Best ways to deal with work stress

March 27, 2016

Q: Our company recently acquired another business. Workload and pressure to perform have increased. My team knows it’s temporary, however if we don’t manage our stress I’m afraid we’ll implode.

A: Your awareness of your team’s ability to cope is the first important step to managing this transition. When the brain is overstressed, executive functioning shuts down. People experience foggy thinking, poor decision making and memory loss. They are less patient, more reactive and make knee-jerk actions they often regret later.


1) Articulating emotions calms the brain so people can address it rather than bury it. Name what the team is experiencing in meetings or conversations. Suppressing reactions doesn’t work. They leak out in reactive ways when not acknowledged.

2) Ask the team what support would help with workflow: Getting temporary support, reprioritizing projects or negotiating delivery dates. Do whatever you can to make it happen, so your team feels some sense of control over their situation rather than being a victim to it.

3) Hold an inspiring vision. Keep the team focused on the big picture, the rewards and significance of their work. When people understand the ‘why’ they are more motivated to contribute to the larger purpose.

4) Reframe negative to positive, challenges to opportunities, hard to manageable. Reappraising from half empty to half full whenever possible feeds and maintains momentum.

5) Mindfulness is the most effective de-stressor. Focusing attention on the present helps let go of past regrets and worries about the future — which breed paralysis. Check in regularly with where people are at; ask what is working and what they’re proud of. Encourage frequent breaks, fresh air at lunch, leaving work at the office so people can recover to calm and their brains can reset.

Reprinted from The Province, March 27, 2016.

Rewire your brain for 2016

January 10, 2016

Q: Each year I’m quite successful without a professional plan. I’d like to create one this year to see if I can improve my results. But making resolutions doesn’t work for me. What do you suggest?

A: You’re not alone. One-third of all New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first month, and the majority within six months. For a greater success follow these five simple steps.

Take stock of 2015. Record your successes, accomplishments and breakthroughs, as well as your failures, disappointments and misses. This focuses your attention on what is rewarding and lessons learned for the coming year.

Now write out three to five themes, intentions or categories to focus on for the year. Some examples: professional development/education, developing others/mentoring or strategic planning/systems thinking.

Next, reflect on who you need to “be” throughout the year to be come successful in your themes. Write the characteristics or qualities of that type of individual. For example: proactive, visionary, empowering others.

Create a list of goals you want to achieve by the end of 2016 and that you would expect of the person above. For example: delegating 80 per cent of the work below your role, spending 60 per cent of your day planning strategically rather than being a hands-on leader, coaching team members to find their own solutions 75 per cent of the time.

Finally, break the goals down into specific manageable activities with measurable targets such as: take a coaching course by March 31, bite tongue at meetings so team members contribute first.

Resolutions typically fail when you try to achieve too much too fast. This year, focus on rewiring your brain and implementing new habits to achieve ongoing success.

Reprinted from The Province, January 10, 2016

Apps will keep you grounded during hectic travel schedule

December 13, 2015

Q: My new role will require a lot of travel. What tools will keep me on track while I’m on the road?

A: These indispensable travel apps are like having your executive assistant by your side while on the road.

TripIt is a mobile travel organizer that links your email flight, car and hotel reservations and saves them all to one itinerary in chronological order which can be forwarded to others.  It updates any flight delays and changes that are emailed to you.

To book or reroute your flight compare airline rates with Google Flights, then select the best available seat using SeatGuru — which has aircraft configurations showing superior to substandard seating. While waiting on a layover at an unfamiliar airport, GateGuru displays a terminal map, a layout of amenities in the airport near your gate as well as restaurant ratings.

It also shows security wait times, flight delays, gate changes and layover updates.

For driving in an unfamiliar location, Waze is a must. It’s a community driven app providing the quickest route in real time, including traffic speeds, delays and detours. Beware: it’s a battery hog even if it’s just running in the background.

Out-of-country roaming charges rack up quickly. J Wire will pinpoint free nearby urban wireless hot spots in 140 countries — downloadable for off-line use. Wi-Fi locations are filtered by location type — hotel, café, restaurant. WhatsApp automatically downloads your contact list and will allow you to SMS message via Internet free.

Tongue tied in a foreign language?  Google Translate can rapidly translate whole paragraphs of text or even the spoken word. Say a phrase in English, and it will repeat it the 57 foreign languages of your choice.

No matter where you travel these handy apps will make your travel experience less stressful and more productive.

Reprinted from The Province, December 13, 2015.

The right apps are invaluable organizing tools

November 13, 2015

Q: I’ve just moved from a large organization to a small startup without an executive assistant to keep me organized. What tools would you recommend?

A: Productivity Apps that sync your smartphone, tablet and laptop may rival your EA because they manage details and information with people anywhere anytime.

Google Drive is a must have. This cloud storage system enables you to share just about any kind of file from recordings and photos to spreadsheets and word docs online 24/7. It’s a premier collaboration tool that allows multiple users to work on a single document separately or simultaneously and the Drive captures every update immediately.

OneNote is an intuitive note-taking app that can be used to capture random ideas or as searchable notebooks for a host of topics with sub-sections. Colour-coded tabs make it simple to sort, retrieve and review. Notes are easily shared with others by email. Meeting notes, video and recordings can be added to your notebook by emailing OneNote. A handy bonus is when clipping website information the URL is automatically saved.

Rated the best to-do list app, Wunderlist is great for managing accountability. It allows you to create multiple to-do lists, assign tasks to others and sort by priority or due date. Collaborators receive an email notification when assigned tasks and you receive one as they are completed.

Who can remember all their passwords? LastPass is the most popular password manager because it auto populates log-in information from all of your devices, alerts you if there is a security breach and allows you to give others log-in access to sites without ever revealing your password.

These apps can help you squeeze more time out of your day. Next time, useful travel apps for the mobile professional.

Reprinted from The Province, November 22, 2015.

Defeating ‘impostor syndrome’ is a must

June 8, 2015

Q: I’ve been the COO for three years, yet I still question how I got here. To avoid being discovered as a fraud I work 14 hours a day, six days a week. It is draining and I’m burning out. How do I stop this crazy cycle?

A: Your fear and self doubt are both common and especially prevalent with high achievers who strive to give their best to every endeavour. Research shows that even with evidence of competence or capability, 70 per cent of people suffer from a phenomenon called the ‘impostor syndrome.’

Unfortunately, running to stay ahead of your anxiety will never allow you to savour your successes or feel a sense of satisfaction.

A common mistake is to attribute your successes to external forces, and blame yourself solely for every failure.

Reprogram your thinking by identifying what you did to create the win and acknowledge yourself for it. Rebalance your thinking. Focus your attention on what you are doing well. Stop fixating on the one small item you did wrong that is likely now magnified out of proportion. End the self-defeating comparison game. How can that even be fair when you downplay your successes and elevate others? You automatically lose when measuring other’s outsides to your insides. Their appearance of confidence is no match for your feelings of anxiety.

Acting as if you are confident can lead to actual confidence by altering your brain chemistry. Psychologist Amy Cuddy explains this in her 2012 Ted Talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.

The gift of the self doubt to date is it has motivated you to accomplish great things, however at a great cost. Self awareness is the first step to managing the syndrome. Now observe when it is running you and apply the steps above to thwart it.

Reprinted from The Province, June 7, 2015.

Don’t let resolutions slip away

January 4, 2015

Visualize and plan ahead to make your New Year’s commitments stick

Q: Every year I set new professional goals as my New Year’s resolutions. However, within weeks I lose traction as other priorities take over. How can I create sticky resolutions?

A: There is a lot riding on New Year’s resolutions when viewed as wiping the slate clean, the salvo to breaking a haunting bad habit, or making a dramatic impact. Big goals that require a change in belief or behaviour need more than a public declaration.

Try these four easy steps to improve your resolution retention:

  • Limit resolutions to three stretch goals which can realistically be accomplished within a year.  The more meaningful and relevant they are to you, the easier it will be to stay on track.
  • Envision their successful completion. After creating your resolutions, invest time imagining the opportunities that would be possible for you and others once you achieve your goal. Like an athlete repeatedly visualizing crossing the finish line, revisiting your vision throughout the year will keep you focused and tethered to your resolutions.
  • Create manageable action plans with clear and specific measures so you will be buoyed by hitting ongoing targets. Share your plan with others to demonstrate your commitment to your resolutions. Ask allies to encourage and hold you accountable to your milestones. Celebrate each deadline you reach.
  • Finally, identify three qualities and characteristics you need to personify to be successful. For example, if you resolve to speak up at every meeting you might commit to being bold, outspoken and well prepared.

You, like many, may lose momentum or fall off course. You can recover any time by acknowledging your success to date and revisiting the four easy steps above.  Readjusting your action steps and timelines as needed can eventually lead you to year-end congratulations.

Originally published in The Province, January 4, 2015

Make new employees feel welcome, part of the team

August 10, 2014

Q : We’re in the midst of a huge project and I am hiring some new team members. What’s the quickest way to get them up to speed?

A Research shows that the success of new hires is set as early as the first two weeks. The degree to which you can make them feel welcomed and prepared for their new jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the organization. Proper onboarding is different from an administrative orientation – which outlines rules, policies, pay and benefits. Onboarding acclimatizes new hires in four key areas:

Socialization with team members and other employees to learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviours required to succeed within an organization. Create immediate inclusion and investment by arranging a social event with members and a oneon- one with the team leader on the first day.

Assimilation to the company’s culture – such as history, vision, mission and values, work style, customs and power structure – helps the employee function effectively. Assigning a peer mentor aids navigating the organization.

Understanding business strategies jargon and acronyms, market position and competition, systems and processes, recent accomplishments and challenges provides clarity and rationale.

Role and responsibilities and how they contribute to the company’s mission. Explicit expectations for performance and productivity prioritizes and focuses. Outlining career paths and development opportunities inspires hope and investment.

Almost one third of new hires last less than one year, costing 50-150 per cent of their annual salary in lost productivity and replacement costs.

Onboarding takes place over 30 to 120 days and on the first anniversary. On Day 1, implement only the basics, provide necessary work equipment, security badge and take them to lunch to connect on a personal level. Following a formal structured onboarding process creates assimilation, accelerates productivity and increases retention.

Originally published in The Province, August 10, 2014. 

Take time to get back in the work flow

September 13, 2013

Q: I am returning to work after five weeks of vacation and am already feeling overwhelmed. Last time I had over 2,000 emails in my inbox. What tips do you have to get me back on track faster this time?

A: Believe that being rejuvenated and clear headed will help you accomplish more than you think. Be realistic and give yourself time to reacclimatize.

Keep your out-of-office message on and avoid booking appointments for one or two additional days so you can get reoriented and reorganized.

Perhaps change your out-ofoffice message to say you are back and if something needs urgent attention re-send it.

Get a status report from your boss and colleagues on key projects so you have a clear sense of the big picture and key priorities. A 15-minute standup huddle will keep things brief and concise. Where are things at? What are the highest priorities? Reconfirm timelines and deadlines.

After these meetings, create a new to-do list and block time in your calendar to accomplish them so you are in control of your time, not others.

Review and clean the clutter out of your inbox because the junk can obscure the critical ones. Only read and respond to urgent emails. Beginning with the most recent, file or delete unnecessary CCs, solicitations.

Resist the temptation of easy low priority emails that may give you an immediate sense of accomplishment but really put you further behind.

Use your positive holiday energy to boost your productivity. Don’t wear yourself out with long hours and taking work home. Returning the next day fresh and clear will keep your momentum strong.

Put the details into perspective by remembering the bigger picture and what really matters in your role.

Originally published in The Province, September 8, 2013.

Timely tips save effort

April 14, 2013

Q I’ve just been promoted to the C-Suite and the time demands are daunting. I am an effective time manager but I can’t stay on top of all the additional requirements of the role. What more can I do?

A Protect your most productive hours of the day to do your big picture strategizing and reflective thinking. Since 20 per cent of your efforts produce 80 per cent of your results, prioritize your tasks and stick to it. Delegate the rest. This is more effective than doing it all. Studies show that a 60-hour work week decreases productivity by 25 per cent and gets worse as the work hours increase.

Executives waste almost a day a week in meetings. Consider limiting meetings to between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep them on track by sticking to a clear agenda, beginning and ending on time with specific actions for each individual, following up on their accountabilities at the next meeting.

Email is often the biggest distraction. It helps to check email only at specific times of the day and to give your people guidelines on what you want to be copied. Have someone pre-screen and file items for you. Take the time to clear your inbox weekly. Additionally, the average leader is interrupted every three minutes – that is two hours a day. Instead of inviting intruders with: “How can I help” narrow their access by asking: “What do you need from me for you to accomplish this?”

Forget multi-tasking altogether. it takes 20-40 per cent more time to finish items when you multi task compared with completing the same tasks in sequence. Time lost switching among tasks increases with the complexity of the tasks diminishing productivity and quality.

Stay focused on holding the strategic vision, holding others accountable for operational details and keeping both in alignment.

Originally printed in The Province, April 14, 2013.

Motivate your staff by reviving effective work habits

January 6, 2013

Q: Last week my team returned from the holidays rested but unmotivated and unfocused. What can I do to re-engage them in work?

A: When depleted employees recharge their batteries during an extended time off, inertia can set in, making re-entry challenging. Cut through the holiday hangover by reviving their effective work habits.

Ride the holiday mood by hosting a new year’s social meeting highlighting last year’s wins, crediting the key players and having them share their key learn-ings. Present lighthearted awards for the accomplishments and comical prizes for meeting participation.

Jump-start their creativity by brainstorming a list of what they want to build on from the previous year’s successes. Stimulate a positive environment by inviting them to dream BIG. What do they really want to create as a team this year? If there were no limitations, what would it look like? How will they define success? What new skills and responsibilities do they want to gain?

As the team begins to imagine what could be possible, compile a list of simple ideas and short-term goals on a large whiteboard.

When your team starts to see the magnitude of accomplishments compared to modest effort required, you’ll create momentum without overwhelming them. As the list grows before their eyes they will feel productive, committed and inspired to move to action.

Finally, paint a compelling vision for them to invest in for the year. What does the team want to be known for at the end of the year? What attributes do they want to be recognized for? Innovative, visionary, bold or customer focused? What is each member’s personal stake in the vision?

When members create and take ownership of a vision, it’s easier to keep them on track, hold them accountable and re-spark them throughout the year.

Originally printed in The Province, January 6, 2013.

Next Page »