Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Personal Development

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to personal development.

4 Better Ways to Use Your Spare Time

Are you lounging around with nothing to do? Are you looking for some fun and entertaining things to do? Practical Psychology wants you to turn away from spending numerous hours in front of the TV or gaming with your free time, and instead, look into adding some net worth to your name!

This video tells us about the 4 best things we can do with our free time to start constantly improving our lifestyle. It can be as simple as exercising regularly, or meditating for 10 minutes a day. These 4 interesting habits and activities will be sure to keep you busy. Take action now, and cure your boredom!

10 Crucial Tips for First-Time Managers

It is your first contract that requires you to manage people, and you are both excited and nervous. There are lots of new skills you will need to learn in order to manage your team to achieve primary goals without wasting resources, and undermining on your team’s stability. This may see scary, but with these useful managerial tips you can keep on top of your tasks.

In this infographic, Acuity Training emphasizes 10 tips for first time mangers to follow in the workplace that will ensure optimal team performance. Discover what it takes to be a successful leader, prioritize your goals, and motivate your team.

10 Crucial Tips for First-Time Managers

Building Confidence, Competence and Happiness for Success as an IT Contractor

Build Confidence, Competence and Happiness for Success as an IT ContractorThe very nature of IT can be lonely, especially so for someone working independently. As an independent contractor, you generally don’t have any immediate colleagues. Often your clients want to hand over their problems for you to fix and they don’t want to be caught up in technical issues they don’t understand. They’re happy to leave you on your own. Once you start working on projects you may be surrounded by the world of bits, bytes, code and networks, with little to no human interaction.

It’s enough to make you feel like the old Maytag repairman, the loneliest guy in town. Worse than simply being lonely, your confidence, competence, and happiness can suffer if you’re working in a black box with little to no communication and feedback. You need all three of these attributes to win jobs, negotiate rates, and deal with clients. The good news is that you can take proactive steps to enhance each of these.

Keep your confidence high

Practice regular techniques to maintain a high level of confidence and provide motivation.

  • Solicit customer feedback. If you utilize a simple feedback process, most of the time you’ll get thanks and positive comments. This is not only satisfying, but will help you better understand what your clients value. At times you will get negative comments. Think of these as gifts to help you improve. After all, without feedback, no improvement is possible. Address the issues and your next clients will not have these complaints.
  • Set milestones and goals and celebrate achievement. Since you don’t have a boss to give you a pat on the back, be your own cheerleader. Rather than waiting until the end of a major project to give yourself some recognition, do it daily. Be sure to reflect back on what you have accomplished; don’t just grimace at the long to-do list remaining.

Keep your competence high

In order to be confident, you need to be competent.

  • Benchmark within the IT and greater business field not only for specific technology solutions, but also to understand characteristics and practices of the best IT people.
  • Create your own self-assessment. Using the benchmark information and customer feedback, create a self-assessment process that you can use with each project or client for honest reflection on your strengths and weaknesses, what you delivered, and how you could have done things better.
  • Reinvest in yourself by improving in any areas where you have gaps and building new skills. The world of IT changes practically overnight, meaning clients have constantly changing needs. Stay ahead of the curve by carving out some time to become knowledgeable in new technologies in advance.

Be happy

You are spending 40, 50, or more hours each week at your job. Take steps to make work fun and rewarding.

 

  • Create your own team. If you work independently, you don’t generally have the socialization opportunities that other 9-to-5 business folks have. But you can make them. Take the time and energy to partner with your customer on a personal basis. Participate in networking events. Find a mentor. Put together a team of resources that you can call on for help and reciprocate in turn.
  • Smile. Call center employees are routinely trained to smile while they’re on the phone since customers can hear the pleasantness in their tone of voice. That same effect can work for you in IT, even if you’re the only one who “hears” the smile.
  • Love your work. If you find that the work you do has become tedious, find ways to transition to something that piques your interest. New clients, new technologies, new approaches, and even working in a new setting can make the work itself more enjoyable.
  • Be assertive to meet your rights and needs. Studies have shown that assertiveness at work can help deliver happiness. Although your policy may be that the customer is always right, that doesn’t mean you should let customers walk all over you.

Have difficult clients? Fire them.

Consider this situation. You have a client who:

  • Constantly changes requirements while you are working on his or her project
  • Always demands work to be done on a rush basis, creating disruption to your schedule
  • Asks for a little bit more when you’re approaching the end of the project… and doesn’t understand that a scope change deserves more payment
  • Rarely expresses satisfaction or gratitude
  • Seems to distrust you, even after you’ve worked together multiple times
  • Pays less or takes more time than your other clients

If you do all-in unit costing for this client, including your time for extra bits of communication and changes, you might find that you’re getting a lot less in payment per hour of attention and generating a lot more personal stress compared to any of your other clients.

Of course, your first efforts will be to work with the client through communications and contracting. With tact, process skills, and plenty of patience, you might be able to groom this troublesome client to be as professional as the rest of your customers. However, sometimes this type of client just doesn’t get it… and never will. If that’s the case, you might want to cut your losses. After all, if you get rid of a “bad” client who consumes an inordinate amount of time and causes you stress, you can replace him or her with one or more “good” clients you absolutely love working with.

If you want to fire a client, you will have to be tactful. Let the customer save face to the extent you can without compromising your values or losing significant money. You don’t want to create such hard feelings that your client starts a word-of-mouth campaign to discredit you.

What’s the bottom line?

Until you become the next IT whiz with a success like Apple, Amazon, or Facebook, you’re likely to continue to work largely by yourself and rely on yourself. But that can be quite okay. As the noted author Wayne Dyer said, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”

Visit Acuity Training’s guide to confidence for specific assertiveness tactics to apply throughout each step of your freelance process.

How Bilingual Brains Perceive Time Differently

New scientific evidence claims that there is a link between language and time. Did you know that each language has its own way of measuring time with either distance or volume? In a recent study, bilingual individuals were asked to describe different scenarios that portrayed time (ie. watching a line grow, or a container be filled) in different languages. Based off the results, it was then discovered that the language you think in can actually have an influence on the way you perceive time.

This episode of Seeker will fill you all you need to know about bilingual brains and time. No matter where you are in Canada, you are probably working on a team with other contractors who are bilingual. This video may help you understand some communication breakdowns.

Embrace Your Opportunities to Grow

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Embrace Your Opportunities to GrowIn my blog posting for this week, I thought I would present some thoughts on the topic of “growing”.  It is a broad topic and it could be easy to come across as “preachy”, and that’s the last thing I want to do. But recent events have given me pause to reflect on specific aspects of this that, I feel, will translate well to independent contractors.  So, here goes…

Eagle’s been in the business of supplying contingent labour to our client base for over 20 years.  Some days it seems that we’ve seen it all.  And that’s the problem: It is easy to get comfortable doing what you’ve been doing until you’ve dug yourself a nice, deep rut.  Our clients go to market from time-to-time through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process and, typically, they are reasonably similar– some small variations, but for the most part they want to know the same things:  our capability in the geographic area that matters to them, our recruitment/sourcing processes, team approach to account management, issue resolution approaches and, of course, pricing.  Although there is opportunity for innovation – Eagle keeps on top of all the latest technology trends, for example – but the basic business of contingent labour remains basically the same.  When these tenders come out, the account and proposal teams and management hunker down and build our best proposal based on what we know to be important to our clients.  We never need to go outside of our own company to build a response or answer our customers’ questions.  It’s what we do.

Flash back to 3 weeks ago and things changed!  One of our clients approached Eagle, requesting us to build a customized, innovative solution to meet the needs of one of their business processes.  They didn’t want a traditional contingent work solution, they wanted something more.  We decided to accept their challenge and build a solution that will be just for them but, in so doing, we found that we no longer had all the answers that we needed in-house to respond to their inquiry.  We reached out to SME’s from the contractor community, people that we’ve worked with time and again over the years, those who knew Eagle well and who we knew equally well would fit into our new solution.  We formulated a partnership to build our proposal together, combining their technical/business strengths with our own.  This was new, it was exciting, and it was a heck of a lot of work.  But what a wonderful experience for all involved!!

Our team knew these consultants well, but I feel that we’ve come to know them at another level entirely.  The level of understanding we now have of each other and the trust that we’ve built through this process was more than worth the effort.  We’ve put the final touches on our proposal and it is in to our client for their review.  I believe we have a very strong proposal but, even if our solution isn’t selected, we’ve received good value from this process.  Each member of the team has learned new things, we’ve all grown professionally and we’ve got each other to lean on in the future for other opportunities.  These are people that I would jump at the chance to work with again.

So, back to the topic of growth… it is worth prying yourself out of your comfortable rut and taking a chance building something new. You learn through your failures but, even should there be failure, there are often rewards that you couldn’t have foreseen to offset your investment.  If our consultant partners are reading this (they’ll know who they are), I want to thank them not just for their hard work, expertise and time invested (and there was a lot) but for their comradery and the sense of team that they helped to foster in such a short burst of time.  I have grown professionally through their involvement — what a great lesson and a great reward.  Winning the business will just be icing on the cake!!

Have you had an opportunity to try something new that was more professionally rewarding than you’d expected?  Feel free to leave a comment and share with the rest of the readership!!

The Secret to Being Assertive At Work

Are you starting a job with a new company? Or are you beginning a new role at work? Think Confidence wants to help you come across as more assertive in the workplace to ensure that you start your job off on the right foot!

This six part guide teaches you how to become assertive to be able to handle challenging situations and people, to leave long lasting impressions, to get noticed, and much more! Learn how to surpass the barrier of self-doubt and make the most of your work-related opportunities. By following and actively practicing these tips and techniques you will be able to quickly build on your confidence.


Being Assertive At Work Infographic

Being Assertive – Infographic by Think Confidence

If You Can’t Sleep Enough, At Least Sleep Better

Sleep is a crucial component of our everyday lives as it has an impact on our health, cognitive, and physical functions. Not getting enough sleep can affect these functions leaving us much more prone to illness with slower cognitive processing and poor physical performance.

Now, do we all get enough sleep every night? Probably not, however, there are things we can do to increase the quality our sleep. This video from Med School Insiders gets into the science of sleep, and gives us some tips to get the most of our sleep to wake up feeling more energetic. Start feeling refreshed instead of drained after sleeping, and learn some interesting new ways to get energy boosts during your day.

Tips on Achieving Inbox Zero

This post by Karin Eldor was originally published on the Monster Career Advice Blog.

Tips on Achieving Inbox ZeroWhen was the last time you reached the elusive “0” in your inbox? No emails left to read or reply to. A fully clean slate. Or wait a minute: have you ever reached that goal? And should you even care? Besides, once you clear your inbox, it can take a few minutes for it to fill up again!

One thing we can all agree upon: our perception of productivity has become defined by how many emails we have replied to vs. how many are left in our inbox. But if the reason you have a lot of emails left is because you were busy actively creating strategies and having a thoughtful workday, then does the size of your inbox even matter?

Truth be told, there’s a feeling of accomplishment tied to clearing your inbox at the end of the day. And of course, there are tools to help achieve that.

Enter the “Inbox Zero” phenomenon.

The Buzz Behind Inbox Zero

The term and philosophy of Inbox Zero was originally coined by Merlin Mann, the founder and writer of 43 Folders, a blog about “finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” Contrary to popular belief, the “Zero” doesn’t refer to obsessively keeping your inbox empty at all times. Instead, it refers to “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.”

Email is harming our ability to do smart work — although it keeps us very busy. It’s hindering our productivity and it places the control of how you spend your workday in someone else’s hands as you’re in a constant reactive state. Some people even get anxious while opening their email, anticipating the unread messages lying there.

Psychologist and author of The Best Place To Work, Ron Friedman says: “The reason it can feel overwhelming to find lots of emails in your work inbox is that each message represents another demand on your time and another decision you have to make. Even deciphering a generic announcement about the office coffee maker requires effort, which leaves less energy for work that matters.”

True that.

How to Achieve Inbox Zero

Schedule email times & be militant about it

Keep your email program closed for most of the day, except during the designated times you set aside for it. A popular system applied by businesspeople is checking and responding three times per day. And if it helps, tell people so in your signature or in a scheduled auto-response, if you can (this is a famous tip from productivity guru Tim Ferriss, author of: The 4-Hour Workweek). This is a great way to manage others’ expectations and an efficient way to ensure you are giving your current tasks or meetings your full attention.

Touch It Once!

Don’t get into the habit of opening your email between meetings, reading some messages and then letting them sit idle in your inbox. Read and reply if you can, or if an email does require more thought or strategic action, file it away in a properly labeled folder.

This can be better explained in the following system:

Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, or Do

According to Merlin Mann, follow the principle of Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, or Do, when processing mail.

Here’s how it goes:

  • If it isn’t important, delete it right away;
  • If it isn’t an item you need to handle yourself, delegate it.
  • If it’s a task you can complete in two minutes or less, do it (send a reply, file the message, make a phone call, etc.).
  • If you need to handle it, but reading the message and completing the task will take you longer than two minutes, defer it.

Create Clearly Labeled Subfolders

Use folders and labels to stay organized and help you prioritize when deferring. Here’s an easy system to use:

  • Needs action or reply
  • Awaiting reply
  • To read
  • Important info (includes all those emails that have important info to reference but don’t require a follow-up task from you)

Get unlisted

Unsubscribe from marketing emails that don’t bring you joy or add value.

Use plugins

If you’re using Gmail, then plug-ins like Streak or Boomerang can help you manage your inbox and schedule emails (they have free versions for basic needs!). Streak helps you set up templated replies that you can use for contacts in specific groups and sets certain emails to resurface at a later date as reminders, so you don’t need to worry about them. Boomerang helps you schedule emails, so if you’re replying to a batch of emails, you can schedule certain replies to go at different times (i.e. in the morning of the next day vs. at 5pm that same day, when you’re actually writing the reply).

Don’t answer every email

This can be hugely liberating. If something is simply not a priority at the moment, archive it and move on. Don’t waste your brainpower. However, use your gut; you know who and what is priority, so assess accordingly!

Become An Email Master

In your quest to clean up your inbox and avoid the constant “Sorry for the delayed reply!” message, use the tips that make most sense to you. Hopefully they will help clear the clutter and help you take control of all incoming email, rather than letting those messages take control of you!

This Japanese Technique Will Help You Achieve Your Goals

You have to set goals and form a plan if you want to succeed at anything significant.  That is a fact. Unfortunately, not everybody goes through this exercise when setting out to accomplish something new and, therefore, don’t make it too far. If you do organize yourself and set personal development goals, then you also know that you can’t complete 100% of them. Why is that?

Independent contractors set out to achieve new goals every day — learning new programming skills, reading more books, applying to more jobs — but unfortunately failure still happens. Sometimes it has to do with lack of time or extenuating circumstances, but other times, it’s pure laziness. This video from Bright Side shares a Japanese technique to help you get over the laziness hurdle. As far as time goes, that’s a post for another day.

Awkward is the New Awesome

If you ever get called “awkward” don’t take it as an insult. That’s according to this video from Business Insider. Psychologist Ty Tashiro, author of “Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially awkward and Why That’s Awesome,” explains the reasoning behind people’s awkwardness and why it actually speaks volumes to their abilities.

It turns out, those of you “nerding out” and dressing up in elaborate costumes at Comic Con may be considered awkward, but it also means you’re focused and very knowledgeable at what you do!