The Money Block

While sitting in a long line of traffic, I started thinking of a block that creeps into many people’s decision-making: they try to avoid spending money, but wind up losing opportunities that would have earned them more than they would have spent.

That day, the toll bridge in Seattle had been shut down, so all of us were shunted on to the other, non-toll, bridge. For $3.69, you can usually get across the toll-bridge quickly and easily. The other bridge has become a stop-and-go nightmare as so many drivers choose that route to save money. While I was experiencing the waste of time that many people willingly choose, I was thinking about how gladly I would have paid the toll so I could get back to my office an hour earlier and make some money. Instead, I was spending more time driving, NOT getting work done.

Traffic Jam!Fooled by a veneer of rationality?

Usually, a quick way to test whether you have an internal block is to look at whether your actions are rational or irrational. If, rationally speaking, you know it makes more sense to get your report into your boss early, or finish your billing on time, or hold your temper around a client, and yet you consistently do the opposite, it’s a fair bet that you have an internal block that is keeping you from acting rationally. Yet when saving money is part of the equation, our actions can sometimes appear rational on the surface even when a closer look shows us they are not. This veneer of rationality surrounding saving money can keep us from recognizing—and challenging—our own block.

Take that pesky toll. For most people reading this, $3.69 is a trivial amount of money. Pay the toll, if it will buy you upwards of half an hour of time, and you can put that half hour into things like completing projects early, getting more work done, or networking—any number of ways to impress your boss or lay the groundwork for a new job, either of which can lead to a lot more money in your pocket than the outlay for the toll. What is a half hour of your time worth, if you had to reach into you wallet and pay for it? If you own your own business, you can use the time to put your efforts into bringing in more clients, creating a new service or product your customers need, or other efforts to make your company more valuable. Finally, at the very least you could use that half hour for some real downtime (going for a walk in the park, playing with your kids, canoodling with your significant other) that will improve your mood, creativity, and/or quality of life. All for the low, low price of $3.69.

Saving Money Can Cost You

But so often, instead of looking at what an outlay brings us, we immediately think “I can’t afford it,” or “I don’t need that.” A lifelong habit of being careful with money—or a lesson painfully learned from a sudden loss of income—leads to an automatic rejection of any expenditure that we are not forced to make. And that can paradoxically lead to a loss of opportunities and therefore a loss of money.

There are a lot of things we “make do” with in order to save money that may in fact be losing us money. Anything that saves you time that you could better use to improve your business or advance your career can fall into this category. This includes everything from buying new software to having an expert prepare your taxes to picking up dinner at the deli counter on the way home. In fact, anything that you do that is not central to your business or career that could be outsourced is something to consider as a trade off for the dollar value of your time, like bookkeeping, chauffeuring the kids around, rotating the tires on your car, or cleaning your home or office.

Ooooh, that last one is an especially big bug-a-boo for a lot of people. Somewhere along the line they learned that it is morally wrong to pay someone else to clean for them when they are able-bodied enough to scrub their own toilets. But look what you lose when you take the time yourself to do that. You take time away from building up your business in ways that only you can. Just about anyone can vacuum; only you can do the rainmaking, or provide your professional services, or do whatever your customers come to you and not the other guy for. And if you work for someone else, taking time to clean your own home means you don’t have that time to get the certification you need for the next step in your career, or to meet someone in your field who could help you get into that great company you’ve had your eye on, or any of the other things that might move you up.

How To Determine Whether to Spend the Money or Not

To find out if you have a block around spending money that is preventing you from actually making money, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On the left-hand side, write down something you have been avoiding and what it would cost you to buy it. On the right-hand side, write down what it would buy you (e.g., “time to work on presentation” or “time to take on one more client”). Estimate what that could be worth to you. Yes, I mean a dollar amount (“a $5000 bonus” or “$30,000 for one additional client relationship over the next five year”). Now, come up with a percentage likelihood that you will achieve that benefit. (e.g., “15% likelihood that it will lead to the bonus” or “100% ability to work with potential client off my waitlist”). Multiply the potential worth by the percentage likelihood. If the resulting number is greater than what you wrote down on the left-hand side of the page, you have just shown yourself that the rational choice is to spend the money here.

Yes, I know your calculation is not really a hard and fast number, but it is a fairly rational way of estimating what the expenditure is likely worth to you. It is certainly better than a knee-jerk reaction of “spending any money is bad.” Then, if the upside looks like it is more valuable to you than what you have to pay to get it, it is time to spend the money. If it is just too speculative, don’t do it.

Got the Money Block?

Now, if the upside is more valuable than what you would pay and you still can’t bring yourself to do it, you’ve got yourself a money block. Do what you can to stay in your head, being rational, about the expenditure instead of just listening to your feelings that are screaming “Don’t waste money!” You’ve already calculated that it wouldn’t be a waste of money. So take a deep breath and make the commitment to doing the rational thing.

Of course, if you are currently working on a shoestring and you really have to pinch every penny, then you will have to trade some of your time for money, at least until you get some leeway into your system. Then, once you have more money that you can use to “buy” time, you will be able to shift your efforts from money-saving to more money-making efforts. For now, do what you have to. But keep doing those calculations. At some point, sooner than you expect, the upside of spending the money will outweigh the downside.

Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success; Change How You Think of Yourself

Today I want to give you a way to figure out whether your have a common block which can completely derail your progress. I’ll also give you a way to defuse it.

Although this block is common, it often manages to go unrecognized in most people since it only shows up when they start to make—and actually see—real progress towards their goals. That’s when it starts driving them to sabotage the progress they are making, which can be completely confusing as well as frustrating.

Why would anyone sabotage their own efforts just when they are starting to see some success?

tree trunkActually, it makes perfect sense that someone would sabotage themselves when they are starting to see improvement if the block they have is a fear of letting go of how they think of themselves. Take my client “Dominic,” an independent consultant who has a history of cycling back and forth between periods of expanding his client list and backing off from his business and letting it shrivel. He’s even been known to take a job in an entirely different field during a period where he is stepping away from his business. He truly loves what he does and wants to build a thriving practice, so we’ve been knocking down the internal blocks that get him off track.

After making some initial progress on his blocks, we decided to tackle his backlog of paperwork. Dominic had been letting his billing slide, which was doing a number on his cash flow. We made a plan, breaking down the project into several steps, then putting the steps on his calendar. We also made a plan for him get the billing done on a weekly basis going forward. What had seemed an insurmountable problem turned into something he could catch up on within a few days, then easily take care of after that. Dominic must have felt great, right?

Wrong. When I asked him how he was feeling, Dominic said with surprise in his voice that he was feeling “a little anxious.” As I asked more questions, he admitted that he didn’t know what it would be like to have his business running smoothly. He was a “flake.” Everybody knew that, including him. Who would he be when his business was thriving? He wouldn’t be that flake anymore. So who would he be?

Fear of losing…everything

When we have been holding a picture in our mind for a long time of who we are, anything that threatens to replace that picture can feel dangerous, even if on the surface we really want the change. It can seem to us, on some deeper level, that who we are will die if we change too much—even if we think the change is for the good. That’s extreme language, I know, but that’s how this block makes us feel. Then we will do anything, even sabotage what we want most in life, to avoid that frightening feeling.

Of course, we know that becoming more successful in our business or job will not make us die. But simply knowing that on an intellectual level does not change the emotional reaction we have to the “threat” to our self-image. And those emotions get triggered if we take a significant step towards change.

So if you notice that you start out full of good intentions on a new effort to move forward in your job or business, but pull back whenever you start to make progress, you may have this emotional block. If you have a pattern of doing something to screw up what had been off to a good start, you may have this block. Perhaps you just have a feeling that this might be a problem for you. If you have any of these indications, try this experiment.

What do you see when you visualize change, in detail?

Close your eyes. See yourself as more successful than you already are—maybe you are one more rung up the corporate ladder, or your business has a wait list of clients clamoring to hire you. Whatever you’ve been telling yourself is your next big goal, imagine you have achieved it and it’s effortless now. What do you look like? What does your workplace look like? Picture what you do during the day. Are you busy in important meetings? Traveling and giving presentations? Do you have more direct reports or people working for you? Who do you talk with and how do you interact with each other?

I assume that you will have more income. What are you doing with it? Imagine what it feels like to have more than you need to pay the bills, pay off all your debts, be able to go on more exotic vacations, pay for education, move to a bigger house, or donate more to your favorite charities—whatever you would do with the increase.

Now hear in your mind what the important people in your life are saying to you about your newfound success, whether that is your spouse, family members, clients, co-workers, bosses, or friends. Include important people from your past (your soccer coach, first wife, and brother you haven’t talked to in years). Don’t forget to “talk” to people who have died. Next, imagine what those same people are really thinking. Some of their thoughts will be the same as what they say to you, but some will be different.

If I’ve missed anything, be sure you put it into your picture. The goal is to really imagine all the aspects of your success. When you’ve spent some time getting a complete picture of this success and what it will change in your life, check out how you are feeling about it. You might expect to feel happy, excited, hopeful, even relieved, and you probably will feel some of those emotions. But if anything negative came up—like nervousness, worry, fear, heaviness, sadness, or overwhelm—some part of you is probably trying to avoid the loss of the “old” you.

Getting a negative feeling from inside yourself while visualizing your dreams coming true? Yep, you’ve got the block we’re talking about here.

Three simple steps to end the self-sabotage

One way to get around this block is to set aside time every day to do exactly what you just did. Visualize yourself as this more successful you, going through your day with all the perks of the success. You really only need to do this a few minutes at a time. But to make this work, you need to do three other things:

    • First, if negative things come into your visualization, like your boss yells at you, or you screw up and tick off your clients, or you are working too many hours, correct that part of the visualization. Visualize it again, but this time visualize the way you really want it to turn out (even if you have your boss acting out of character). After all, this is supposed to be the success you want, so see it that way.
    • Second, while visualizing, put each of your thumbs on the side of the index finger next to it and rub gently in slow circles near the base of the fingernail. This is a relaxation technique that will help you let go of the negative emotions that come up when you are visualizing your own success. This is key, since those negative emotions are the ones that are driving you to sabotage yourself when success starts to loom on the horizon.
    • Keep doing this exercise for a few minutes each day until the new you feels comfortable, and there are no more negative emotions connected to seeing yourself as successful.

We usually think that, to change how we think of ourselves, first we have to change what we do. It’s counterintuitive to think we have to change how we think of ourselves in order to change what we do, but that is exactly how you will get past this particular block.

So if you’ve discovered you have this block—you’re thinking of yourself as less successful than you want to be—it’s time to get started changing your thoughts. Until you do, it’s going to be nearly impossible to change what you are doing.

For two other ways to improve how you see yourself, check out my articles on visualizing yourself tackling things you have been avoiding and on dressing for success.

The Art of Recovering From Mistakes

Car Repair and Mistake Recovery Mastery“Tim” told me about a mistake he made this week. He’d driven out to a suburb for a meeting only to discover after he got there that he had arrived a day early. It seemed he’d not checked his calendar that morning because he was certain he had the right day. He had lost an hour of work time driving back and forth and he was mad at himself. “That was just stupid”, he told me.

Actually, he lost more than that hour of driving. He spent additional time and energy calling himself names, thinking about what he hadn’t gotten done, and worrying about what it meant that he had made that mistake (“Am I losing it?!”). Then it took even more time to get his focus back to what he had been working on. So by dwelling on all the negatives and potential negatives of his mistake, Tim compounded the damage of it.

Tim’s is a common reaction to making mistakes in our culture. And it’s an unfortunate one. It not only wastes time and focus, it prevents us from taking advantage of our mistakes.

So what should you do to recover when you make a mistake? There are three levels of mastery of the Art of Recovering From Mistakes.

Novice mistake recovery

The beginner level of recovering from mistakes involves a quick shrug of the shoulders, a message of “Oh well, everyone makes mistakes,” and getting back to business. When you do this you limit the fallout from your mistake to just the mistake itself. But there is so much more you can do.

Advanced mistake recovery

At the advanced level of recovering from mistakes you use the mistake to improve yourself or your situation. Yes, this means looking at your mistake as a “learning experience”. Start by asking yourself nuts-and-bolts process questions like “What led me to do this?” and “What could I do differently?”. These kinds of questions could help you put in place new procedures to streamline your work, for example. When Tim thought about why he didn’t check his calendar, he realized that it was somewhat inconvenient to access it during his morning routine. That started him thinking of ways to make it easier to check first thing in the morning. He also realized that he doesn’t have enough activities on it that are exciting to him (ever had one of those “too many boring meetings” calendars before?). He’s already gearing up to do more networking with people and companies he is interested in, so he will “redouble his efforts” to spice up his calendar with more interesting events.

Expert mistake recovery

Finally, we get to the mastery level. A master in the Art of Recovering From Mistakes looks at the mistake as a something that will lead to a good result. The bigger the problem the greater the opportunity for improvement.

We’ve all heard of Posttraumatic Stress, in which someone is so overwhelmed by a life-threatening experience that their ability to cope in daily life after the experience is seriously compromised. There is a lesser-known reaction to highly challenging experiences called Posttraumatic Growth, which has been getting more study since the 1990’s. In Posttraumatic Growth, the person undergoes positive changes from their very difficult circumstances, such as reshuffling their priorities, improvements in their close relationships, and increased belief in their own abilities.

How would such growth look in a career or business context? Think about the employee who gets fired. Research has found that the same part of the brain that reacts to mortal danger also responds to financial losses, so the fallout from losing your job can be highly traumatic. And yet we’ve all heard of someone who said that getting fired, or laid off, was the best thing that could have happened to them. They went back for new training to get a higher-paying job, discovered a career that was more fulfilling, or finally started that business they had been dreaming about for so long.

How do you turn a very difficult circumstance—or even a huge mistake of your own making—into an opportunity for growth like this? You need to ask yourself some big questions: What can I learn from this? What does this mean for me? Don’t get stuck on the cheap answers like “I’m a loser” or “my boss is always out to get me.” Push yourself. Ask “What good can I make come out of this.” And give yourself time. Come back to these questions over the next few weeks and even months. The answers can and do lead to profound changes for the better.

Tom and Ray’s Big Mistake

Tom and Ray Magliozzi (aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of NPR’s Car Talk) had a brilliant idea: they opened a do-it-yourself car repair shop in the ‘70s called Hacker’s Haven, renting space and tools to people who wanted to work on their own cars. It was supposed to earn them millions. It didn’t. It wasn’t even profitable. So it was a mistake, right?

Not so fast. Their experience with Hacker’s Haven led Tom to be invited to be part of a panel discussing car repair on the local Boston NPR affiliate. Only Tom showed up, and he took over the show. From that, the two brothers got a local radio show they did for years, then were asked to contribute weekly to a national NPR show, and finally were given their own weekly national show. The Magliozzi brothers could have decided that Hacker’s Haven was a big, embarrassing mistake and let themselves be weighed down by it. Instead, it turned out to be a stepping stone to something much bigger.

Now you could argue that this was just serendipity. A one-in-a-million accident. So I’ll give you another example.

Bob Proctor’s Big Opportunity

Bob Proctor started an office cleaning business in Canada and then built up a multimillion dollar consulting business in both Canada and the US. He went on to become a business consultant, writer and motivational speaker in high demand. He told a story about his first book, which he had written in longhand before the advent of personal computers. He had almost finished it when he discovered he had left the manuscript, his only copy, in the back of a taxi on one of his business trips. His wife tried to track it down, calling all the cab companies in the city, but no luck. It was gone.

Proctor could have gotten angry about the loss. He could have given up on the whole book idea, which might have ended his speaking career before it began. Instead, he calmly told his wife that it was okay, he would just write the book over and make it better, which he did. When the book finally came out, his company had grown and he had also established his company in the US. Since had a bigger base of his own clients to offer it to, the book did much better than it would have if it had come out earlier. Because Proctor saw his “mistake” as an opportunity to do better, he ended up in a better place than he would have been if he had not made any mistake.

So if you make a mistake, remember the levels of mastery. First, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes; it’s not the end of the world. Second, ask yourself what you can learn from it. Finally, start cultivating an attitude that mistakes hold within them the seeds of greater things, and expect to find those things. If you don’t give up, your “mistakes” may take you much farther in your career or business than doing everything perfectly.

3 Simple Ways to Build Up The Businessperson Inside You

Are you the same businessperson on the outside as you are on the inside?
Are you the same businessperson on the outside as you are on the inside?

When you think about yourself in your work, do you see yourself as successful, competent, professional, just the way you want others to see you? If your answer is “yes,” then this tip is not for you. But if you see yourself in any other way—e.g., as a little kid in the corporate grown-up’s world, or as an arty type who’s floundering as a businessperson, or as a small-time player only pretending to do what you’re claiming to do and hoping no one sees through you—then read on.

I’ve found with many of my clients that one of the biggest internal blocks they have is that they don’t believe they are the person they are trying to be. They focus on what they are doing, thinking that if they just do what they are supposed to in their role, they will grow into it and finally be, and feel, successful. While there is no denying that you have to do what your boss, clients or customers need, how you see yourself—whether that is as a respected VP or successful business owner or, conversely, as the complete opposite—will also have a big impact on how well you succeed.

Take for example the solopreneur who knows she has a great service that other people need. She’s knows the marketing steps she needs to take to get the word out so customers who need her can find her. But she sees herself as someone who just isn’t a “real” businessperson, just someone who’s dabbling in her business. When she considers going to networking events, or giving presentations, or fielding calls from prospective customers, that internal view of herself is not only going to block her from doing things she needs to do (“oh well, maybe I’ll skip this networking event since I’m not likely to impress any potential customers”), it’s going to leak out when she does get out there and talk with people (like mumbling her words when she asks if they would like to buy her service).

When you feel like you’re faking it, it’s almost impossible to keep all of the discomfort you’re feeling from showing up in the subtle ways you hold yourself and act. Even those who are able to “stop up all the leaks” still aren’t presenting themselves as powerfully as they could if they weren’t using so much energy to combat the negative image they have of themselves.

Of course, there is some power in the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it.” You will get more confident the more you do something, but it takes time and that can lead to lost opportunities. So I recommend taking a shortcut to get that confidence more quickly: start doing things to see yourself as the successful person you want to become.

Dress for the part you’re playing.

First, be sure you look the part. There is a truism in career coaching that, instead of dressing for the job you have, you should dress for the job at least one step above you on the corporate ladder. The reason given is usually that you are more likely to get noticed and thought of as being capable of handling that role. This is true and not to be sneezed at, but there is an even more powerful reason in my book. When you dress a certain way, you start to act that way.

I once heard that when judges put on their black robes, something changes inside of them. They feel like a judge and start to act more authoritatively than before. Similarly, military people keep their uniforms carefully tended. Think of the sergeant yelling “Tuck in that shirt. Shine those shoes. You’re a Soldier now!” or words like it to the new recruits at bootcamp. Dressing that way helps the recruits start to act with the conviction that they are soldiers.

So consider how the person you want to be dresses. This is especially important for small business owners. Maybe you think you can get away with wearing old T-shirts and jeans, or even a robe and fuzzy slippers, since most days you don’t see customers. Don’t do it! You need to change the way you see yourself. Dress every day as if you were going to meet a potential customer. The more you dress the part, the more you’ll believe in the “new you.” (Plus, you never know when you’ll meet a potential client at the local cafe.)

For the same reason, keep your grooming up. Successful business professionals typically don’t let their hair get shaggy, or pour on the goth eyeliner of their rebellious youth. You want to catch sight of your reflection in store windows and wonder who that successful person is, not reinforce the idea that you’re somehow not good enough.

Gather photographic proof that you are the person you want to be.

You can get a regular boost from seeing pictures of yourself looking the way you want to look. Perhaps you have a photo of you with an expression of complete determination as you are going down the rapids on your last vacation. Or one from your sister’s wedding where you are holding your head up with great confidence. Maybe you have an easy smile in a candid shot from your last training. Gather up as many photos like this as you can find. Put together a collage of them and hang it on the back of your door. Use them as rotating wallpaper on your laptop. Or put them around your home where you’ll notice them every day.

If you have trouble coming up with photos that speak to you of the success you want, get a good headshot. A lot of people try to save money by hunting around for a decent candid shot from the last company retreat, or use a photo from ten years ago that is “good enough” on their websites, business cards or announcements. That won’t accomplish what you want. You need a headshot that shows the parts of you that are capable, confident, professional—whatever it is you are trying to grow into. Just know that you have those abilities already, even if you haven’t exercised them as much as you’d like. A good photographer can capture the moments when those expressions shine through. You’ll probably have to wade through a lot of mediocre shots, but that’s normal. Don’t get discouraged. There will be a few that make you say “Wow” when you see them.

Don’t skimp on this. Ask around for referrals to a photographer who has a good reputation for getting great shots of businesspeople and go with them. You’re looking for someone who can capture the sparkle in the eye of people who don’t spend their lives in front of a camera. (Not everyone offers this service. I know of a small business owner who went to a photographer who worked with models and actors. She was shocked when she found out he hadn’t been practicing his smile for their shoot. And neither of them liked any of the pics she took.) A good headshot can really remind you of who you are becoming.

Stand up straight and smile. (Really.)

How you hold your body and your expression are additional ways you can start to change how you think of yourself. Remember that soldier? He is taught to stand at attention with “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Try it now. You actually feel more confident when you stand or sit that way. And there is a famous study in which people making certain expressions (e.g., anger, fear) for a time started to feel the emotion they were mimicking, even though they hadn’t felt that way when they began. So channel your mother. Remind yourself to stand up straight and smile at times during the day. (Don’t smile constantly though. That’s just creepy.)

If you take these simple steps to change the external you, you’ll be on your way to changing the internal view you have of yourself.

Change your blocks into your strengths

I confess that today’s tip is not for everyone. But before you dismiss it as not being right for you, be sure to really try it on for size. You may discover that you can make this change. If you can, it will make a huge difference in your work.

“Mark” has blocks to growing his business. He came to me knowing that he procrastinates and misses deadlines. As we delved further, he identified a pattern of starting out on a project for a client with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He would analyze the client’s problem, identify what they needed to be doing, create a new process, and then implement it. Those first few months were glorious as Mark delivered just what his client needed.

Then the tedium would set in. Maintaining his great process was boring. Newer, more exciting projects would take precedence and he would start to put off doing the first client’s work. Now the client wasn’t so happy with him anymore. And, truth be told, he wasn’t happy with himself, but he couldn’t seem to knuckle down and just do the work.

So, what’s the answer for Mark? Well, there are actually two possibilities. First, we could look for an internal block that is keeping him from simply getting the work done on time. Is there a downside to succeeding — loss of friends, fear of becoming too busy to play with his kids, worry that he will outshine siblings? Does he have “old programming” that kicks in whenever he is doing too well, telling him that only greedy people make a lot of money or that he is too artistic to succeed in business? Once we identify the internal block, we can get rid of it, leaving him free to carry on with the mundane (but still lucrative) part of his business.

hand off responsibilities so that they don't become blocks to accomplishent
Hand-off certain responsibilities so that they don’t become blocks to accomplishment (Photo credit: Patrick Bell / Flickr user druidicparadise)

Before we did that, though, I wanted to check out the second approach. What if his reluctance to do the more mundane work was simply an acknowledgement by some part of him that such work was not his strength. Perhaps he is “a fixer” through and through and the daily work should be turned over to a “doer.” If that were the case, he could turn that block into a strength by building his business around his strength of “fixing.” He could be the one who goes into a client from the outside, puts his new processes in place, then hands the new system back to the client for continued maintenance by one of its employees. Alternatively, if he really wanted to keep the maintenance part of the business, Mark could hire someone himself to do that work while he monitored his employee and personally kept in touch with his client on a regular, but less onerous, basis.

Either approach would allow him to keep doing the analyzing and fixing he truly enjoyed and skip the dull work he hated. His clients would be happier. And he would be seen as the hero instead of the one with a follow-through problem.

Now think of your own business or job. What are your strengths? What do you love to do? What do clients (or bosses) rave about? Now think about ways for you to focus on those strengths while delegating the work you dislike — your “blocks” — to someone else.

In our culture, we usually get hung up at this “handoff” stage on three different things. One, we grew up believing that we have to improve those parts of our work that are weaker. Remember that comment on elementary school report cards, “Needs Work”? We are not taught to think, “I’m not very good at spelling so I’ll give it to Johnny across the table and he’ll give me his multiplication tables.” No, we are told to focus on our weaknesses to improve them. So, first up, remember that you are not in school anymore. You do not have to do everything and do it well. You just need to make sure that someone is doing what needs to be done.

Second, many of us are worried that if we delegate something, it won’t get done right. We want to control everything, and we can’t control what someone else does. This is true. It is also entirely beside the point. You want to make the most of your strengths, so give away something you are weaker at. By definition you aren’t the best person for that job. There are plenty of other people who are better at it. In addition, you can get better results by delegating even when you delegate something you are good at. The art of effective delegation is a topic for another time, but for now just remember the old adage: two heads are better than one. Someone else will have different experiences, viewpoints and ideas to bring to a problem. Their plan and execution could be better than yours. Alternatively, together you can create something better than either of you alone.

Finally, entrepreneurs often get trapped into thinking they have to do everything in their business from answering the phones to changing the light bulbs. Yes, that may save you money when you are starting out, but if you don’t get away from it quickly it will stunt your growth. How can you add a new product or client if you are already working flat out? How can you impress your existing and potential clients if you are completely exhausted from wordprocessing, bookkeeping and filing every night and cleaning the office and filling orders on weekends? The short answer is you can’t. Don’t try. Figure out what your clients come to you for and do that. Everything else is fair game to be delegated.

There are a lot of ways to delegate. For business owners who simply have too much to do, you can contract out tasks (think bookkeeping, virtual office assistance, cleaning services). You could also hire part-time or full-time employees for specific areas of work. If you feel like you are missing something key to making your business grow — say, you love to learn everything you can and stay on the cutting edge of your field but aren’t good at networking and bringing in new clients — you can join with a partner who has that skill.

If you are not a business owner, this approach may be harder to implement but you may still be able to make it work. If you are in a position to hire direct reports to “fill in the gaps” for you, do it. You will probably need to understand what they do, but it will still be better to have someone do the detailed work. If you can’t delegate to a direct report, see if you can develop your strengths to the extent that you become a “star” at what you do and can expect your employer to find others to do what you are not good at. I once worked in a law firm with a partner who excelled at writing appellate briefs. She was one of the few attorneys who was not expected to go out on golf courses and bring in new clients.

What about Mark? He is intrigued by the idea of turning his blocks into strengths, but nevertheless wants to root them out. I’m happy to help him do that since I know, once they are gone, he can still choose to focus on his strengths in his business.

So think about how you might be able to turn your blocks into strengths. It could be a much simpler solution to your problems!

How to Know How Much Sleep You Need

In my last article I listed some compelling reasons why business owners, independent professionals and executives need to make getting enough sleep a priority, at least if they need to think, have insights, be creative, or stay healthy to be successful. But how do you know how much sleep you actually need?

You need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night

The first thing to know is that almost all adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Yes, there are a few outliers—a tiny number of people who consistently sleep less than seven hours then wake refreshed, and who never seem to have their health compromised by it. If you have that particular genetic anomaly, congratulations. I am definitely jealous of you.

alarm clockFor the rest of us, that kind of sleep schedule would be physically, emotionally, and cognitively punishing. If we want to have the many benefits of good sleep, we need to start by scheduling enough pillow time.

Now, everyone’s sleep need is individual. So how do you know where you fall on that 7-9 hour spectrum?

How Much Exactly? The Test

Continue reading “How to Know How Much Sleep You Need”

This Is Your Brain On Too Little Sleep

Mom was right: you need your sleep. The research that has been pouring in has been telling us over and over that we all need enough sleep. When we don’t get it, all sorts of bad things happen. We eat more. We get depressed. We get anxious. We have more accidents. With too much sleep loss we develop chronic and life-threatening problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

These are all excellent reasons to make sleep a priority, but many people fail to act on them the same way we fail to exercise or eat healthier even though we know the importance of both. We are pretty good at discounting the downsides of losing sleep with a “Maybe someday that could happen to me, but I don’t have time to think about it now. I’ve got too much to do!”

Asleep at work
from Flickr user Cell105

We are all so busy, it can seem like a reasonable trade to give up an hour or two (or three) of sleep and suffer those consequences in the future just to get more done in the present. But it’s not. Let me tell you what losing sleep actually does to your work right now.

First, losing sleep lowers your ability to concentrate and think through cognitive tasks. And this can happen with just one night of too little sleep.

In addition, your creativity and insight drop. Perhaps some folks don’t need to be able to make connections and come up with new ideas to succeed, but the executives, professionals and business owners I work with all see those abilities as essential to what they do. Again, you only need one night of short sleep to lose ground.

A night of too little sleep also often leads to irritability, which is not great for bringing in new business, dealing with higher-ups, keeping customers happy, or even getting the best out of those people working for you.

You might have memory lapses or even memory loss as you lose more and more sleep.

Finally, lack of sleep lowers your immune system, making it more likely that you will get sick. How productive were you the last time you had the flu? Or even just a cold?

For any and all these reasons, if you don’t get enough sleep your career or your business will suffer. So follow the example of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and insist on getting the right amount of sleep every night to be able to do your work.

Next time I’ll help you figure out how much sleep you need. Until then, pleasant dreams!

I’m Giving a Sleep Teleseminar

Yesterday, September 25, I recorded four half-hour sessions for a teleseminar with Kris Ferraro of the Tapping Insiders Club. It’s an overview of my 4-step Unblock Sleep System with plenty of tapping to get people started on letting go of the stress that is keeping them from sleeping.

I think it went well. (Kris said it did, but then she is a very nice person who was most supportive.) I’ve never done a teleseminar before, but once we got going it was easy to talk to Kris, tell her what the 4 steps are and share some of my tips and techniques for getting to sleep. In fact, it was fun!

I’m told the teleseminar will “go live” on November 3rd. It will be restricted to members of the Tapping Insiders Club. If you are interested, you can check out what that’s all about at http://www.thetappingsolution.com/join-tic/

It’s pretty exciting. It’s also a bit intimidating since it has given me a deadline to complete my Unblock Sleep System so I have ready for anyone who wants it by November 3rd. I’ve been working on it for I don’t know how long. (Years, if you count all the work with individual clients that went into my knowledge base.) Well, that just proves what I’ve been telling my clients–if you want to get something done, set a deadline.

So back to wrapping up all the loose ends on my System. I’ll make an announcement when it is available.

Sleep Aids and Alzheimer’s

A study just released has found a correlation between using benzodiazepine and developing Alzheimer’s disease.

This is scary stuff as benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep problems. Here are a few of the medications prescribed to treat insomnia that contain benzodiazepine: Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Halcion (triazolam), Restoril (temazepam), Doral (quazepam), Serax (oxazepam), and ProSom (estazolam), among others.

If I read the Harvard Health Blog correctly, people in the study who used benzodiazepine for 3 to 6 months had a 32% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Those who took it for more than 6 months raised their risk to 84%. In addition, those on long-acting drugs like Valium were at a higher risk than those prescribed short-acting drugs like Ativan and Xanax.

Now correlation is not the same as causation. It could be that people had the symptoms these meds were prescribed to help because they were developing Alzheimer’s, not that the medication use caused them to develop Alzheimer’s. Still, the possibility is troubling.

It will take more research to determine what causes what. Still, the connection is alarming.

By the way, if you are currently taking a medication with benzodiazepine in it and want to get off the drug, talk to your doctor first about the best way to do that. There can be serious, even dangerous, side effects from going cold turkey.

Sleep and Screens

One of the surprises I ran into as I researched sleep problems is that screen time–watching TVs, computers, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, iPads, etc.–lowers your ability to sleep. This was a surprise to me as I have several friends and relatives who use the TV to wind down at the end of the day and get to sleep.

Apparently that is not a good plan for people with sleep issues. While all light will wake you up, those flickering lights from back-lit screens are the worst. They tell your brain that it is daytime, and time to be awake. One study showed that two hours spent looking at a “self-luminous electronic display” will suppress melatonin by 22 percent. Melatonin regulates your sleep cycle, so you need it to get to sleep.

The experts have a few recommendations to avoid this problem. First, limit your total screen time to lower the effect on your melatonin production. Second, take a break from the screens for two hours before you want to fall asleep. That gives your brain some time to realize it is nighttime, and it might be a good idea to get sleepy. Third, if you have to have a screen on right before bed, dim the light to lower its effect on your melatonin levels.

All of this confirms my recent decision to record most of the sleep program I have been working on in audio format. To be honest, I made that decision when I found out just how much it would take me to do everything in video. I realized I just wasn’t up to the task, despite taking on-line trainings and getting myself familiar with a webcam that is highly recommended for exactly the kind of trainings I have in mind.

So I choose to look at my stepping away from the video-format as a positive for my program. I will do just a couple of videos, and do the rest of the training as audios. That way, people can listen to the program right before bed–or even cue up tapping exercises to use when they wake up in the middle of the night–and it won’t keep them awake.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a look at how much time you stare at screens during the day, and especially in the hours before bedtime. Maybe it’s time to read a book instead!