You may be a hot shot in the corporate world, but are you a procrastinator in your personal life? Many of us are. As a balance coach, I get to see first-hand how often highly capable and successful individuals struggle to put sufficient time and effort into their personal development projects.
Take a client of mine – let’s call her Lucy. In our coaching sessions, we had agreed that she would work on creating and taking steps to build her personal brand as a homework task. It’s an important part of the babyproofing process and we had discussed at length all the elements involved during our sessions. All that remained for her to do was to spend an hour or so of her own time organising her thoughts and writing up a definition of her personal brand in her own words.
But Lucy is struggling.
Despite me nudging, prompting and what she likes to call “polite bullying” – her special term for the way I hold her accountable for the commitments she makes in her coaching sessions – and even though she absolutely acknowledges the importance of the task, it remains on her ‘to do’ list three months down the line. As a coach, this scenario fascinates me and it’s one I come across regularly. Why, when everything points to the importance of doing something, when the benefits are so clear, and when we are intellectually invested in a process, do many of us subconsciously or consciously resist getting on with it?
It’s because it’s optional.
A task like this is hugely beneficial – but obviously is not necessary in order for Lucy to continue to work successfully as a corporate lawyer or manage her home life. She can carry on just fine without doing the task, even if she knows she would fare better by doing it. If it’s something we don’t have to do, it’s obviously much harder to get round to doing it. Right?
Well I’d like to change that perception. In this blog, I’d like to show you how taking some time to focus on what I call ‘important but optional’ work can pay dividends for balancing a successful career and family life. I will demonstrate how doing something optional like working on your personal development by building your personal brand is both worthwhile and extremely important. And if your response to what I’ve said so far is “that sounds great, but..” then this blog is definitely for you. If you’re a well intentioned doubter, like Lucy, let’s start by addressing the possible objections to doing this ‘optional’ work:
1. I’m doing fine without it..
As we’ve seen, Lucy is already a successful corporate lawyer in an international law firm in the City. When she moved company, she had several job offers to choose from. All this without ever having defined a personal brand – so why put in the effort to build one now?
- It makes you less vulnerable. The idea of a job for life is disappearing these days, even in professions like the law. We have a highly mobile work force where changing jobs is common, and more importantly, jobs are less secure. Having a personal brand – a clear way of articulating who you are, what you stand for and the value you bring – is an essential career asset that will make you less vulnerable in challenging times.
- It gives you more opportunities. Your personal brand is an attractive, easy to understand package – and if you promote it correctly, will bring you greater opportunities. When employers, customers, clients, press etc. are looking for a specific offering, having a personal brand makes it easier for them to identify and find you.
- It makes you valuable. Your personal brand defines what is unique and special about you – it outlines why your particular expertise is different from anyone else’s. Special expertise is rare and sought after – you become a valuable asset in the workplace.
- It gives you confidence. Defining your personal brand means finding your ‘voice’ as that brand – consistently developing and presenting the real ‘you’ to the world. As you have more interactions using this voice and receive positive responses, so your personal brand identity strengthens and you gain confidence and self-esteem.
- It gives you authenticity. Many people struggle to be authentic at work, thinking they have to pretend to be someone or something they’re not. To have a personal brand means to know and demonstrate what makes you unique and show that that’s where your value lies. It enables you to ‘be you’. No more faking it! (Have a look at my blog on finding your unique value here).
2. I hate this kind of thing..
Lucy is a high-achieving lawyer and as such she is practical, logical and factual in her approach to life. The kind of reflective soul-searching required to define a personal brand is out of her comfort zone. It makes her uneasy – and it’s interesting quite how many people feel similar discomfort when asked to tackle this kind of self-discovery exercise.
- There’s no easy answer! It may make you feel uncomfortable, but this type of work is important. Reflecting on who you are, what matters to you and drives you, finding a way to articulate and project what you stand for – these are not trivial matters. The questions they derive from are the big ones: Who am I? What matters to me? What do I stand for? What unique value do I have to offer? And they are key to you finding what you want from life. Reflecting on these things may challenge the way you think or involve changing old habits. The discomfort you feel means you’re progressing, and that your brain is adapting to new ideas. Embrace the struggle! (Have a look at my blog on overcoming mental barriers here).
3. I don’t have time.
Lucy is a lawyer. Busy is her middle name. She spends most of her time cranking up billable hours and meeting impossible deadlines, then trying to squeeze a satisfying fulfilling personal life into the scraps of time that remain. As a rule, if it’s not on fire, she doesn’t have time for it. Is it any wonder she can’t find an hour to work on her personal brand?
– Time is not the enemy; we have the power to control our own lives. I often quote Seneca – “Life is long if you know how to use it” and this has become a philosophy I try to live by. Of course modern life is busy – work, family, information overload – it’s easy to fill every minute of the day; our ‘to do’ lists are never ending. But time doesn’t control our lives, we can control it. We just need to be more thoughtful, disciplined and deliberate about how we use it. This means making conscious decisions every day to spend our time in a way that serves us and brings us the results we want.
This of course means prioritising, and planning our time. Shortage of time problems are never actually about time, they are really about priorities. So what do you do with ‘important but optional’ work that by its very nature isn’t seen as a priority? Well my question to you is; if building a personal brand, and the difference this can make to your job security, your opportunity to progress through the ranks at work, your confidence and your ability to be authentic at work, isn’t important enough to make a priority right now, then what is? If your current priority is not personal branding, what would it take for this to rise to the top of the list? A round of redundancies at your office? The sudden realisation that you’re not making the career progress you want? Think about whether you could in fact be prioritising this optional work over some other things in your life. You can get some tips on how to take better control of your time in my blog post here .
So we’ve looked at the issues involved in doing important optional work — but what’s the solution?
Introducing my ‘Make Mondays Matter’ strategy.
- Block out the 1st hour of every week in your calendar and dedicate this time to your important optionals. Monday morning is the one part of the week you have most control over and the time when you should have the most enthusiasm and motivation following the weekend when ideally you’ve had time to recharge your batteries.
- Choose one important optional. The example I’ve focused on here is building a personal brand, but it could just as easily be discovering your values or building your network.
- Decide on your goal and commit to achieving this over the coming 4 to 6 weeks – (the appropriate time frame will depend on the goal).
- Decide on your strategy. You can learn from books, online research, coaching, this blog – there’s no shortage of advice available on how to achieve important optionals. (I frequently provide step by step guides to achieving important optionals like building your personal brand –(see my guide to building your personal brand here) or knowing your values (click here to download my discover your values exercise).
- Honour your commitment. That means expecting to feel and experience all of the objections I’ve talked about in this blog, knowing there’ll be a voice in your head that says “I’m doing fine without it”, or “I hate this type of thing” or “I don’t have time for this”. Expect to feel this way on a Monday morning when you see this in your calendar. And then honour your commitment to yourself the way you would a commitment to your boss, and do it anyway!
What should you do if you usually have meetings first thing on a Monday morning? Get up early and find that hour before your working day starts. Convinced you’re not a morning person, or unsure how you could achieve this? Then read my piece on getting up early here.
I hope that something in this blog will spur you on to take the action you need to move your life forward and that I’ve provided a useful starting strategy for tackling the important but optional tasks in your life. Why not reflect on the reasons you’re not making a conscious effort to build your personal brand right now? Is there an objection I haven’t covered? if so, write and let me know!
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org