You don’t need a New Year’s resolution to set in motion a positive change in your life. However, you do need to set goals and put a plan into action. Many times we are not taught to set goals. Yes, we may find ourselves dreaming about a better vacation, getting out of debt or owning a business when the boss asks us to work yet, another weekend. But effective goal setting is more than just talking or dreaming about what you want to accomplish. There are specific steps to successful goal setting. Here are some guidelines to help you establish your goals and achieve them.
The foundation to a goal begins with a want, desire or a dream. First of all, you must search yourself for the wants, desires and dreams that you have and select those that make the most sense for you to accomplish. Even though you may want to take a cruise around the world, does it make sense to go on that cruise this coming year or are there more important things to do? Only you can evaluate your personal situation. Now that you have decided what you want to do or change in your life, you must write these down on paper. Writing helps cement these specific goals into your brain and makes them available for constant review.
What turns wants, desires and dreams into goals is adding a time frame for accomplishing them. Without a time frame, you may never start taking the appropriate actions you need to accomplish your goals. A time frame will help keep procrastination away. For each of the goals you have written down, select a completion date. Be somewhat aggressive here. If you are feeling a sense of urgency, then you will be more apt to stay focused and work through any obstacles.
Take your goals and make an outline of each step needed to make that goal a reality. Write your plan down. Break your plan into “bite-size” accomplishments. For example, if you want to change positions at your job and this new position requires experience in a new software, then you need to first register for the classes, then take them and finally complete the classes. You can celebrate each “bite-size” accomplishment. Let’s say you want to lose weight so create a diet and exercise program to lose 20 pounds. Remember, “bite-size” actions…so set a plan to lose the 20 pounds over 40 weeks; basically a pound every two weeks.
Have your goals where you can access them at any time. Put them on your computer, put them in your planner, put them in your purse, put them in your car, put them everywhere so you can review them to make sure that you are directing your actions toward the accomplishment of these important goals you have set for yourself. Reviewing your goals often helps keep them on the forefront of your mind. Remember your Mother saying, “out of sight, out of mind”, this is true for your goals. If you are not constantly reminding yourself about what it is you need to do, then you will fall victim to failure. Written goals without action are worthless scraps of paper. No plan can be accomplished without you making the necessary actions to achieve it. With your goals in hand, you can judge every action you take to determine if it will help you accomplish your goals and if necessary make small tweaks along the way to keep you on track.
What does the future hold? Will you have those things that you dream about or will you settle for what you currently have? Only you can decide. WHY NOT make this the year for a positive change in YOUR life and those you love. There is no BETTER time than now!
You may not have thought about this, but everyday you use your negotiating skills. Have you ever asked the plumber to discount his repair bill or asked if there are any special room rates available at the hotel you’re planning to stay at? Have you ever interviewed for a position or asked your boss for a raise? In every example you NEGOTIATED your position in an effort to better your situation. There is nothing wrong with using different means to improve your situation. However, many times in our careers, we pass up great opportunities for a promotion or a raise or to work on an exciting, high profile assignment because we don’t: 1) SEE the opportunity to ask for a better situation or 2) we don’t feel comfortable ASKING for the better situation. As a side note, sometimes number 2 leads to number 1 because we aren’t on the lookout for good opportunities since we are not planning to act upon them even if they come our way.
If we were more confident about our sales skills (yes, it boils down to just plain old sales), we can control our destiny rather than allowing other people (like our boss, our coworkers, and yes, even the plumber) to be in the driver’s seat. You may think you don’t have the “makings” of a super sales person, but successful negotiating can easily be broken down into these simple elementary steps:
Do your homework! Gather all the facts BEFORE you start negotiating. Anticipate questions and know the answers beforehand. For example, if you are asking for a raise, research the salary ranges of your particular position. If possible, make copies of the supporting documents to show them during your negotiations.
If you are contemplating asking for a raise here are a couple of web sites with salary information based on job title and location: http://www.salary.com/ (a bit cumbersome, but has good information) and http://www.indeed.com/ (simple to use, but less comprehensive information).
This is one of the secrets to successful negotiating. It is natural to start arguing with the other person when they disagree with you – Fight the Urge! Arguing with someone only puts them on the defensive. If the other person is upset and on the defensive, they are no longer “open” to hearing what you have to say – you’ve lost. When the other person disagrees with you (anticipate this will happen), GET on THEIR SIDE. Example: If your boss says, “I can’t give you a raise, because your coworker, Aiden, didn’t get one”. You say, “You’re right. Aiden may not have gotten a raise and you had a very good reason why he didn’t. In my situation…..”
This is especially crucial if you are negotiating numbers such as determining your starting salary at a new job (to be prepared beforehand you can use the salary websites referenced above to help determine your potential salary range). The problem with establishing the starting negotiating number is that you may come in too low or too high, but you will never know until it is too late. If the other person “shows their hand” first, you will be able to establish the range in which you can negotiate. Whenever anyone starts negotiating, they have a range in mind and they will always start at the bottom of that range. Once you know that number, work your strategy around it. If it is near your number continue negotiating. If there is a large gap, move away from negotiating the number and keep building your case with more facts.
It is important to establish the bottom number you will accept…and STICK WITH IT. If you don’t have a number in mind before you start negotiating, you will find yourself accepting a lower number than you wanted to. It is easy to get caught up in the negotiating process and lose track of the purpose of your meeting.
In most negotiations, there must be a winner and a loser. However, sometimes you can have a “Win-Win” situation, by conceding to divide the difference between your number and the other person’s number. This way both parties feel like winners, because they did not have to completely give up their positions. Many deals have been saved by offering to “split the difference”. If you can accept the midpoint and you feel the negotiations are stalling, OFFER to split the difference. Most reasonable negotiators will accept your offer.
As you can see, successful negotiating does not take any “magical” skills – you don’t need to be a super salesperson to get what you want. Just apply these simple steps to both your professional and personal life and we will MEET YOU AT THE TOP.
The key to securing the position you want is showing your potential employer that you are the most qualified candidate. It is not about how great your resume looks or what you did at your previous job, but how you will solve their problems. Only half the battle is won at the interview. The final winning blow is dealt at the end with your follow up letter.
It is quite obvious that you will be promoting your skills and work experience during the interview, but make sure you walk out of the meeting with a clear understanding of what the specific job responsibilities are. Because an effective follow up letter does not just thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration, but also reconfirms each key qualification of the position and explains how each one will be met by you.
Before you leave the meeting make sure you have the interviewer’s business card. You will need their full title and the correct address for your follow up letter. If you interview with multiple individuals make sure you have business cards or contact info for each one. Right after the interview (you may want to do this in your car before you leave the premises), quickly jot down some notes about the interview. Include everything from the specific job qualifications to the idle chitchat about their favorite sport.
If for some reason you do not have the contact information for one of your interviewers, no problem, call the company and speak with an Administrative Assistant. If you explain to the individual that you had just interviewed with a certain person at the company and would like to send a follow up note, you should not have any issues getting their contact information. Also, don’t forget to confirm the correct spelling of their name and their title.
Although a written mailed letter is preferred, an email is acceptable. The follow up letter or email must be sent out the day of the interview – basically within 24 hours. Start the letter off with a short comment about something you discussed outside of the job, like a common love for a particular sport or some comment about their recent vacation (hopefully, you “broke the ice” with some fun, casual conversation). This will immediately put a smile on their face as they read your letter.
Next outline the key areas of responsibility of the position you are applying for and show them exactly how you will fulfill their needs. Then end the letter with a statement about how much you are looking forward to working with them. Keep the letter short and to the point. In this dog eat dog world, sending an effective follow up letter or email will make you rise to the top of the list of prospective candidates and will strengthen you negotiating position when it comes to salary, benefits, and extras such as signing bonuses.
So if you have to work, why not make some extra money off your company! It’s amazing how many people do not take advantage of all their employee benefits. In this highly competitive work environment, employers are forced to offer better benefits to attract and maintain valuable employees. But even if your employer offers premium benefits, if you never utilize them what good does it do you and your family. It is sad to say, but if you are not taking advantage of all your company’s benefits, you are quite literally throwing money away. Here’s a quick list of some of the more common employee benefits that will save you money and how to take advantage of them so you can make the most of your J-O-B:
This is one of the best ways to save for retirement. When you enroll in your company’s retirement program (such as a 401(k)), in most cases the money deducted from your paycheck will be pre-tax dollars. Not only will the contributions to your retirement account reduce your current income, but also the money in your retirement account will grow tax-deferred. Tax-deferred means you will not pay taxes on your investment gains until you pull the money out of your retirement account. Deferring taxes is beneficial because typically your tax rate will be lower after you retire so you keep more of your money you earn and give less to the government.
Although, most companies provide “Traditional” retirement savings programs, some companies may also offer the “Roth” type retirement program. The difference between a Traditional retirement plan versus a Roth is your contributions to a Roth account will not be counted as pre-tax dollars so they will not reduce your current income. However, later when you pull out your money, you will not pay taxes on the money you withdraw, including any earnings or gains you made on the investments. The benefit to the Roth is that your money earns income TAX-FREE. The concept is to save today and gain tomorrow. Now if you are paying a lot of taxes and need the tax break today, consider going with the Traditional plan. Keep in mind that the Traditional plan only defers your taxes until you withdraw the monies unlike a Roth that earns profits tax-free.
This is by far the biggest benefit to your company’s retirement program, if available through your employer. Some retirement programs offer a matching feature, where the company matches a percentage of your contributed dollars up to a certain point. Most programs require you to meet some vesting criteria before the money is officially yours, but once you meet the criteria these company matching dollars are yours to keep, even if you leave the company. Now that’s what I call FREE Money!
Some companies offer Flexible Spending Account (FSA) programs, which allows you to pay for certain non-reimbursable medical costs and daycare costs with pre-tax dollars. Like your retirement contributions, the money allocated to the FSAs is deducted out of your salary, therefore reducing your current year’s income. Lower taxes equal more money for you!
If you’re looking to fine tune your skills or broaden your knowledge; before signing up for the local extension class, find out whether your employer is willing to pay for your classes or seminars. You may even get your MBA or graduate degree paid for by your company. Although, many times educational programs are not formally offered by your employer, your boss may be willing to approve certain courses or seminars to keep the department updated and entice you to stay on board. Companies that offer to pay for MBA/graduate degrees often require the employee to stay for a minimum number of years. But considering the high cost of graduate programs it may be well worth it.
If you have any certifications, such as a CPA, that require continuing education ask your employer to foot the bill or contribute a portion of your costs. Also ask them to pay for your renewal fees or membership dues to any related industry associations.
Most companies offer free life insurance and disability insurance based on your salary. If you are looking to increase or supplement your coverage, compare your company’s rate to an outside insurance agent’s rate. Your company may offer a lower rate for the same coverage.
The key to saving money through your employee benefits is to take the time to find out what is available and don’t be afraid to ask for more. If you are a valuable employee…and all FiscallyFitters are…then your company may be willing to bend the rules to keep you happy
A good friend of mine said: “Make money on the money you make”. Even when you are sleeping, your money should be working for you. For example: Do you have a checking account that earns interest? It is surprising how many people keep relatively large balances in non-interest bearing accounts. Even a little interest can add up to a lot over a period of time.
Search out financial institutions that offer no-fee interest checking accounts that have low or no minimum balances. Many credit unions offer these types of programs. Sometimes you don’t have to be a direct credit union member because family members of credit union members can also open accounts or some office buildings offer credit union affiliate programs with all their tenants.
Sometimes banks offer no-fee interest checking accounts if you “auto deposit” your paycheck. Some investment accounts offer checking account features for no extra charge. Look for periodic special promotions run by new banks opening in your neighborhood. Many smaller community banks offer accounts with more benefits to compete with the larger banks. One cautionary note is that small, relatively new banks may go out of business so make sure you periodically check their rating on bankrate.com to make sure they are not in trouble.
If you are unable to find a good interest bearing checking account because the minimum balance is too high or the bank charges a monthly fee, consider opening a savings account in the same bank. Keep all your money in the savings account, earning interest, and transfer funds into your checking only as needed (when paying bills). Today, it is so easy to transfer money via the telephone or through Internet banking so why keep any cash in a non-interest bearing account.
Although interest rates are very low today, whatever you earn is free money and there is a high likelihood that rates will start rising towards the end of 2015. Always make sure your money is working for you.
Also save money by avoiding paying any fees for financial services. Use only no-fee accounts and no-fee credit cards. Plan ahead and avoid using ATM or other “cash-on-demand” services that charge a fee. There are so many financial institutions competing for your business. Search out the ones that are willing to PAY you for the privilege of holding your money.
If you are the typical woman, life never slows down for you. Between taking care of your work, family and personal obligations, there isn’t any time left for you. However, if you are feeling “burnt-out” you need, no, you MUST, take a personal break and reward yourself.
Here are three easy tips to refresh yourself.
You can feel the pressure building up inside you. You feel yourself becoming irritated at the smallest inconvenience or problem that normally wouldn’t upset you. You are heading for a “melt down”. Time to refresh. Start by forcing yourself to schedule a quiet time each week. Literally turn off the outside world. Turn off your pager, cell phone, forward your calls, and tell whoever you need to that you will be unavailable for the next 1-2 hours and go to a place that you know you can relax and can’t be bothered. This quiet time doesn’t have to be in response to work situations; it can also be applied to a hectic week at home. Our lifestyle today is becoming more and more hectic. Every day we try to cram 36 hours into the 24 hours God gave us. Use your quiet time to reflect on thoughts that make you happy. Block out negative thinking. Do something you really enjoy. See a movie, read a book you been putting off, have a latte, it doesn’t matter what it is, just do it!
Set up a system where you can reward yourself when you reach an accomplishment or a goal. Many times at work we go unrecognized for some extra work we did to compete a project on time. At home, we are expected to have dinner on the table, kids in bed and still clean up, all after coming home from a 10 hour work day. At work and at home, you must set your own rewards for a job well done. These little rewards will keep the focus on the upcoming “treat” instead of the constant pressure to perform. Rewards can be something as small as a little chocolate or a latte to something as big as a “personal spa day”. Remember to set the goals or accomplishments so that they are regularly achievable so you can reap the rewards.
A person can put up with a lot if they know that they will soon have a major reward. Think about when you were a child. Did your parents tell you if you finished your vegetables (the ones you hated) you could have dessert? How many of us put up with eating those veggies just because we knew we would get ice cream?!! The same principle applies today. You can suffer through a lot if you knew that each month you could have a personal day where you could reward yourself by doing only those things that you want to do. If you stay focused on your upcoming personal day reward while going through the rigors of your life, the stress will be more tolerable. You will probably have to coordinate this day with your family or significant other. This personal day doesn’t necessarily mean doing something on your own, by all means include your family if that is what makes you happy. Here are a couple of suggestions that can be stress busters: have Dad take the kids out and you take an uninterrupted bath, go out to lunch or dinner with your best friend(s), send the kids to an overnight and go on a date with your spouse, take a bed and breakfast weekend, this list can go on and on. The important thing here is for you to do the things that will relieve your level of stress and refresh you for the upcoming days.
Remember to look forward to your rewards when the going gets tough and keep the focus on the light at the end of the tunnel to help you get through those trying days. Good luck!
(originally published 3/20/2000)
Have you called someone to just relay some information and was drawn into a relatively long conversation talking about the weather, the home team, political and current events, their home life, etc? The call took you completely off track of the subject matter you wanted to relay and you felt it would be rude to interrupt even though you had an insurmountable list of things to do. Here is a short list of three things you can do to save some time and keep yourself from being held captive in unnecessary conversation.
When starting a conversation, you can open with something like, “Tom, I only have a minute and I wanted to get back to you about……” By warning most people in advance that you don’t have much time to spend with them, they generally will catch the subtle hint and not keep you with idle chit-chat. By announcing your time constraint, you will be able to exit the phone conversation easily.
When relaying information that doesn’t really require the immediate input from the other person, why not call their voicemail directly or if you reach their secretary ask to be put through to voicemail. This will allow you to offer up your complete thoughts without any interruption, objection or comment from the other party. Many times we want to relay just a small detail and just leaving a quick message will do. You can also just leave a small message with the secretary or telephone receptionist.
Just like leaving a voicemail message, you can write out your thoughts and have an accurate record of your communication. And also like a voicemail message, you can get out the complete thought without interruption. One of the wonderful traits of email is that you can write an email at any hour you choose and are not restricted to regular working hours.
Even as simple as these tips are, many of us will still find ourselves trapped in conversations that seemingly have no end when we can least afford the time. In today’s ever increasingly busy world, taking advantage of any time savings can increase our productivity.
(originally published 8/13/2000)
Sometimes being a frontline manager is a thankless job. You’re required to keep your staff motivated to work long hours, producing superior work product and remain “happy campers” even if their annual raise this year was not up to their expectation. Each person on your team is an important cog in the wheel that keeps your department running smoothly. Unfortunately, when someone on your team is not carrying her weight, resentment amongst the other staff members may surface. It is so true that “One bad apple can spoil the whole bushel”. What makes it worse is, if one person is consistently late to work or never completes their assignment on time and you allow this to continue, the other staff members blame not only the non-performing individual, but also you. If you notice a member of your staff falling behind in their work performance, you need to address it immediately before the resentment starts. But who wants to take on the ugly task of disciplining your staff? We’ve all gone through it. Bringing the individual into our office, closing our door, seeing the rest of the staff whispering to each other: “Kim’s going to get it now!” Hoping that we can have a calm constructive conversation, but instead it explodes into a shouting match with the individual storming out our office screaming: “You JUST don’t understand!” Unless you work in “Pleasantville” it has or will happen to you soon.
The key to a productive session with an employee is to make sure they are open to listening to your suggestions. Whenever you point out anyone’s weakness, their first response is to become defensive and on guard. Their mind is focused on what to say in their defense and not on what YOU are saying. You will never be able to work through the problem until the individual is actually listening to you. You must “defuse” the employee. This is accomplished through a technique called “active listening”. For example, you have an employee that is late to work every morning. You’ve just reminded her that the office hours are from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, not 8:45 to 5:00. She crosses her arms and quickly blurts out that traffic has been extremely heavy lately. You respond with “You are right, it has been pretty heavy lately. Tell me about it.” Let her talk and listen very closely, focusing all you attention on her. Don’t interrupt. After she is done talking, you may mention that her coworker in the next cubicle is coming from the same area and she gets to work on time. She may answer back with a defensive “Well, Sally doesn’t have kids!” You say “You’re right she doesn’t” and pause to let her speak if she wants. If she still sounds angry, say something like: “You seem angry at me” and pause again to let her speak. Each time you let her speak uninterrupted she relieves her stress, becomes less defensive and starts “losing her steam” as some put it. You keep repeating the procedure, each time letting her speak out about anything she wants with no interruptions and you will notice that her defensive body language disappears, she begins to open up and is more apt to listening to your comments. Only when this happens are you both ready to constructively find a solution to the problem. This technique requires a lot of patience on your part, but you will be very happy with the results. This method will gain you major “kudos” when your boss sees you quickly and effective solving a major situation without the regular shouting match and door slamming.
The second of the four steps to success is to make a decision to change. Here is a truism: “If you do what you have always done, you will have what you always had”. What this means is that you need to do something different to achieve more (yes, I do mean CHANGE).
After you have determined what you want (your goals), decide what you will be willing to do different (change) with your life and reprioritize your daily, weekly, monthly life’s activities to accommodate these decisions to change.
An example might be: You decide you need to go to school evenings to obtain more education, however, the bowling league you are in meets the only night the class is offered. Decision time! You make a decision to change based on your desire to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. You determine that it is more important for you and your financial future to attend school than to bowl. You reprioritize your life’s schedule and bow out of the bowling league on that night.
Another example: You decide to lose weight and go on a very restricted diet. Everyone in your office likes to go out to eat and not always in the most health conscious eateries or someone brings in donuts or pastries throughout the week. Don’t make excuses to go out and eat lunch or snack on the fatty foods.
It is important to stick to your decision. Set your mind to what you need to do. Make the commitment once and for all and you won’t have to weigh each new challenge against your decision because you have already made it.
Most people will change only when forced to, usually under extreme circumstances. Humans tend to be creatures of habit and comfort — just ask a Sunday Football Widow about men’s habits (just kidding). We humans fall into a groove and routine that meets our most basic needs and we are reluctant to make changes out of the fear that we might upset the smooth sailing boat.
One of the keys to being more successful in life is to recognize when you need to do something different and make that change without fear. You must weigh the benefits of what you have to do different with the potential reward of achieving your goals. It’s your choice — choose wisely and we will
Meet You At The Top!
It’s that dreaded time of year when your boss calls you into her office and hands you the all too familiar annual review form. Your heart beats wildly as you try to read the small print crammed into the little boxes titled “Comments”. Whew! You let out a mental sigh of relief because there are no unsatisfactory boxes checked. But some of the comments your boss makes about your work performance comes as a shock. What does she mean, “lacks initiative” or “needs to work on her time management skill” or may be even something like “lacks confidence”? Why didn’t she talk to me earlier, so I could improve BEFORE my review was written up….and why didn’t she write anything about the new marketing plan I put together. Everyone is already using it. Well, it’s too late now. I wonder if I’ll even get that promotion?
Most people take on a passive role in their review process, but the MsFiscallyFit Professional Woman takes a proactive role in her evaluation process. She is not surprised by any of her boss’ comments; instead she actually takes part in preparing the review form. The review process is a necessary step in getting the promotion and raise YOU want. Use the evaluation form as your road map to success.
Don’t expect your boss to remember all your past achievements. She may have several people to review and a year can be a long time. First find out when your review is scheduled. Submit a summary of all your achievements during the year with the results to your boss (give her ample time to evaluate it). Clearly detail the effects to the company’s bottomline. Did you increase revenues through a new marketing program? Did you reduce expenses by eliminating a cumbersome process? Be specific. Maybe someone in accounting can help put together some solid numbers to include in your summary. List all new accounts established during the year. Calculate a client retention rate and compare it to the company average. The idea is to increase the odds in your favor. You want your boss to see you as you see yourself.
In order to make the necessary improvements in your work performance, you need to have a clear understanding of your areas of weakness. Don’t let your boss get away with those “nebulous” terms like “lacks confidence” or needs to improve her time management skills”. Ask them to give you specific examples. You need to identify an action not just a general description.
We all want to be promoted and make more money. Right? To achieve that goal each year you need a plan of action and that is exactly why you need a review. Effective review forms not only document your past performance, but also outline what you need to change, improve or achieve during the next year in order to move up in ranks. If you are shooting for a promotion next year, tell your boss about it during your review. Don’t be shy. It’s all about good communication. You want and need her on your side. Ask her to draw out exactly what it will take to get that promotion. Do you need additional classes? Do you need to up your rating from satisfactory to excellent and if so what will it take? Can she help get you on a high-profile project and expose you to the right people? Now all you need to do is follow that plan of action, counsel often with your boss during the year and success will be “done deal”.