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Do You Make This Mistake as a Professional?

Do You Make This Mistake as a Professional?
Do You Make These Mistakes as a Professional?

    Broken promises are one of the biggest mistakes that one can make in their career. Broken promises are a problem because:

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    • Broken promises diminish the value of your word. People want to count on you when you’ll say you do something. If you regularly drop the ball people will rely on you less. Your reputation becomes one of a partial contributor and you will not be offered opportunities.
    • Broken promises decrease your ability to work for and with others. If you regularly break your promises people will not want to have you on projects, teams, and committees. And, if you’re not on one of those, you’re not working and will soon be out of that job. You may be out of any job that requires responsibility and contribution.
    • Broken promises lessen our own self esteem. We don’t know why we don’t come through on our commitments sometime. Still, knowing that we’re not holding up our end of a deal whacks our own integrity.

    Do you sit in a meeting and take action items then complete only some of them? Do you promise someone in your family that you will be at a game, dinner, or meeting and fail to show up on time? Do you say, “OK, I owe you that,” and inconsistently deliver? Do you miss deadlines? If you said yes to any of these questions, you are breaking promises. And the straight talk on this topic is: you need to stop breaking promises because it’s hurting your reputation and prospects for the future.

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    Here are four ways to start building a reputation for reliability, delivery, and contribution:

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    1. Don’t forget the things that you promise to do. The #1 way to do this is write it down! When you take action items voluntarily or are assigned them, put them on a list. This keeps the specifics of your responsibilities in one place. And, it keeps them out of your mind where you might forget it or it might be overpowered by something urgent or fun.
    2. You should clarify what is expected of you. Ensure that you and those you work with are synchronized. Match what you believe you’re supposed to be doing with the expectations the other person or people have. Get confirmation in writing. An example of this is writing a summary of a meeting which identifies the action items you are to take and stating: If there is something that you anticipate me doing that isn’t on this list, please reply and let me know right away so I can be sure to do the right thing.
    3. Take on less. The adage we use in sales is “Under Promise, Over Deliver”. There will always be more things for you to do than you can possibly attend to. Do only those things that are of highest importance and be clear that you won’t be doing the rest. Get agreement on what those vital activities are.
    4. Use ‘As Promised’ in your communications. When writing follow-up emails or talking to people state specifically that you are delivering on your commitment. For example, say, “We discussed the trigger list for creating your list of things to do. As promised I’m sending the list to you attached to this email.”
    5. If you might miss a deadline or have to stop one project to give attention to another, renegotiate. You will need diplomacy and tact to deliver your message and get agreement that things have changed. Yet, you will get credit for integrity and keeping your eye on the ball.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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