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9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

Before writing this piece I reached out to my network on Facebook and asked them what advice they would give someone in their 20s to help them become a successful leader. Here’s their advice:

Personally I used to always want to be someone else. As I get older I realize that you should never wish to be anyone different. Embrace your path as everyone has their own personal and professional struggles but it is all about how you react to them.  – Stephanie T.

Take a chance, and study the results. Never be satisfied with the status quo – often disguised as ‘best practices’. -Terri D.

Volunteer to take something on! A great deal of leadership is simply stepping up to the plate. – Laura M.

Get your masters ’cause a bachelors ain’t shit! – Casey Y.

Every problem no matter how big or small can be overcome. Be nice, be honest, be passionate. – John C.

Participate in as much professional development as you can. – Angie B.

The path is going to change, be OK with it. Every experience, good or bad, is going to lead you to something greater. – Shawnna S.

This topic is of special interest to me as I feel your 20s will be the most important decade of your life. But honestly, I’m not as concerned with how successful you are or will be in your 20s as I am for what your happiness and quality of life will be in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

In your 20s, you are making decisions, taking on commitments, and assuming responsibilities that will positively or negatively impact you for many years, if not the rest of your life, whether it’s college loan debt, buying a car or house, or selecting your husband or wife. Your 20s provide you a short period of time where ‘the world’ allows you to try different things, make mistakes, and reinvent yourself. The closer you get to 30, the less understanding and forgiving ‘the world’ becomes.  If don’t have your “stuff” together by 30, ‘the world’ may start to lose confidence in you and wonder if and when you will figure it out.  The real tragedy is when you start to lose confidence in yourself.

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You’ve spent the majority of your life receiving well intended instructions and guidance that kept you safe and prepared you for college and a good job. Congratulations if you’ve accomplished this!  However, the rules that got you here are not the same rules that will lead you to a life of meaning, balance, success, and fulfillment, personal and professionally.

I’ve been obsessively studying personal, professional, and leadership development for the past 13 years; since I was 23. In 2001, some professional adversity forced me to take a step back and reevaluate the way I was doing things. I was tired of making mistakes and came to the conclusion that I either wasn’t taught something or I wasn’t listening. Right then and there I made the commitment understand characteristics of success. I put myself on a mission to understand the difference between people who were successful and fulfilled and those who seemed to struggle.

Little did I know at the time, I was studying leadership!

13 years later, here are 9 things you can do to be a successful leader in your 20’s!

1. Know yourself

What are your values?  What are you passionate about? If you can’t answer these two questions, I would hit the pause button for a moment. Your values and passions should be your compass and the driving forces behind every major decision you make. Imagine living your life doing things that aren’t important to you, nor do they excite you. That doesn’t sound fun, does it? Take a look around and you’ll realize there are a lot of people, young and old in that situation. The awesome thing about life is that our lives can change as soon as our attitude does. Connecting to your values and passions is a great first step in living a meaningful life. Go get it!

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2. Know your vision

Your vision is what you want your world to become. Once you connect with your values and passions you can start to look at the world around you and ask: What does the world offer that aligns with my values and passions? What does the world offer you to contribute in areas that are meaningful to you, as well what opportunities can you take advantage of? Through some self-discovery and education, I reconnected to my values and passions right after I turned 24. All I knew at that time is I wanted to be in a role of influence and helping people overcome challenges and achieve their goals. When I really looked at what opportunities the world offered that aligned with my values and passion, I knew that by the time I turned 30 I would be teaching, training, coaching, counselling, and/or speaking. Boom!  My “by 30 Vision” was created!

3. Create your plan

Once you know what is truly important to you (values) and you know what really excites you (passions) and you have an idea what you want out of the world (Vision), it’s time to make it happen. To make it happen, you need a plan. To fulfill your vision, what do you need to do and what other resources will you need? When I created my “by 30 Vision”, I had associates degree in Visual Communications and a year and half of professional experience as a graphic designer. I did not have the education or the professional experience that was going to help me fulfill my vision of becoming a teacher, trainer, coach, counselor, and/or speaker?  To achieve my vision, my plan included continuing to self-study all I could about people’s behavior and motivations. I knew I needed to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree in a major that aligned with my vision. Knowing it was going to be a number of years until I would get my chance, I took sales jobs that helped me sharpen my communication and presentation skills.  I knew what was important to me. I knew what excited me. I knew where I wanted to go.  Because of this, creating my plan and sticking to it was a piece of cake.

4. Surround yourself with the right people

There are a few quotes I love that relate to this point. “It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you hoot with the owls” and “We are an average of the five people we surround ourselves with”. Who are you surrounding yourself with and do they contribute or take a way from you achieving your vision? This is a big one, folks! You need to have people in your life that understand what you are trying to do. People who encourage, support, and will challenge you if needed. If you’re lucky, you have those people close to you like parents or friends. If you don’t have those people around you, you need to find them. Over the past 13 years I’ve sought out and leaned on mentors, coaches, psychologists, teachers, professionals, and like-minded friends. The nice thing about having self-awareness, focus, and ambition in your 20s is that there are so few of you that do and when you have it, other people notice and they want to help.  Don’t be afraid to seek out support and help.  But, when you to, you better show up and follow through!

5. Get education and experience

Some of you are going to realize that outside of your passion for something, you really have very little understanding or experience with it. That’s OK, but if this is the case, you need to figure out how to close that gap to learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to put yourself in a position to achieve your vision. You do not want to be that person who talks about what they want and how they want life to be different, but are not willing to do anything to get it.  Before you know it, you’ll be 45 playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. I knew the only way my vision was going to become a reality is if I continued to self-study, got my degree, and gained skills that aligned with my vision. There is another quote I like and that’s “the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

6. Get involved

Up to this point, everything you’ve read has been about personal leadership, or in other words, leading yourself. If you want to lead others, you better be walking your talk. If you ask my five-year-old son what leaders do, he will tell you that leaders make people better.  For me, leadership is about understanding what’s important (values), knowing big picture goals (vision), taking the right action (plan), and making everyone better in the process of getting there. Get involved in causes or groups or clubs that are important and excite you so you can exercise your interests and passions around other people. You will learn more about leadership by working with others toward a common goal that you ever will in a book. The book stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the difference between reading a play book and running a play live and feeling what it’s like to score or get knocked on your butt. Others will notice your desire to get involved and take action and you’ll earn their respect. You will build trust because you want to make the people around you better.

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7. Find ways to give value

Relationships are non-stop exchanges of value and you’re either giving value or you’re taking it. Give more value than you take!  To give value you must understand what is meaningful to the people you are working with and situations you are in. We all want to be around people we can count on and trust and when you are focused on giving more value than you receive, you are showing everyone that it’s not all about you and that you are paying attention to their needs. When giving value to others, a good place to start is to think about what is important to them and what they are passionate about.  Do you see a theme here?

8. Find ways to lead

If you are getting involved, taking action, and providing value, guess what? You are already leading! It’s probable that the people around you see that as well. You could stop there, but I encourage you to look for more formal leadership opportunities. If you’re involved in a non-profit or part of a young professional group, get on their board where you will have greater influence, responsibility, and visibility. The experience you will get and the connections you make will benefit the rest of your life. I waited until I was 30 before I got involved in our young professional group. Within four months I applied to be on the board and the next two years I served as VP of Professional Development. The following two years I served on the board of Young Variety, a children’s charity. Today, I don’t formally sit on any board, but I am active in providing value where I can to the CEO of Man-Up Iowa, an organization teaches life skills and leadership development to at-risk teenage boys.

9. Make people around you better

Leadership is not about power, it’s about people. When you make people better, you become powerful. I talk a lot about the concept of “quality of life” with my clients. First, to take ownership over their quality of life. I would encourage you to do the same. You deserve a great quality of life. Second, to think about how you impact the quality of life of other people. Because you do impact the quality of life of other people. If you approach the world that you want to make the people around you better, you will and because of that you will be a leader and other people will see you as a leader.

If you want to be a leader, you must first lead yourself. It’s a choice to be made, it doesn’t just happen. Don’t ignore what’s important to you and what excites you about the world. If you don’t know what’s important or what you’re passionate about, figure it out. Dream about what’s possible and don’t be afraid to make the changes necessary to make your dreams reality. Get involved, take action, and make people better. Inspire and encourage others to do the same!

Lead!

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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