"How Will You Measure Your Life?" The Question that Changed Me Forever

Reading is one of my superpowers. I make time daily in my work life to consume an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book. I usually learn something—a new fact to absorb or a tactic to try. 

Incredibly rarely, something I read actually changes me. 

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change.

Seven years ago, I first stumbled on an article called How Will You Measure Your Life? written by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The piece captivated me, and I credit it with setting me on a new path. Christensen, who has since passed away, offered me a sense of direction and clarity. I find many people around me seek the same thing right now, which is precisely why I'm revisiting a seven-year-old article with you today.

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change. Reading it helped me ask and answer some big questions for myself—not by telling me what to think, but rather how to think. Christensen's article applied big wonky management concepts to the everyday business of humanity. And he did it beautifully.

Since I first read "How Will You Measure Your Life," I've made a habit of rereading it once a year. And each year I take something new from it.

Today, in case you’re one of those people sitting with big questions, I’d love to share some of my favorite insights. If you’ve ever wondered how to maintain fulfillment, balance, and integrity in your life and career, then this one’s for you.

How do I achieve fulfillment in my career?

Professor Christensen begins with an introduction to the work of Frederick Herzberg whose research in the mid-twentieth century taught us that money is not our most powerful motivating force.

As Money Girl Laura Adams tells us, money can buy us happiness … but only to a point. To have emotional well-being, we need to have enough money to cover basics like food and shelter comfortably. A widely cited 2010 study set that bar at $75,000 a year. Making more than that, data told us, didn’t equate to more happiness.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work.

So if money doesn’t drive happiness, then what does? According to Christensen, it’s the opportunity to learn, to grow in responsibility, to contribute to the development of others, and to be recognized for your hard work and achievements. 

So ask yourself: Are you having these fulfilling experiences in your work today? 

If you could use a bump, are there ways you can infuse more life into your work? Can you take on a project that might help you expand your thinking, network, or knowledge? Can you mentor someone whose success you’d love to enhance? Can you publicly recognize a colleague who did you a small solid?

Or are you ready for a change you now realize you can afford to make?

Maybe you’ve always worked in corporate and dreamed of rolling into the non-profit space. Or you’re being pulled in multiple directions and want to transition to working part-time for a while. Or there’s that side hustle you always wanted to try, or that degree you dream of getting.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work. 

For me, this meant finally stepping out of a job that felt heavy and taking that chance on starting my own business. I’ve never looked back.

How do I maintain balance?

This, Christensen explains, is really a question of how your strategy is defined and implemented.

”…A company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in.”

If a company's strategy is to win by creating high-quality products, but it chooses to maximize its profit margin by using cheap materials to manufacture them, well … I think you can see why the strategy is doomed to fail.

So the question here is what strategy have you defined for your life. And are you making the right investments to support it?

To make the analogy work, Christensen imagines each important part of his life as a line of business—his career, his family, and his community.

He wants each of them to succeed. So he allocates his investments—his time, his focus, his care—in alignment with that strategy.

I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

“Allocation choices,” he says, “can make you turn out to be very different from what you intended.”

He goes on to observe that “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers even though… loving relationships… are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

When I first read this, I knew my sense of balance was off. Yet I somehow felt powerless to change it. But there was something in his framing about the allocation of resources that really hit me. I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

Did I quit my job and start my business the next day? I assure you I did not. But this reframing was exactly the gift I needed to move from feeling constrained and trapped to feeling encouraged and ready to explore some options. 

Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

I’m not suggesting you follow my path. I’m inviting you to assess yours. Are you investing according to the outcomes you hope to achieve? Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

How do I keep integrity at the forefront?

Ever hear of something called the “marginal cost mistake?” I hadn’t. It’s the idea that most people who’ve fallen from grace (think Bernie Madoff) didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit a major crime.

“A voice in our head says ‘Look, I know that as a general rule most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once it’s OK.’ The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in.”

Personally, I’ve never stood on the precipice of making a criminal choice. But this concept has shown up in my life in different ways.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your 'marginal cost mistake' will stay with you.

In my life today, I stand firmly in the camp of respect and equality for every human being. If someone in my life—a client, a colleague, even a family member—makes an off-color joke or comment, I know it’s easier to ignore it. Just this once. 

But I won’t. And having that clarity makes the choice so simple for me.

Maybe your boss asked you to “borrow” a competitor’s idea you heard about… just this once. Or a friend needs a reference and wonders if you’ll play the role of her former boss… but just for this one potential job.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your "marginal cost mistake" will stay with you. I still remember kids I didn’t stand up for on the playground. I can’t change what’s behind me, but I can be a version of myself going forward that the little girl in me would be proud of.

I wish the same for you.

I hope these ideas have triggered some insight or courage or inspiration. May you be fulfilled, may you be in balance, and may you be the most gleaming version of you.   

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Tips And Services To Help Your Bookkeeping Go Paperless

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a catalyst to shift businesses toward digital transformation, it merely sped up the process. Businesses needed to scramble to move much of their operations online so workers could efficiently collaborate with each other and maintain business continuity during a difficult time.

Fortunately, departments not traditionally associated with the digital universe, like Bookkeeping, had an easier time adapting thanks to online services like Bookstime.com, a provider of digital bookkeeping tools with unique experience in difficult areas like sales tax automation, health benefits administration, and more.

Advantages of digital bookkeeping

Keeping track of every business transaction is among the most important and perhaps underappreciated tasks. Failure to keep track of transactions in a professional manner can result in a business owner making wrong decisions because they have inaccurate information.

Even worse, they might think they end the year with a profit but in reality, a bunch of small bookkeeping mistakes over several months means the business owner really lost money.

A shift to a digital platform eliminates these concerns. Online digital platforms make use of the most up-to-date accounting automation software that erases nearly every careless mistake. This is especially useful for a business owner who does the tedious but necessary job of bookkeeping themselves to save money. The more time a business owner spends on ancillary tasks, the less time they have to generate revenue and keep clients happy.

Some of the other advantages associated with going online include:

  • Eliminating clutter: keeping a clean home office is challenging enough but a digital platform means more space for higher priority files.
  • Save time: A digital bookkeeping platform is always available online with a few short clicks of the mouse. It can be accessed as needed and when needed in a few short seconds.
  • Environmental benefits: It isn’t unusual for a company to use at least 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Shifting resources online may seem like a small benefit but everyone has a responsibility to do a little bit more to protect our environment.

Case in point: Fill in a W-4

Every business owner is happy to hire new workers because it means they are expected to provide value to the company above and beyond their salary. But that doesn’t mean that the formal process is enjoyable.

One of the more undesirable parts of the hiring process is the pesky W-4 form that every employer has to ensure is properly filled in before a worker’s first day. Simply put, the W-4 form confirms how much income tax a worker wants to have withheld from their recurring paychecks. Under-withholding taxes means a worker will likely experience a shock come tax season as they owe money to the government. Over-withholding taxes means a worker is paying the government too much money and has to wait for a refund.

Digital bookkeeping can help simplify this process so you're less prone to errors. When other people’s finances are at stake, small careless mistakes could impact a worker’s desire to give the business owner 100% of their focus.

Businesses that shifted their bookkeeping process online to better navigate through the pandemic quickly realized this was a move that should have been done years ago. The advantages of having access to a clean and organized online tool far outweigh the costs.

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5 Great Ways to Increase Remote Working Productivity

When the COVID lockdowns started, most business owners probably didn't think much about the efficiency of their remote working solutions as long as they were able to keep the lights on. As we head into 2021, we can see that remote working is going to become a permanent feature of our business lives. With more than half of employees reporting frustrations with their remote work solutions, now is a good time to think about getting the best software and apps in to help your team stay productive.

Remember, too, that many of your people will find working at home a very lonely experience and so things like video conferencing can help alleviate the mental health impact of a lockdown.

Let's look at some of the products that are available to help you stay in touch and remain effective no matter what 2021 throws at you!

Workflow boards

One of the things that many people have reported is difficulty in keeping motivated and understanding what needs to happen and when.

When you're in an office, it's easy to simply lean across the desk and ask what is going on. But what happens when your team is all working remotely?

Using Kanban boards like Trello and Asana allows you to posts jobs, tasks, and subtasks and then allocate them to individual staff members or team so that everyone knows where they are and what still needs doing.

Remote access software

Remote access software can have some real benefits for users across the organisation and doesn’t need to be confined to your IT helpdesk.

Modern remote working can give users a virtual desktop, which is the same wherever they log on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can also increase security.

Remote access software can also include functionality that enables video conferencing, chat functions, shared word processing, and file sharing, along with resources for troubleshooting in a pinch.

If you’d like to find out more about what it can do for you, check the best options in this excellent remote access software review by Neil Patel.

Remote shared storage

Many companies rely upon having drives readily available to all staff, and when you're all working in the same office, this is a simple matter. But when your team is spread out, then you need to think about organizing remote storage.

Google Drive and Dropbox are probably the most well-known offerings, but there are many more. They all provide you with the ability to have shared drives that are accessible based on your own organization’s security protocol.

Remote storage is a very competitive area, so prices have dropped over the last few years. So in many cases, you are better off subscribing to a best-in-class cloud storage solution (especially if it includes remote access desktops as above) rather than upgrading your on-premise servers.

Business-class video conferencing

For many businesses, this is one area where they just had to get a solution in place quickly so everyone could carry on working. But it really is worth choosing a business-class video conferencing system.

Having a better system makes life easier for your staff, but it also portrays a professional image to your customers and suppliers.

Free systems are great, but they will always come with limitations. Zoom, for instance, limits calls to 45 minutes on its free version. Other free solutions reduce video quality.

With paid solutions, the cost for a group subscription is often very reasonable when compared to the cost of losing even one customer.

Collaboration and sharing tools

When you can just pass files and papers across a desk, life is easy. But if you're miles away from your co-workers, contractors, and customers, how can you possibly collaborate effectively?

Many of the really good systems bundle in storage, video conferencing, Kanban boards and collaboration tools that help your teams act like teams rather than a collection of dispersed individuals.

Obviously, the big player here is Microsoft. But you can get excellent results with apps like Zoho Connect, Winio, and Wire. If you only really want chat capability, then look at Slack.

Take advantage of trials

What works for some people may not work for you and your company. But the good news is that pretty much every system mentioned here has some form of free trial.

The best advice is to take the developers up on their offer and test these solutions out. Get feedback from your employees and take into account how easy the apps are to use, the support available, and of course, the annual cost.

Don’t be swayed by attractive-sounding initial reductions. If the system is good, you’ll be using it for a long time. It is much more important to get the right features for you rather than buying something that isn't well-suited to the task because the developer was offering a half-price sale.
 

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How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

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