Monday Mornings with Madison

Do Less: Eight Things to Give Up – Part 2

There are many things people know they should give up because it’s just plain bad for them.  Putting too much salt in food.  Smoking cigarettes.  Texting and driving.  Drinking alcoholic beverages in excess.  Getting sunburned often.  Then there are a number of things people do that they think are perfectly fine but it turns out they aren’t.  Chewing ice (which is bad for teeth).  Protecting clothes using mothballs (which are stuffed with pesticides that are toxic and are ingested when smelled).  Drinking skim milk instead of full-fat milk (which is fortified with powdered milk that oxidizes cholesterol and causes plaque buildup in arteries and increases the chance of a heart attack).  Using a computer for more than three continuous hours a day (because it causes carpel tunnel syndrome, impacts posture, strains eyes, and – because of being increasingly sedentary – increases the propensity for heart disease).

Then there are things that people do professionally that they suspect are not good, but they do them anyway.  In fact, deep down, most people know these behaviors negatively impact success.  Yet, they do them anyway because they don’t truly realize just how harmful these behaviors can be.  These are thought processes and actions that sink careers.  There is much to be said about doing these things less in order to thrive more.  Last week we looked at four such behaviors and thought processes to stop.  Here are four more to give up.

Giving Up Behaviors and Thoughts That Kill Careers and Quash Dreams

5.  Saying “Yes” When You Should Say “No”

Saying yes all the time, even when it is clear that the answer should be “no”, is problematic for some people.  For those who are ambitious and want to get ahead, there is an intense desire to say yes to every request but this can mean being spread too thin, and that in turn leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment by internal and external customers alike.  This no-but-yes behavior plagues employees and managers alike.  It is a behavior that can be damaging both professionally and personally.

Case in point.  The boss asks an employee to work overtime again.  The employee — wanting to score points with the boss — reluctantly says yes… but then has to deal with the friction it creates at home with the spouse and the problems it generates because dinner is late and the children weren’t able to get help with homework and projects.  Here is another example, one department manager is asked by another department head for a task to be done in a day that reasonably and normally takes a week.  The department manager, wanting to be a team player, agrees to turn the project around in a day.  However, it forces other projects to be set aside so employees focus on that task.  If the deadline is not met, the person submitting the request will be disappointed.  Even if the deadline is met, chances are that someone else’s project will be late or at least later because of that.  Either way, someone is let down.  No one remembers that the request was unreasonable or unrealistic.  The only thing anyone remembers is that the deadline wasn’t met.

When to Say No

There are times when the answer must be “yes.”  It is important to remember that it is unprofessional to say “no” to a task just because the task is distasteful, time-consuming, messy or complex.  But there are lots of situations where the answer really needs to be a firm “no”… even if the person is the kind of person that doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer.  It is important to be able to distinguish between those situations.  Ask these questions before saying “no” to a task:

  • Do I have time to do it?
  • Is the task truly urgent and/or important?
  • Am I the best person for the task?
  • Does this request fit with my goals/objectives or my department’s goals/objectives?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then it may be best to say “no”.  But how?

Say Yes to the Person but No to the Task

The key is to say “yes” to the person but “no” to the task.  To do that, explain the justification, so that it’s clear that why the answer is “no” and that it is only for this particular task or only on this occasion. If the person asking understands why the answer is “no”, it dispels the impression of being unhelpful. Another way to say “yes” to the person but “no” to the situation is to negotiate different arrangements or to accommodate the request in a different way.  To do that, consider:

  • What does this person really need?
  • What are the areas of flexibility?
  • What are the priorities?
  • How else can this need be met?  Is there are different way to solve the problem or get the job done?

The process of saying “yes” to the person but “no” to the task generally involves dialogue. Here are some sample responses.

  • “I’m sorry, I can’t do that analysis this week. Can I do it for you next Tuesday after month end is complete?”
  • “I do apologize but I can’t take on this task on a regular basis because I have been assigned to prioritize accounting work. But I believe Ruth is working on a similar project and perhaps she can take this on?  Would you like me to ask?”

6.  Self Criticism a/k/a “The Internal Putdown”

When a person fails at something, whether at work or home, it is important to take an honest look and be realistic about what went wrong.   Rationalizing and blaming others for one’s own shortcomings never leads to improvement.  Only an honest assessment of performance can lead to change for the better.   However, some people get carried away, blaming themselves for far more than their share of issues and beating themselves up emotionally. This self-criticism is worse than anything anyone else might say.

Some people believe that being hard on themselves will make them better people.  However, research actually does not support this belief.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Self-criticism has been shown to increase procrastination and rumination and impede goal progress. That makes sense.  A person who already feels worthless and incompetent is unlikely to feel there’s any point in even trying to do better next time.  The goal, then, is to find the happy medium between being too self-critical and rationalizing and blaming others for one’s shortcomings.   How?  There are four steps.

a. Criticize specific, changeable behaviors, not global, unchangeable attributes. Research shows that people who blame negative events on all-encompassing, permanent aspects of themselves (“I’m just not a good employee.”) are more likely to become depressed and suffer from health problems.  Constructive self-criticism, by contrast, involves a more optimistic approach, with a focus on specific and modifiable areas in need of improvement (“I wasted too much time talking on the phone when I could have been working on that project.  Next time I should limit my phone conversations to give myself time to complete the project.”).

b. Criticize external circumstances, but then try to change them.

Even in situations where there is obvious blame, there may be situational factors that contributed to the problem. (“I spent too much time on the phone because a client was asking for help in resolving a problem.”)   Rather than use this as an excuse, it can be used as a source of leverage. When a project is due, arrangements could be made to have someone else deal with customer calls.  Awareness of situational factors like conflicting demands can actually help lead to better management of time and tasks. Realizing vulnerability to external pressures helps prevent being blindsided by them.

c. Shift focus to others.

Instead of getting caught up in self-judgment, consider how those actions affected other people. A broader focus can help reorient attention to what matters most and make changes that benefit others. Research suggests that people who pursue compassionate goals rather than self-image goals have less conflict and receive more support.  If the focus is on protecting one’s self esteem, other people may represent competition or threats.

d. Practice compassionate self-criticism.

Especially for people who are prone to being ashamed, personal compassion can be exactly what is needed to make self-criticism bearable. Personal or self-compassion allows a person to look candidly at oneself, assessing issues without being let off the hook.  The idea is to be able to say “yes, I messed up, but this doesn’t make me a bad employee or manager.  This makes me a person who has strengths and weaknesses and room to improve.”

7.  Procrastination

Procrastination is a complex behavior that affects most every professional to some degree or another. With some, it is a minor problem.  With others, it is a source of considerable stress and has a profound impact on success.  Although often confused as a problem with time management and work overload, procrastination is only remotely related to availability of time.  Procrastinators often know exactly what they should be doing and might even have the time to do it, yet don’t do what is being put off.  That explains why very detailed schedules usually are no help to procrastinators.

Procrastination generates feelings of weakness, uselessness, and helplessness. Unfortunately, procrastination is also a reinforcing behavior.  In other words, it feeds on itself.  Each time a person delays doing a task, it reinforces their negative attitude toward that task.  Every time a person puts off doing some that is disliked, the following happens:

  • The habit of ‘not doing’ is strengthened
  • Avoidance is practiced instead of participation
  • Fears are indoctrinated

Active participation in anything tends to promote a positive attitude toward that activity; inactivity helps acquire an unfavorable attitude. Therefore, the sooner that procrastination is halted, the better the results. Putting an end to procrastination produces peace of mind, a feeling of strength and purpose, and a healthy feeling of being in control.  There is a sense of increased personal freedom.  So how does a procrastinator stop procrastinating?

Here are some tips to help reduce or put an end to procrastination.

  • Make tasks look small and easy. (“This is just one more task.  I’ve done lots of tasks like this.”)
  • Do only a small part of the task each time. (“I’ll just do the research today. Later, I’ll do the reading.”)
  • Work on the task for just five minutes. At the end of five minutes, switch to something else if desired. Usually the task is so engaging by then that it is easy to keep going.
  • Communicate a deadline for the task to others and let peer pressure serve as impetus. (“I told everyone I was going to finish this by Friday.”)
  • Plan tomorrow and establish priorities.  Simply writing down reasonable starting and stopping times helps get started.
  • Expect backsliding. No one is perfect.  Occasionally, plans will not work. Accept setbacks and start again.

8.  Settling For Less Than Your Dreams – Craig Valentine, a top speaker, said “What stops most people from reaching their dreams are not the bad obstacles in their path but rather the good things that they settle for along the way.”  Life is way too short to settle. Dreams matter.  There are no tips or suggestions for how to do this less.  It is an internal decision that each person has to make on their own.

Final point.  Giving these things up is not about trying to be perfect.  It is about not letting things stand in the way of being… and soaring… even and especially when the obstacles are within one’s own mind.  It is about letting go of the mental anchors and bad habits that keep each of us from being the best we can.

Take the challenge.  For the skeptics who wonder if there is any truth or value of letting go and giving up on bad habits, try giving up these eight things for eight weeks and see what happens.

Quote of the Week

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.” Ralph Waldo Emerson



© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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