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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

I’ve heard a lot of conversations about luck recently and have been reading a lot of comments about luck on professional networking forums. I thought I’ll share the Secret Formula to create your own Good Luck!! It works! So go out there and get lucky!!

Step 1 … Read More

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Integrity, ethics, transparency – some of the most used and abused words in the Corporate world. Every organization tries to fit these somewhere in their vision, mission, values but these are often the first to be sacrificed at the altar of ‘practicality’ and ‘business sense’… Read More

 

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New Year Resolutions!!! Just a cliché? Another ritual you go through knowing it won’t matter? Or something you do with full earnestness? (even if you aren’t always able to stick to them)

New Year is one of the few festivals that celebrates the passage of time, and makes us think of the year that presents itself before us. I like to use this opportunity to revisit my commitment to personal growth and set up a framework to ensure I utilize the New Year effectively to drive my goals.

I know people who say why wait for New Year to make resolutions, I can make them any time. Well, sure, you can. But do you? How often in the past year have you sat down to review your personal goals, track where you are and make an action plan? An advantage this occasion gives us is that it provides a predesigned time framework which we can fit our action plan and monthly review into. And we always get a reminder that it’s “that time” of the year again 🙂

As long as you are determined to make and achieve your resolutions, it doesn’t matter when you make them. The three simple steps below are designed to ensure you succeed:

  • Step One – Goal Setting:  Whether you will even get close to achieving your resolutions is often clear at this stage itself. Setting the goals right and setting the right goals is the first step towards achieving them.
    • Identify Areas of Focus for the year. Start by identifying your area of focus for improvement for this year. It could be health& fitness, career, relationships, home, charity etc. I know you want to focus on them all but prioritize, identify the top one or two and remember that you can choose again next year. Once the larger category is determined, setting goals will be easier.
    • Quality over Quantity. Make fewer and more clearly defined and important resolutions. Taking on too much will not allow you to focus your energy.
    • Make your Resolutions Personal.  Your goal should be about something you feel passionately for and not something someone else feels you should do.  Your commitment and efforts will only be for the goals you believe in.
    • Try to Sync your Resolutions with your larger Life Goals.  If your life goal is to achieve a defined level of success by a specific stage in your life, work backwards and identify what you need to do NOW, in this year. It could be ensuring you keep yourself updated in your area of expertise, investing in networking, getting additional qualification or any other. Amit’s life goal was to be making a difference in the lives of underprivileged people so one of Amit’s resolutions for the last year was to spend at least 5 weekends per quarter with an NGO which imparted vocational skills to people below the poverty line.  
    • Apply SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time bound goals are not just for the workplace. Any goal should follow the SMART principle. So your resolution cannot be to just lose weight. It would have to be “I will lose 6 kgs this year at a pace of not less than half a kilo per month and not more than a kilo in any month” Quantifying goals helps in tracking achievement.
  • Step Two – Action Planning:Now that your goals are in place, it’s essential to put in place an action plan of how you’ll go about achieving them.
    • Break Down your Goals into a Series of small Steps/ Milestones. E.g. If your larger goal is to master a new area, have milestones attached to each step you have to take: such as “read the manual” as a first milestone, “view all webcasts” as a second milestone, maybe “attend training” as third, “start practising” could be fourth and so on till you get the certification or level of proficiency that you desire.
    • Attach action steps and a timeline to each milestone.  Having action steps and a deadline for each milestone is essential. To take the above example further, you might decide to curtail you TV viewing or facebook updating time to ensure you read and make notes from X number of pages each day to achieve the first milestone.
    •  Track Progress continuously and tweak your plan if required. The moment you let go of tracking is when you may start losing momentum
  • Step Three – Staying on TrackI know this is the tough one especially given our busy and sometimes unpredictable lives but, believe me, it can be done.
    • Write It Down. Writing down your goals and action plan and putting them up where you can see them ensures recall and helps firm resolve. This will help you draw up a definitive plan, track it effectively and give you the satisfaction of ticking off every step that you complete.
    • Share It. Building a support system has been identified as one of the key factors for people who managed to achieve their goals so tell your family and friends. Start a buddy system where you support your friends on their resolutions and they support you. It’s always hard to give up on something people know about and are encouraging you for.
    • Review & Revise. Set a timeframe for regular review and make sure you do it. Review progress, note what went right and what didn’t, find what you need to do differently, if at all and update the remaining plan.
    • Celebrate Small Wins. When you review, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for achievements. Celebrating small wins will keep you motivated for the long haul. (Just ensure your celebration is not detrimental to your goal like my friend who’d reward herself with a triple scoop, extra chocolate fudge sundae every time she lost half a kilo!!)
    • Focus on a Positive Vision of the Future. People who focus on the benefits of success have a significantly higher chance of fulfilling their goals than those who focus on the downside of failure. Our mind gets energized by a positive vision whereas it is very difficult to really put your heart into something where the only reason pushing you is the fear of how bad it could be if it didn’t work.

Maybe all of us won’t achieve 100% of our resolutions but even if you managed to do 70% that’s far better than giving up or doing nothing at all. There may be the occasional lapses but treat them as temporary setbacks and focus on getting back on track. Just one day has passed; the whole year beckons us, full of promise. I look forward to hearing about all your success stories of personal change and growth and pray this starts a cycle of rejuvenation for you every year.

For training programs or personal coaching on goal setting, driving change, increasing personal effectiveness contact the author at handashweta@gmail.com

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2012 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear. ~Brian Tracy

Focus, Focus, Focus!! How often have you heard that said? Focus is the new mantra. But equally I hear people say ‘I can’t seem to focus!!’ The world seems to be competing with you for your attention all the time:). And this will just get more intense with the increasing proliferation of digital media.

Let’s get the basic tips out of the way first. You may have heard these before so here goes:

  • Plan your day in advance
  • Have clear results in mind
  • Prioritize ruthlessly
  • Track progress continuously
  • Break large activities into bite-size chunks so you can get moving on them faster
  • Learn to say no to people when you need to concentrate on something
  • Complete everything you start

Yes, these are very useful and form the basis of time and attention management but honestly, for this one, I believe there is no one size fits all. Each person has different responses to various external stimuli Eg. Some people concentrate better with music whereas others need silence to hear their own thoughts!! Some people work better with a plan while others spend so much time agonizing over the plan that they forget to get things done!!

I often get inspired byNewton’s first law of motion – “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it”. Roughly translated that says an object in motion stays in motion. So the trick is to keep moving, fight inertia and concentrate on staying in motion and on track.

My first suggestion to you is to become aware of what takes you off-course most often – is it your phone? the ‘you’ve got mail’ pop-up? hunger pangs? coffee cravings? the cute girl/guy who sits on the other side? Or yourself? (Yes, sometimes we just distract ourselves because we don’t really want to do something) Once you have identified what distracts you, you are ready to roll

–  Make time for your distractions. I know popular advice is to stay away from your distractions but considering they are distracting you so often, be it your mail, phone, friend, coffee etc., it’s obviously something that takes up your mind space and something that you want to do. So schedule breaks in your work for these distractions and focus well the remaining time.

–  48 minutes of High-Focus in each hour. One trick that works really well forme is to break my hour into high focus periods followed by short breaks Eg. Focus exclusively on something for 48 minutes, spend 10 minutes relaxing, stretching or indulging your distractions and then use the remaining 2 minutes to get back on track and plan your next 48 minutes of high-focus activity.

This doesn’t mean you keep looking at the clock!! Use a timer and after some time your mind will get used to it. If you are so engrossed at the end of 48 minutes that you don’t want to stop, well then you are focussed anyway and maybe you don’t need this break :). The time span of high focus may be different for you and you need to experiment to find your perfect fit. The 10 minute break is meant to be an energizer so choose activities that perk you up and keep away from activities that pull you down. And remember, the key word here is ‘high’ focus not simply working at your usual pace and then getting up for a break every 48 minutes 🙂

–  Visualize you day. Don’t just plan the next day, try to visualize it. Try to live through it and identify your feelings as you imagine yourself completing each planned task. The points/ tasks where you feel negative emotions or lethargy are the red spots that need to be your high-focus points for the next day to stay on course.  Identify the triggers that caused these feelings during your visualization and try to get them out of the way in advance. Also, if there are activities you feel less positive about while visualizing simply because you don’t like doing them, simply plan to get them out of the way first or schedule them during a high energy time.

The best part about visualization is that it also gives you a picture of what it feels like when you have achieved the desired results and this can be the magnet for your sub-conscious mind to get things done.

–  Don’t forget to reward yourself when you’ve completed an important task in your day. These could be small rewards like taking out time for a chat with someone, playing a short game or simply a small piece of dark chocolate.

–  Meditation is not a complicated or time-consuming activity despite the many myths that abound. It can be done for a mere 5 minutes and still be immensely beneficial. It provides training in self-discipline to be able to focus on one activity and block out all thoughts from your mind.

So take out a few minutes, close your eyes and focus on nothing but your breath. Do not allow your mind any other thought for those few minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it gets every time!!

At this point I rewarded myself for completing this blog by playing a short game(4 minutes) online so now I am back on track, ready to move on to the next activity on my agenda with renewed energy 🙂

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.

~Isaac Newton

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. ”
Peter Drucker

Do you feel misunderstood? Are people just not ‘getting it’? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you are not expressing it in a way that people can understand? The ability to be able to present our ideas in an unambiguous, easy to understand manner is important in every aspect of our lives.

Or is your problem the fact that your partner or your boss seems to be talking Greek (you sometimes wish you had a translator!!) Before you dismiss their communication skills, remember listening is more than just paying attention and hearing the words. We need to make an effort to comprehend with an open mind and keep checking to ensure we are on the right track. One of the most common mistakes listeners make is to assume they can fill the gaps based on their understanding… which may result in an entirely different from what the speaker wanted to say.

Part of the reason is physiological. Our capacity to listen ranges from 400 to 600 words per minute whereas the average speaking rate is about 125 words per minute. This can make the listener impatient and also allows the mind to wander while the conversation is in progress. Make a conscious effort to focus on the conversation and be patient. Chances are, if you listen without interrupting, you will also get an audience when you want to speak.

As Anthony Robbins said “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Communication has best been defined as the “ Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information but also create and share meaning.” And it is in this encoding and interpretation exercise that the intended meaning often gets lost.

I like to think of communication as a step by step process with potential safeguards at every step to make it effective:

I. Message Creation – Before you start, be clear  what exactly you want to communicate, why you want to say it, who your target audience is, what biases might they have which may affect their understanding of the message and, most important, what is the impact you hope this message will have on them.

II. Encoding – Always remember that everyone has their own filters, point of view, biases etc. and it’s not necessary their understanding of the subject is the same as yours. Ensure you are concise, precise and your choice of words is neutral and can only be understood in one manner not leaving too much to interpretation. Do not take anything about the listener for granted.

III. Transmission – For a speaker, the manner of transmission is equally important as the choice of words since the receivers mind would be processing both the verbal and non-verbal cues. Make eye contact, use your body to emphasize strong points, avoid distracting behaviours such as fiddling, wringing your hands, twirling the pen etc. Remember, if your body language is sending a different message than your words, the receivers sub-conscious would pick up the signals and send an alert so maintaining congruence is essential to ensure your message is received well.

For the listener, it is important to be an active listener and display attentiveness to the conversation by maintaining eye contact, nodding or sending other cues to show the speaker you are listening and, again, avoid distracting behaviours. Notice the choice of words as well as the emotional vibes of the speaker for better understanding.   Avoid traps such as tuning out because you are planning what you are going to say next instead of focusing on what is being said.

IV. Interpretation – As a receiver, be aware of your own filters and biases and make a conscious choice to reduce their influence. Focus on factual data such as choice of words and stated intention rather than pre-conceived ideas while decoding the message. Always remember to keep an open mind and try to understand from the other person’s perspective.

V. Checking back – This step is very important for both the listener and the speaker. The speaker should always prompt the listener to ask for clarifications and check if the message has been understood well. The listener should paraphrase and summarize what (s)he believes the speaker said and check if his/her understanding is correct.

Take responsibility for the success of any communication you participate in. If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you would have noticed my focus on the ‘self’ because that is the entity which is in our control and the first step towards any improvement always begins with looking inwards. So as a speaker or a listener, it’s your responsibility to ensure your conversations are effective.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose”                                                                                                                                        ~Maureen Killoran

We all get stressed at some point in our lives, some more than others. In today’s uncertain and competitive times, stress tops the list as the cause of lifestyle related health issues. ‘The silent killer’, as stress has been called, is on the prowl and here is how you can protect yourself.

Know the symptoms of stress and acknowledge its presence. Acceptance is always the first step to remedy. How often have you heard people saying “I’m just very busy, no point in being a wimp about it” or “Stress? Me? Ha ha!!” even while they move around being moody, irritable or simply listless?!  Some common symptoms of excessive stress are feeling unusually tired, anxious, irritable or depressed; losing interest at work; trouble sleeping; headaches; stomach problems; lack of concentration etc.  Noticing your feelings and acknowledging the stressors in your life is the first step to identifying the remedies.

Don’t stress about stress. Some amount of stress is normal, unavoidable and, in fact, good. You might be reading this because you want to eliminate stress. Well, my advice is to focus on reducing and not eliminating stress … or the stress of eliminating stress might get to you. A certain amount of stress can help you focus and perform better; it is when this starts piling up and becomes excessive that it’s bad for you.

It IS in your control. Always remember, while there may be external catalysts that trigger stress, how you react to these is completely within your control. Yes, there are days when nothing seems to go your way but even then you can choose to either let it drive you up the wall or simply decide  that it can only get better from here and work on making it better. Focus on the larger picture and ignore the small stressors.

Stress can be prevented. We can avoid stress with the help of effective time management, prioritization, planning and by avoiding self-defeating behaviours. A contingency plan can help avert many stressful situations and planning your day, time and commitments effectively goes a long way in preventing stress.

You can also prevent stress by avoiding self-defeating behaviours which make you either too tough on yourself or too easy. So, on one hand, you may add to stress by being a perfectionist, overly competitive and constantly comparing with others and, on the other hand, by being very lax about time, or your health or allowing too much procrastination. You need to pull up your socks but set realistic expectations for yourself to beat stress.

Beat Stress. We cannot completely do away with stress but we can manage the stress in our lives by focussing on the following areas:

THE MIND

Good mental health is essential to manage stress. It is important to break the vicious cycle where stress impacts your mental peace and the lack of mental peace makes you more stressed.

1.   Identify your stressors – and take measures to prevent them. Some common stressors are:

  • Peer-pressure
  • Feeling out of control/helpless
  • Guilt over procrastination
  • Feeling direction-less
  • Over-committing
  • Change, especially enforced change
  • Uncertainty
  • Not being able to live up to own/others’ expectations

2.   Understand and Manage your response to stressors – Whenever next you are in a stressful situation, pause, close your eyes and focus on your thoughts and feelings.  It is important to recognize your stress response and emotional experience. Next step is to identify things that can calm you or divert your attention such as the stress busters in the next section.  This will help you develop capacity to manage your reactions in the face of your stress triggers

3.   Stimulate your mind – It is important to stimulate your mind by indulging in activities that you enjoy which challenge the grey cells without being violent or stressful such as reading, puzzles, games or any hobby that you get pleasure from. Mental stimulation improves brain function, protects against cognitive decline, can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and keeps you from worrying about the trivial stressors.

4.   Don’t sweat the small stuff – Some things are just not worth it. Put every irritant or stressor through a simple test – ‘Will this matter as much tomorrow morning?’ and ‘Does this really change anything in my life?’ If it doesn’t pass this test, let it go.  Invest time on the opportunities of tomorrow not the worries of yesterday.

5.   Take a break – Taking breaks is essential to rejuvenate, internalize experiences and learning and to engage fully at work.

THE BODY

1.   Get Moving  – Exercising helps manage stress in multiple ways –

  • It makes our pituitary gland release endorphins which are natural pain-relievers and stress-fighters and create a feeling of well-being.
  • Can help relax tight and strained muscles which can add to stress.
  • Improves blood circulation and helps maintain a healthy body which reduces susceptibility to stress.
  • Serves as an effective vent for pent up tensions.

2.   Eat Right – Low blood sugar can make you feel irritable and stressed. Have smaller meals and try to eat small healthy snacks in between.  Avoid consumption of too many stimulants such as coffee, tea as they may increase your irritability.

3.   Avoid excess Alcohol and Nicotine – While alcohol may give a temporary feeling of relaxation, excess consumption leads to higher anxiety levels and can lead to addiction. Nicotine, again, is a stimulant which actually increases anxiety.

4.   Stress Busting Activities – There are various stress busting techniques such as laughter exercises, deep-breathing, meditation, relaxing music etc. which can help you remain calm in stressful situations. A technique I have found very useful is to close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale while chanting the word ‘Om’, repeat three times and then slowly open your eyes.

If you need quick relief from stress, try slowing down and stop to smell the roses occasionally. We often become so busy earning a living that we forget to live and enjoy our lives. If the quote below sounds like your life… stop, think and start taking care of yourself before someone else is forced to do it for you.

Stress is an ignorant state.  It believes that everything is an emergency.                                                                                ~Natalie Goldberg

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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How often have you wished there was just half an hour more in the day? Is there so much to be done on your ever-growing to-do list that there’s no way you can get through all of it?!! Time, the one resource that most people wish they had more of, and the one resource that money can’t buy!! The first step is to understand that time is a finite resource and we can’t ‘manage’ time. What we can ‘manage’ is ourselves and our energy. Here are some tips to utilize this limited resource more effectively.

I) Manage your Energy – While most of us worry about time, we often take for granted the energy that actually allows us to utilize this time. The competitive and never-ending demands of our lives are why we often hear of ‘burnouts’. Our energy can be increased and renewed by concentrating on two important sources – the mind and the body.

Leave behind negative emotions, avoid distractions and participate in activities that make you feel vibrant and alive to increase your mental energies. Take regular breaks, don’t compromise on your minimum sleep, avoid stress and don’t ignore your health to build energy from the body. Remember to focus your energies on nurturing the opportunities of tomorrow not fostering the troubles of yesterday.

II) Plan & Prioritize Smartly – End each day spending a few minutes planning for the next day. Set achievable goals and prioritize ruthlessly. Remember to differentiate between what is urgent and what is important. While the important tasks need your attention and focus even if they don’t always seem urgent, things that disguise themselves as urgent may not need your time if they are not important to you.

Start each day by getting the most unattractive/ difficult tasks out of the way. Plan not just your working day but also your personal time and keep in mind that your life and health goals are equally important.

III) Seize the Opportunity – Did you really not have time to read that important mail today, or return that phone call or invest in your own health by walking for 20 minutes? One of the important factors that differentiate the highly successful people from the rest is their ability to seize the moments to work towards their goals.

IV) Efficiency Vs Effectiveness – We often get trapped into a false sense of accomplishment when we are being efficient even if our efficiency is being used on unimportant or filler tasks that are not priorities.

You are effective when your efforts are “adequate to accomplish a goal; producing the intended result” while being efficient is simply “a minimum expenditure of time and effort” in your activities. Being efficient is important, it is not enough unless it’s also effective. Focus not just on ‘doing things right’ but on ‘doing the right things’ to reach your goal.

V) Cost your Time and Energy and Set Limits – We can all assess the value of our time and energy based on how much we are paid or should be (realistically). Evaluate the cost benefit of each task to decide whether the pay-back is worth it and to set time limits for activities. If an activity doesn’t deserve more than an hour based on its pay-back then an hour is your upper limit.

VI) Avoid Time-wasting Activities – Track your daily activities and maintain an activity log for a few days to understand how you actually spend your time. The results may surprise you. Some common time-wasters you can avoid are:

  1. Handle information only Once – When you see that mail, decide right then whether to trash it, archive it or act on it. Same for files or papers. Don’t keep things pending and keep revisiting them. Also, sync your mails, calenders etc. in your phone, laptop and other gadgets to ensure you have to process entries only once.
  2. Distractions/Interruptions – Anything that’s not on your to do list, needs to be subjected to a quick urgent-important test and the cost-benefit assessment. If it’s not important it’s out and if it is, then the payback tells you how much time you can spend on it.
  3. Delegate/Ask for Help – It’s okay to ask for help or delegate to a competent person. If doing everything yourself was such a good idea, many successful organizations wouldn’t have outsourced their non-core activities.
  4. Meetings – Yes, I said it ‘meetings’!! Don’t call or attend meetings unless they are important or will add value to your work and, if you have to call one, ensure it stays on track and finishes on time.
  5. Learn to say No and Goodbye – Saying a polite no or goodbye to people can be necessary when their important tasks, conversations/meetings are eating into your own priorities.

So here’s to being more productive… While in your race to be more effective in the same amount of time remember that some seemingly unimportant activities can be essential to overall productivity. So while I would tell you to set time-limits, I would also urge you not to ignore the intangible but essential paybacks of activities such as networking, taking breaks, rejuvenating yourself and investing in your health.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of”

Benjamin Franklin

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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