Review

Want to receive a good review from a client or employer – one that wins you the right kind of work? Well, write your own!

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Audio

Have you ever read a positive review left by a client or employer about someone who provided a service, on their online profile or homepage? The review looked really good. It perhaps went like:

“I hired X several months ago to work on a project and was very happy with their output. Their communication skills were on-par. They got on well with the team.”

Have you ever read one of those positive reviews and thought, “goodness, I’d like to have one of those!”. You wouldn’t mind having a review like that on your profile. I had this thought go through my mind more than a few times!

Then I had this idea: what if I ask my next client for a review, but instead of asking for them to write it, I write the review for them? I could give it to them and say:

“Look, you don’t have to give me this favourable review if you don’t want to, but if you do, here’s a template. You can make any changes you want to make, or just write it yourself. But if you’d like to just go with the ideas I’ve got, then go for it!”

Happily this experiement of mine actually succeeded, and I ended up with a great review, that I could put to my profile.

I thought this was beneficial for two main reasons.

Firstly, it saved the client time and effort. Clients, like anyone, are busy people and have a lot to do, and they might not have the time or energy to write a positive review about someone. And they can’t necessarily remember much about what you were good at. They know you were good, but it takes a fair amount of effort to really specify in what ways you were good and then put that into writing. So it’s much easier for them to just use your writing, maybe tweak it a bit, and send it off. So it’s less effort for the client.

But secondly, and perhaps this was a bigger benefit, when you write your own review, you get to think about what you are good at and what you want to be good at, and what you want your brand and reputation to be.

This might take some thought. You might think about it over a weekend, or stretch it out over time, as with decisions, or just spend an hour or two in a room with a piece of paper. However you do it, if you think about what sort of review you want to have of your work, what you’d like others to say about your work and perhaps about you, that can be a really good exercise in itself. It can help you to figure out what you’re currently good at, and what you’d like to be good at in the future, and perhaps what work you’d like to be doing day-to-day.

So if you think ahead-of-time about and picture in your head what you’d like to be good at, say, 3 months’ time or 6 months’ time or a year’s time, then if you write a review of yourself as if you’re already good at that thing, then that gives you something to aim and strive for. It gives you more direction.

Once you’ve developed this review, you could even show it to the client and tell them something along the lines of:

“This is what I want to be good at, this is what I’m aiming for. I’ve like to get this review from you at some point in the future. So, let’s work together over the next 6 months and see if I can’t knock that out of the park!”

If your review aligns with the client’s goals, all the better, because they’ll also be happy and motivated to have you succeed at getting better.

And over time, as you get these good reviews, the reviews will help you to get into the kinds of roles you want and utilise the kinds of skills you want to utilise. For example, if you have a review that says that you have good communication skills and work will with people from diverse backgrounds, you’re more likely, in future, to get offers for roles that require people with those skills and abilities, and are tailored for those kinds of people.

So, over time, you can use carefully worded reviews to position yourself where you’d like to be in the job market. You can move into a space in your career that you enjoy and that uses your best capabilities and that pushes you in the direction you want to go.

Transfigure

Your job sucks. Or does it? “Transfiguring” your work can make it more fun, comfortable and enjoyable.

Audio

Remember being a child and playing dress-up games with your friends/siblings? You might have pretended to be a fireman, a doctor, a policeman, or play some other kind of role.

What a lot of fun it was! You’d dress the part, you’d talk the part, you’d act the part. And you would imagine yourself in that role.

And then a few years go by, and you find yourself in a different profession, one which you wouldn’t have dreamed about as a child. Perhaps you’re being an executive, or you’re writing code, or you’re designing something, or you’re selling to people.

Not all jobs seem to be fun up-front, and perhaps that’s why we get paid to work. We’re being paid to do activities we probably wouldn’t normally do, by default, without prompting.

But I have observed that that the way you imagine yourself, while doing a job, can affect the way you feel about that job, and perhaps how motivated and productive you are at that job.

So what if you were to re-imagine your job?

Depending on your work environment and what it is that you do, there are various kinds of challenges you may or may not face. But there are also various ways of “imagining” that work, which could make it more enjoyable.

  • You are often called into difficult people situations. You find yourself in meetings where there is a lot of conflict, disagreement, difficulty understanding people or knowing what they want, different people making different demands of you. That can be stressful. In this situation, you might imagine yourself as: “Negotiator for the U.N.”. So those conflicts and tensions that seem to be a bummer can actually feel like a lot of fun, when you imagine yourself as someone working for the U.N., in a challenging but important role, that will have big consequences for the future of nations or countries. Your real job mightn’t be as big or epic as that! But that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine yourself as that, and get into a really fun, comfortable zone that way.
  • You are not really doing much. Work is slow/boring. There’s lots of downtime. You could imagine yourself as a secret agent working for the FBI/CIA/MI9. You have intelligence and multifarious capabilities and have been sought out by the government. They don’t quite know what to put you on right now, but they just need you to be there, ready and waiting, to act and jump when the time comes. To find a critical piece of information, at the right time, and act on it fast. And your action can save the country! If you could imagine yourself as that person in that role, it’s no longer a boring/dead-end job, but rather, something critical, exciting and fun.
  • You have to do lots of reading and research to do. It’s tedious. There’s a large quantity of documentation. Pages, paragraphs, sentences, all have to be read and scoured. Perhaps you could imagine yourself as a judge in court. You’re going through the details of the case, prior to a hearing, and you have to analyse the arguments of all sides, being careful, unbiased, impartial. You have to think critically and come to the most fair, just understanding of the case, and help to deliver the most just outcome for those involved. So your tedious, long-winded job suddenly feels important, crucial, and perhaps even prestigious.
  • You’re in a busy, fast, loud, noisy environment. There’s lots of action, words, movement. People are coming at you from all sides. You are constantly having to react. This might seem stressful. But you could imagine yourself as one of the top traders on wall street! You’re yelling at other traders, getting the latest news and prices. It’s a high-impact, high-energy job. You’re suiting up daily, going onto the trading floor and doing big deals, racking up millions of dollars in profit. It can feel fun, exciting and energising, rather than draining.
  • You’re training and mentoring one or more people. Most of your time is spend troubleshooting other people’s issues or difficulties or teaching them how to resolve these themselves. You could imagine yourself as a doctor or physician of some kind. You have a large body of knowledge and experience, people are coming to you with chronic pains and conditions, and you’re applying that expertise to helping and healing them. Calmly, carefully, methodically, you diagnose the patient’s issue, while comforting them and telling them they’re going to be OK. It’s a job that requires a lot of expertise, and by practicing it, you are giving others crucially needed help and healing. It’s a job of profound importance.
  • You’re giving a lot of counselling and advice to one very important individual, perhaps an executive. You might imagine yourself as a therapist. Your client comes to you with lots of anxiety, stress, difficult emotions, perhaps pressure from lots of others around them. And they’re offering up these problems to you. And as a therapist, you’re someone who’s able to help, but who first needs to understand them, to patiently hear them out and listen to their problems, and then to give them the right kind of influence, to help them help themselves and move forward.

The above are just a handful of job “types” and fantasies that you could apply to them. And imagining is just the start. You could (maybe!) take things even further and physically dress the part! Try wearing a suit, if you find yourself in that “busy, fast, loud” stock-trading-style environment. Or perhaps try using props. Perhaps putting pictures or posters on your desk that put you in the mood of the “imaginary” role you’re playing.

A closing point I’d like to make is that the job you’re actually doing and the job you imagine yourself doing may not be worlds apart. The job where you need to be patient, critical, unbiased, may not be all that different from the job of a judge. The judge’s work can affect the course of people’s live. So might your work too, if you consider the impacts, down the line, of what you’re doing. Think of the lives of the customers you serve, or the others within the organisation. The quality of your work may determine whether the company stays afloat and continues to employ people, or whether it goes down and has to lay people off. Likewise for the other “styles” of work. You may not know how others out there are benefiting from your work.

So try “transfiguring” your work. Wear a different hat, literally or mentally, and see if you can have a bit more fun at what you do!

Orgchart

Organisational charts aren’t always up-to-date, or most useful to you. So why not draw your own?

Audio

Does your organisation have an organisational chart? A diagram of the reporting relationships, in a hierarchical structure, is fairly common in companies, government departments, etc. These charts often exist on an Intranet, Wiki page, etc.

You may work in a smaller organisation, perhaps a startup or a small project team within a larger organisation. Perhaps in this situation, there is no formal, defined organisational chart.

Organisational charts aren’t always directly helpful. They may be out of date, and their intended audience may not be you, and so they may not be particularly applicable to you. They may be used for any number of purposes that you may or may not be aware of, and thus, they may not be the most useful document for you to refer to, in understanding the interpersonal relationships within the company.

So an idea I would like to share is: creating your own “personal organisational chart”.

You start with a blank sheet of paper (real paper, or perhaps virtual, if you’re using a tablet and stylus). Draw a stick figure in the middle of the page, representing yourself – you’re starting somewhere close to home, with you!

you

Then you think about the people who you communicate with directly, either day-to-day or periodically. People you are in meetings with, or report to, or otherwise interact with. Write their names around your “you” stick figure with spokes coming out from you to them. (You may want to draw those you are in more frequent contact with, or who are more crucial to your role, at a closer distance than others.)

2nd-degree

Then think of the people who these people interact with. Which people they talk to, refer to in meetings, etc. Draw them as spokes coming off the people you’re connected to. Keep working your way outward until you end up with kind of “web” or “network” of how the organisation fits together.

3rd-degree

The beauty of this kind of organisational chart is that its more relevant to you, because it starts with you in the middle! So it can enable you to visualise relationships in a way that informs you of where you sit, who you’re influencing, who’s seeing output of, or giving input to, your work. This is information that you can act on. It can help you to acheive your goals – doing a better job, engaging more effectively with the organisation, delivering work that’s more tailored to the needs of the organisation, etc. It can also help you to be selective about how you represent yourself, how you work with people, how you steer your role and even your career, with that organisation, going into the future.

Even long after you’ve left that organisation, when you revisit the experience, this org chart can serve as a memory aid, helping you to call to mind how that job was, what you did, what you learned, etc.

So there you have it – the “personal org chart”. Give it try!

Expand

How do you manage work-place stress? One technique I have found helpful is ‘expanding the problem’.

Audio

Do you ever find yourself, at work, feeling stressed out, tense, a pit in your stomach, anxious and concerned, tired out? Work-related stress seems to be a common theme in today’s workforce, and it’s something I’ve faced myself.

Here’s an example of one way this can happen:

Suppose you have to deliver a report. You feel motivated, pumped. You’re going to focus on your goal and get the job done. Now the first step is to talk to Judy and then Mike, who have crucial information you need. But it turns out that Judy is on leave. So you go and talk to her manager, Beth, and Beth tells you that she can give you part of the information you need from Judy, but for the rest, you’ll need to get off Joe, in another department. So you go and talk to Joe and he emails you a link. But when you try it, it turns out to be password protected! So to get it unlocked, you need to talk to Jim in IT. All of a sudden, this initially straight-forward task of making a report has grown into a complex maze of people and information. Your to-do list is stacking up with items and you get to the end of the day, not having “completed” even a part of the report.

expand-diagram-1

You feel perhaps a bit agitated, restless, stressed our, or maybe tired or worn out or mildly depressed. You feel like you got nothing done. And that’s not a nice feeling!

This kind of stress/depression can occur even with relatively solitary activities, such as design or engineering. Nay, especially in those activities! Say you’re in the midst of a coding problem, you’ve been Google-ing for a solution, and you find something that almost works but not quite, and you go for a whole day and not really “finish” anything.

What can we do, constructively, about dealing with these situations?

I’ve found that the problem often is being too focused on the end-result, on the solution that I’m seeking. And because of that, I’m judging my progress (and perhaps myself) whenever I fail to meet that result. And by the end of the day, those failures and judgements have accumulated, and I feel a burden of, guilt, debt, etc.

So one mindfulness-inspired practice I have been trying is that of expanding the problem. Imagine the problem as a funnel, very wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. If you try to force lots of material through at once, it will inevitably be blocked by the narrowest part of the funnel. But if you were to widen the funnel – convert it to a pipe – then all the material could move through at the same speed, without blockage.

To apply this to your work mindset: you’re putting all your focus and energy on the wide part of the funnel – the solution. But the process of achieving the solution, the narrow part, is consuming your effort. So you’re trying to force a lot of effort through a very narrow space. But what if you were to mentally expand your work process. Giving it more attention and energy, and making it feel larger in your mind.

So for example, say you have to talk to Judy, and then go and speak to Jim in IT about getting the password, you can see that as part of your journey toward your solution. And it counts as work, and in fact, counts as a success and an achievement.

So, as you look at your ‘to do’ list, perhaps you see a line like this:

• Finish report

Scrub it out! And, instead, write:

• Speak with Jim in IT
• Email Jim password request

And before the end of the day, you can have those two ticked off!

Speak with Jim in IT
Email Jim password request

Notice that now you’re re-focusing on the actions and tasks you’re performing throughout the day, in order to get the result, and not focusing directly on the result.

And you’re expanding the problem-space. Perhaps you identify a whole network of people who you need to interact with, to get the job done. And then you discover efficiencies – ways you can shortcut the process or get extra value out of it, e.g. getting to meet people and learn about the organisation in the process. So, you might not have delivered the report by the end of the day, but you did learn who Jim was, and established a rapport with him, which could serve you well in the future.

By focusing on the problem, you achieve small incremental results on the way to achieving your big result. And you can leave work at the end of the day with a feeling of success and accomplishment. You can close that day off, get a good night’s sleep and come in the next morning with the energy and motivation to keep going.

Additionally, if you’re going through many tedious steps – a process – in order to achieve an outcome, chances are your work is, by nature, complex. Chances are that this complexity will re-appear at another time. So the learning and knowledge you gain from working through this complex process, if you hang on to it, can help you work through other complex processes in the future.

That’s the technique in a nutshell. Expand the problem, give the problem space. Perhaps try visualising it, through writing, drawing, diagramming, etc. Give yourself time and focus on each action/task, each step of the way, and let the solution come when it’s ready.