within your reach and you wonder whether you were too ambitious, not enough prepared or unforeseen circumstances turned them into moving targets. If these goals happen to have high stakes involved, this is where your resilience will be tested to the core.

Beating yourself up or blaming “others” and/or unexpected circumstances will not undo the fact that you have not achieved what mattered most: that 20% that would have made an 80% impact on your career. For some people, they will shrug it off and continue on with their lives. For others, they will mull it over and over and feel miserable. Alternatively, some people find it useful to discuss it with their friends, family members and mentors to find solace in the comforting words of the people they trust most.

Your approach to tackling challenges will largely depend upon the different “role models” you had, your underlying principles and values and what you have learnt from your past experiences. Shrugging it off is not the right approach and mulling it over is also counter productive. Any challenge has the potential for potential growth and development if you are ready to let go of false pride and learn from it. Sometimes, because of the complexity involved, it is easier to ignore it and convince yourself that this is just a streak of bad luck.

If you happen to be one of those professionals who self manage themselves, you will take this performance appraisal as an opportunity to carry out a critical self analysis. This personal review can act as a stimulus to bring about desired changes so that you are better equipped for 2018. You will allow yourself to question your existing values, beliefs and behaviour. You may initially experience mental discomfort as your commitment to your personal growth conflicts with your false pride.  True resilience is the ability to develop a productive dialogue during that performance appraisal with your superiors or team members.  A productive dialogue is when both parties are empathetic towards each other, are conscious of their personal assumptions of each other and are able to express their opinions in an equitable manner. It is also important to bear in mind that such efforts on your part is rewarded if the counter party is ready to listen and is able to create a safe zone where you feel heard and seen.

Such dialogue is facilitated if both parties consider themselves as being on the same side of the fence. If you always have that feeling of “me” and “them”, then it will be nearly impossible to create a productive dialogue. How you perceive yourself and how your superiors or your team members perceive you need to be similar for you to create strong rapport and turn this performance appraisal into a productive session for both parties. There are times when their perception of you differs from your own as relationships are fluid and evolve constantly. However, if this gap constantly exists, it implies that your values and theirs are not aligned and being part of a team who have not much in common with you is a waste of your time and energy.

Being unable to connect with your team mates or your superiors can be distressing. Such emotional stress can affect your communicative behaviours and you may perceive a lack of control which can severely undermine your performance at work. If this is the case, then your best option will be to look for another job or ask for your transfer to another team. Working for an organization or team that values your contribution is most rewarding, leads to a better atmosphere at work and reduces work related stress.

Your inability to achieve pre agreed targets does not necessarily imply lack of skills or knowledge from you. It does signal that there is a missing piece in the puzzle and it is best to identify this missing piece as part of your personal commitment to yourself. Your self worth will largely benefit from this critical self analysis.