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Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!

Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!

Going back to school is all the rage these days. In the wake of the recession, many  are seeing the value of the college education they didn’t get earlier.  The problem is, most non-traditional students don’t have the luxury of taking years off work so they can pursue that all-important degree. Balancing work, a private life, and school can seem overwhelming. The good news is that going back to school doesn’t have to cost your sanity! Here are eight ways to balance family, homework, and career and still achieve all your goals.

1. Lay the groundwork.

Many employers like to see their employees going back to school. It makes their workforce more educated and the employees themselves more valuable. Talk to your spouse and your kids and explain that you’ll be doing homework right alongside them. Then talk to your boss and discuss your degree ambitions and objectives. Be sure to have a rough plan for how long it will take and what scheduling accommodations you can reasonably foresee. This will put everyone on the same page and set clear expectations about what you’re willing to put in and what you need in return to make this work. Don’t forget to ask if your company has a tuition reimbursement program or other benefits that will make getting your degree easier.

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2. Budget time wisely.

There are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how tough you are. Sit down and figure out how much time you absolutely must devote to school, work, and your family life to keep everything running smoothly. Remember that sometimes there will be family factors that need to take a higher precedence than your education or your job, and plan accordingly. While not a magic bullet, a lesson in time management will certainly make your life less chaotic and not leave anyone feeling short-changed.

3. How much is too much?

Trying to achieve a bachelor’s degree in two years is all well and good, but you have to be realistic about your other time demands. Most people find that 15 credit hours a semester is a manageable load, especially when work and family are factored in. Try as many classes as you dare for your first semester. If your grades suffer or your boss is constantly chewing you out because you missed something, or your kids are starting to forget what you look like, it’s time to reevaluate. Outdoing all the young Thundercats on your campus sounds like a great idea…but keep in mind that you have responsibilities they don’t. Dropping a class or two to enhance your GPA and keep the other elements of your life and mind in balance isn’t the worst thing you can do if you find yourself in over your head.

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4. Know when to say “no.”

Many people are afraid to say no to anyone, whether it’s the guys from the office, the wife, the boss’s secretary, or the kid who’s looking for the new acting secretary of the student council. They’re afraid of looking weak, incapable, or like they aren’t superheroes. If you laid your groundwork appropriately at the start, you’ve already made it clear there are going to be times when you simply cannot please everyone. That urgent report on quarterly sales that must be ready to present at nine a.m., Timmy’s basketball game, Dr. No’s fifty-page paper on the mating habits of the common housefly that’s due tomorrow at noon, and your spouse’s sister’s roommate’s birthday party may well wind up hitting you all at once. In this case, which do you choose?  It doesn’t make you a bad parent, employee, or student if you can’t be in all places at once. It just makes you human. Never be afraid to say, “I’m in over my head.” Then decide which one or two things are the most important, and stick to your decision. (You can always ask Dr. No for an extension on the paper, but based on his name, don’t hold your breath…)

5. Do what you say you’re going to do.

This may be the hardest of all of them. You may sit down to that German epic poem, intending to study it inside and out, but your inner three-year-old wants cookies, ice cream, and a long session in front of the X-Station or PlayBox. This is the moment when maturity and self-discipline have to take center stage, especially if you’re missing Susie’s play for it. Once you’ve worked out what your time commitments are, follow through on them.

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6. Get your Zen on.

Sometimes there’s just too much going on at one time, particularly during midterms and finals. This is not automatically a bad thing. Stress can help us perform better and achieve more, but it has to be the right kind of stress. If you find yourself under too many kinds of negative stress, take a time-out. Watch a movie, meditate, indulge in one of your hobbies for a little while, or see if you can coax your spouse or significant other into a nice, relaxing romp in the bedroom. (Or the kitchen, or the living room…whatever works.) Once you feel a little less stressed, then get back to whichever variant(s) of work you have on your plate. You’ll be a lot more efficient when your mind and body are both calm and relaxed.

7. Get plenty of rest.

Our modern culture is full of slogans like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “Downtime is for the weak.” And it shows: scientific studies link sleep deprivation to every malady from diabetes to mental illness! It’s just not healthy not to take some downtime, and you won’t recall as much or as accurately if you try to “cram” as you will if you take a more measured approach to your studies.Numerous studies show that distributed practice (many shorter study sessions separated by periods of rest) result in better learning and performance than the famed all-nighter. While the desire to be all things to all people is commendable in one direction, ask yourself how much your degree will mean to you and your family if it’s awarded posthumously…and get as much sleep as you can.

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8. Remember to schedule recreation.

This is listed last, but should not be taken as an afterthought. Our culture is all about productivity and connectedness, leaving us feeling like a pariah if we take a day away from the Internet or the cell phone, or God forbid, the books! But rest isn’t just about sleep; it’s about relaxing and getting out of the grind for a while. Why not take the family on a hike, or go visit those friends who are almost certain you died or relocated to a foreign country because they haven’t seen you since sometime in the Pleistocene epoch? Sharing some laughter, good food, and maybe even a beer or two is a good way to lower your stress level and get yourself back on track. There’s a reason we call it “rest and recreation;” your body and mind need both. Your grades, the quality of your work, your health, and your relationship with your family will all benefit from it!

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget that your grades don’t define you, and your family will be just as proud of you with Cs as they will be if you’re pulling down As. At the end of the day, your family and friends are the ones who really matter.

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

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Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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