Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Personal Development

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

15 Podcasts to Help Independent Contractors Get Through Difficult Times

For all of the good times, being an independent contractor can bring on some tough times that make you feel alone. Some days finding the next IT gig is like pulling teeth and you’re left with little or no income for a period of time. Then, after putting in hours of effort to finally land a contract, technology projects can go off the rails, clients and their employees might throw you under the bus, and your personal plans start to get destroyed. It’s times like these that you need to be strongest and get back up fighting, but where do you find that motivation?

Fundera has a solution for you… actually they have 15 helpful solutions! This infographic suggests podcasts on nearly any topic that are both inspiring and help build resilience — perfect for the independent IT contractor. Check them out and let us know you favourite in the comments below.

15 Podcasts to Help Independent Contractors Get Through Difficult Times

Are Word and Excel Really That Great for an Independent Contractor’s Accounting?

At its core, Microsoft Office offers a suite of tools that nearly everybody uses, regardless of their profession, with Word and Excel being the most popular. Over the years we’ve provided extensive tips on formatting your resume in Microsoft Word and shared several posts with tips to use Excel to its maximum potential.

Throughout our many posts, we have suggested a time or two that IT contractors could use Microsoft Excel for accounting; however, that suggestion always comes with a caution that as powerful as it is, Excel doesn’t easily cover all of your accounting needs. In a recent blog post, Freshbooks also cautions against using Word and Excel to manage your books, even if it’s something that’s always worked for you. While we admit, Freshbooks is a biased source given its product is accounting software, they do make valid points to consider:

You’re Probably Making Mistakes in Word and Excel

Because these Microsoft tools are not created specifically for accounting, Freshbooks argues that it is easier to make mistakes that cost you time and money. For example, fixing small formatting issues in Excel is quick, but frequently making those fixes will quickly take more and more time. Or, maybe you accidentally save over (or forget to save) IT project estimates you create in Word. Then you may have to unprofessionally ask your recruiter or client to send it back to you a month later.

Tracking Cashflow Is Not as Easy

The example Freshbooks provides in their argument is that their product allows for online payment so you can get paid faster, even in a mail stoppage. But a great accounting program will help your cashflow beyond that example in ways that Excel and Word will not do as easily. If you juggle multiple clients and staffing agencies, accounting programs can track their payment status and trends to know who is better at paying. In addition, they will notify you who has yet to pay, automatically send reminders and notify you when it’s time to follow up. If you’re a pro with MS Office, you can probably set these features up on your own, but they will not run quite as smoothly.

Tax Time is Not as Easy

All independent contractors are well aware of the importance of filing your taxes properly. While your fantastic accountant takes care of everything at tax time, they will be thrilled to learn you moved away from Microsoft Office and onto an accounting software. These programs track your expenses and help manage all documentation that come with them. They can also automatically generate reports and calculations based on your tax requirements. The easier you can make tax time on your accountant, the less time it will take them to do your books, and the less they will have to charge you.

The software you choose to use to manage your IT contracting business is a decision to be made based on consultation with your accountant, in combination with your own knowledge of accounting. While this post was inspired by a Freshbooks article, there are many other options and we encourage you to explore them all. One thing is certain, though. If you choose to use programs such as Word or Excel, you will have more inconveniences and mistakes.

It’s Alright to Quit and You Need to Know When

It’s healthy to set complex goals that are a stretch but will force you to step outside your comfort zone and work extra hard to accomplish that goal. Sometimes those goals are personal and sometimes they’re professional. Sometimes they’re attainable and sometimes… they’re never going to get completed. So, is it alright to quit? According to this video from Med School Insiders, it’s not just alright, it’s encouraged!

An important step to working on any project is knowing when to evaluate and know when you need to keep pushing through or when it’s time to quit. As the video explains, the decision is not easy and requires many considerations, but it’s an important question to ask yourself in order to maintain maximum productivity and, more importantly, your health.

As Kenny Rogers says “You gotta know when to hold’em, and know when to fold’em.”

How Does Language Shape the Way We Think?

It’s a fact that everybody thinks differently, approaches a problem differently, and overall interprets the world differently. It’s also a fact that remembering and understanding this will help you be a better team member and work more effectively with others.

We shared a video last year discussing how bilingual brains perceive time differently. This video from TED Talks explains further about why people think differently based on their language (the one they speak, not the code). With thousands of different languages around the world, it’s fascinating and eye-opening to realize why some cultures approach problems completely differently from others. If you have a 15 minute break, take some time to check out this video. It might change the way you interact with others on your team.

Constructively Accept Constructive Feedback

This may be a hard pill for some to swallow but believe it or not, you’re not perfect. That’s right, even YOU have some room to improve and by doing so you can advance your career as an IT contractor. The only way to get better at anything we do is to know our weaknesses and shortcomings and the best way to learn about them is to accept feedback.

As an independent contractor, feedback may come from clients, colleagues or recruiters at any time and for any reason. In addition to the obvious feedback you’ll get about your work while on a project, you may also hear from people regarding your general attitude, your interview skills, resume advice or something as simple as a more professional way to answer the phone.

Regardless of what kind of feedback you receive, who it’s from or why, it’s always beneficial to follow these tips and receive it effectively:

  1. Don’t get defensive, make excuses or justify yourself. At least at the onset of receiving feedback from somebody, take the time to hear them out and fully understand what they’re telling you. Doing so may lead to humility and self-awareness that can vastly improve who you are as a person in addition to the subject at hand.
  2. Practice active listening. Feedback is a common form of communication and, as such, “active listening” should absolutely be practiced. Be mindful of your body language to show you’re engaged, let them finish talking and ask questions to demonstrate that you do care about what is being said.
  3. Ensure you understand what’s being said. In addition to asking questions as suggested in the previous point, also summarize and clarify the feedback being given to you. This will ensure you both leave the conversation knowing exactly what improvements can be made.
  4. Ask for help whenever necessary. If you are struggling to understand how you can take their feedback and improve, then ask for guidance and suggestions. When people give feedback they should be genuinely interested in helping you and your project.
  5. Follow-up after implementing recommendations. Once you’ve taken the feedback into consideration and made changes to improve, check-in with the person who provided it with you to let them know the steps you took and to see if they’ve noticed an improvement. This will not only ensure your performance goes up, but it will demonstrate your appreciation for the feedback.
  6. It’s alright to ignore some feedback. Some people are nosey jerks who have no real constructive criticism or valuable advice to give. If you’re certain that is the scenario, feel free to ignore all or most of the previous tips. They may make some valid points which you should accept, but it’s not worth wasting too much energy on a negative person.

Any time somebody offers you feedback, remember that it’s often just as hard for them to give it as it is for you to receive it. Appreciate the situation and the confidence they may have had to build to give it to you. Regardless of whether or not you intend to act on feedback received, you should always remain polite and be thankful for the advice. After all, if you intend to provide feedback in the future, it will be received better by others if you can receive it well yourself.

Check Out This Infographic Before You Lose Your Patience

People suck! Ok, not all people you work with are annoying, grumpy, Negative Nellies who make you want to explode, but they sure do seem to pop-up when you have the least patience. Unfortunately, it’s bad for business and your reputation to yell at people uncontrollably when they’re difficult, so you should have a few different strategies up your sleeve.

If you’ve been close to smashing your computer out of frustration, NetCredit has come to your rescue with this infographic for dealing with difficult people. It provides 9 helpful tips that will help you get through meetings, your workday, and even interviews with terrible recruiters. Do you have any creative tips you could add?

These Terrible Habits are Destroying Your Productivity

Last Monday we shared an infographic about productive meetings, touting the importance of hosting meetings that don’t waste everyone’s day. Being respectful of your colleagues’ time is certainly a positive trait in an independent contractor but maximizing your own time is an even higher priority if you want to optimize your income.

It’s easy to fall into terrible habits during your everyday work-life that eat your time and destroy your efficiency. For example, how many distractions are in your office or how frequently do you skip breakfast? There are plenty of terrible habits we pick-up that we don’t realize are costing money and this infographic from luxafor points out 10.

10 Bad Habits That Kill Your Productivity #Infographic

A Surgeon Teaches Us How to be Super Human

One of the top reasons clients hire independent contractors is because they’re the best in the field. When an organization needs something developed in a specific way, they find an expert IT contractor with a niche skill set. That contractor will not only deliver the solution most efficiently, they will also transfer knowledge and provide more in-depth knowledge to the client’s IT department. It’s safe to say, if you want to improve at any skills, it’s best to ask an expert and those with the most experience.

With that said, we can all learn something from doctors and surgeons. Before you get concerned that this post is advocating learning about medicine and performing surgery through a video, we’re referring to another skill that all successful medical professionals have proven to be experts at: productivity.

In this video, plastic surgeon Dr. Jay of Med School Insiders provides some of his own productivity and efficiency tips that have allowed to get through med school, continue a successful career and still balance a fun life. Watch the video to learn how you can maximize your time efficiency and start getting more done today!

Baby Boomers v.s. Millennials: How to Communicate and Overcome the Generation Gap

Breigh Radford By Breigh Radford,
Director, Human Resources at Eagle

How many times have you heard that the key to a good relationship is communication? Probably forever! But how well do you communicate with the different generations. Recently, I was told by a Baby Boomer (ages 54-72) that Millennials (ages 22-37) only know how to communicate through text. Shortly after, I was told by a Millennial that Baby Boomers are demanding and unappreciative. That got me thinking – they both have so much in common, but they don’t listen and tend to interpret the message into their own words.

Now, I belong to Generation X (ages 38-53) and lately I’ve been feeling a bit stuck in the middle of these two large demographic groups. It is exhausting being their mediator, so here are some tips you may want to consider:

Tips for Baby Boomers

  • Appreciate and take advantage of the energy and curiosity of a Millennial. They can likely do a task quicker via an app or a Google search. Try and get sucked into their energy and world, it could be fun!
  • Engage them! Millennials are more than an employee or an annoying team member, they want to feel that there is meaning in their life and job and be heard (so listen!). Instead of “Yes, but…” try “Yes, and…” – it is a sure way to show you are open to their ideas.

Tips for Millennials

  • Take advantage of the wisdom and experience the Baby Boomers have. They were young once and may give you a different perspective to consider.
  • Consider communicating to the Baby Boomer in their preferred method, not yours. Improve your influence factor by learning how to present to a different demographic in a way they understand. Use the original Facetime perhaps? Do your homework and when making a ‘pitch’ be professional, present all sides of the argument, and talk facts, not feelings.

Tips for All

  • Respect goes both ways. Be sure to ask questions, learn and never assume.
  • Clarify and confirm what you have discussed. For example:
    • “Just to clarify, you want me to begin the research project today and get back to you with an estimated completion date by tomorrow at the end of day?” OR
    • “Regarding our last meeting and discussion, I have thought further about working from home and I understand the policy as it relates to my role. I want to confirm that you are aware that I won’t be working in the office two days a week. I’ll start this program next Tuesday.”

Good communication always starts with a conversation, whether it be in person, phone, email or text. Either demographic can start the dialogue, but let’s start it and leave the Gen Xers out of it for a while.

How to Control Your Anger at Work

It doesn’t matter how great your team is, how understanding your client is, or how simple your project is — there are going to be days when you get angry. Getting angry and frustrated is natural and acceptable, so long as you deal with it appropriately. Being great at this skill tends to go unnoticed; however, if you’re horrible at controlling your anger, your professional reputation will quickly go downhill.

Keeping a level head at work does not come naturally to everyone and is even more challenging when you’re under pressure. If this is an area where you have room to improve, here’s a summary from an article on the topic that Forbes published back in May:

  1. Deal with your body/mind equilibrium by taking a deep breath, drinking a glass of water or changing the physical scene.
  2. Contrary to current trends, sometimes you do need to repress your feelings, especially when planning your actions.
  3. Think long and hard before confronting a person with whom you’re angry.
  4. Is the situation making you angry or are there external factors enhancing the anger? (ex. something at home, reminder of a past situation)
  5. Take responsibility and consider where you went wrong and what you could have done differently to prevent this current situation.
  6. Wait 24 hours before writing an email about the situation.
  7. Avoid complaining to others at the client site.
  8. Reflect on the entire situation, going as far back in time as possible, and then imaging how it plays out into the future.
  9. Do some other work, absolutely anything, to get your mind off of the situation and bring yourself back to a positive headspace.
  10. When warranted, get even with the best scenario – to right to wrong – but remember the words of George Herbert, “Living well is the best revenge.”

The way you communicate in situations of anger are equally as important or you risk making things much worse. Inc compiled 31 pieces of advice from managers for communicating with their team, and many can be applied to situations of anger. Here are some of our favourites:

  • I use email or WhatsApp for simple topics, but phone or face to face for dealing with more complicated issues.
  • I always ask if I can improve on how I communicate.
  • I always prefer a face-to-face meeting or a call, followed by an email that answers, “This is what I think we discussed; did I get this right?”
  • It’s important to understand the other person’s emotional state and how he/she responds.
  • A mentor taught me about managing the “monkeys on your back”. The idea is that everyone is trying to shift tasks (monkeys) to someone else. As a manager, your job is to delegate a monkey, but your team member may try to hand it back. My mentor suggested replying with “How do you think X should be handled?” If the team member doesn’t have an answer, he/she gets sent back out to find a few solutions. Now my team members know that they should come up with a solution before bringing me the problem.

Have you ever been an office when a co-worker (or yourself) lost control of their anger and had an embarrassing outburst? How did it turn out for them? Probably not well. The slightest slip up in these scenarios can have devastating results on your career with lasting effects.