Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Personal Development

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

Tips for Beating Stress and Burnout

Tips for Beating Stress and BurnoutIt’s not unusual for IT contractors to burn the candle at both ends while juggling multiple clients and balancing their personal life. Everybody is human, though, and living such a lifestyle will only last so long. Eventually, stress catches up and burnout is inevitable, leading to a crash and all productivity being lost. While there is nothing wrong with taking on a lot to get the most out of your day, it’s important for your personal health to both recognize the signs that stress is building up, and then act on those symptoms before burnout sets in.

Fast Company recently published a series of articles on the topic of stress and burnout. In this post, the author researched medical professionals’ tips on recognizing four physical signs of stress:

  1. You’re tired in the morning but unable to fall asleep at night – chronic stress causes cortisol levels to become imbalanced so they’re low in the morning and then rise at night.
  2. You have a nervous stomach – stress makes it easier for bad bacteria to fester than good bacteria, plus it threatens your gut’s permeability. Those who are more stressed end up getting digestion difficulties, inflamed pores and acne breakouts, IBS symptoms and more.
  3. Your heart is in panic mode – Also known as “fight or flight mode” this increases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and respiration which are supposed to be for short-term emergencies.
  4. Your mind is scattered – Stress causes people to have trouble accessing memories or information and minds have difficulty focusing.

Another Fast Company article continues to highlight the importance of recognizing these signs. In fact, its top tip for avoiding burnout is just that. It states that if you’re feeling like you’re coming down with a cold, it’s a challenge to get out of bed, you’re less interested in hanging out with friends, it’s hard to pay attention and/or if you’re grumpy and irritable, you may be on the verge of burn-out. Acting on these signs early is crucial to avoid it from getting out of control. In addition, the article suggests you can prevent burnout from taking over your life by:

  • Regularly assessing your vitals such as heart rate and cortisol levels
  • Getting out of the house and connecting with friends to build social support
  • Volunteering for an organization that you connect with
  • Adjusting your outlook on life, focusing on projects and items you can control, rather than factors beyond your control
  • Getting quality sleep by cutting out TV and other screens before bed and setting the room temperature to be a bit cooler

Finally, one other Fast Company article referenced a University of Michigan study to beat stress. It says that just 20-30 minutes in nature can cause cortisol levels to drop and will continue to drop for up to 60 minutes. The good news is that “nature” does not have to be the middle of the woods, but simply in your own mind. For example, relaxing by a tree on the street can have those effects.

Of course, many other websites and blogs discuss stress and burnout reduction techniques on a regular basis. Inc recently dug up a video of 28-year-old Bill Gates, claiming the secret to avoiding burnout is to add variety into your day and keep doing different things. And Glassdoor has this list of 9 tips to beat anxiety and stress in the workplace:

  1. Be Prepared – know what you get anxious for and prepare yourself before those situations
  2. Exercise – you feel less stress and anxious when you’re healthy, plus it helps clear your head
  3. Be with Friends – have a support network of people you can call to calm you down or tell you jokes
  4. Eat healthy – It keeps you healthy (see #2) plus junk food makes you feel tired and weak
  5. Relax – take a few minutes for yourself to listen to music or play a quick game and re-focus
  6. Hydrate – Drink plenty of water, not coffee as it will make you jittery
  7. Pace yourself – Set reasonable deadlines for projects and leave wiggle room so there is time to relax
  8. Meditate – Guided meditation, sitting in meditative poses and yoga help all ease anxiety and stress
  9. Professional support – Therapists and councillors will help guide you through tough times

Failure to manage your stress, anxiety and burnout symptoms means you are a train wreck waiting to happen. In addition to the tips above, it is recommended to plan for vacation and/or time between contracts where you can re-energize. Otherwise, it will not be long before your productivity and service begins to drop and you put your reputations as a quality IT contractor into jeopardy.

Fighting the Ongoing Battle Between Instant Gratification and Productivity

Every day we’re faced with a regular battle inside our head, as our primal urges for instant gratification compete for a spot against the drill sergeant that only wants us to focus on our goals and move forward on productivity. Both should have a spot, but the challenge is finding the balance and ensuring the proper one wins the battle each time. Sure, you could spend every waking hour working on client projects, updating resumes, completing grids, exercising and working around the house, but why bother if you’re not having fun? Vice-versa, constantly hitting the snooze button, binge watching Netflix and eating bad food isn’t going to get you to where you want to be too quickly.

So how can you come to a truce in this ongoing battle and get a high return on investment of your time, all while getting the joy you want out of life? This video by The Art of Improvement just might have your answer.

A Visual Approach to Setting SMART Goals

How frequently do you set goals? Monthly, quarterly, annually… ever? Setting goals is the first step to moving forward, getting to where you want to be, and ensuring you are not stuck in a rut. At the start of 2018, Crystal Nicol provided some tips to set goals and boost your career. Towards the end of the year, Alison Turnbull echoed her advice and advocated reflecting on the previous months to set more goals for 2019.

In both cases, the authors referenced SMART goals and how following that method will increase the likelihood your goals get accomplished. For those of you who are visual learners, we found this infographic put together by Professional Academy. Between its visuals, explanations and examples, you’re certain to walk away with some clear goals to advance your career!

A Visual Approach to Setting SMART Goals

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

A little effort makes a big difference! When somebody asks a question and you go the extra mile to exceed expectations and deliver a truly great response, they notice. Alternatively, when you shrug them off or make up a bogus answer, they also notice.

Which method you use to deal with client and colleague questions is up to you, but we’re pretty certain the lazy-made-up-answer route isn’t going to improve any relationships or win you any contracts in the future.

To find out what kind of person you are and for tips on the best way to deal with questions or push the boundaries, have a look at the joint infographic below by The Muse and eTrade. To continue being lazy and unhelpful, ignore the below and just check out this long list of dogs on Wikipedia.

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

Choosing the Right White Noise to Improve Your Productivity

Choosing the Right White Noise to Improve Your ProductivityMaintaining a productive atmosphere, no matter where you are, is difficult over extended periods of time. To fight these ongoing distractions, many companies, including Apple and Spotify, have created “white noise” apps and playlists to help their listeners/buyers create the ideal, portable, distraction-free bubble. The small problem is that Apple and Spotify are not the only companies on the white-noise bandwagon; so then, how do you pick the right playlists/apps to use? Here are a few things to consider:

The type of sounds you are downloading/looking at:

Many of the apps and playlists do not create actual white noise, which is defined as “noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities” to create a noise-cancelling barrier. Most popular apps and playlists create perpetual background noises such as waves, rain, birds, or even coffee shop noises (distant chatter and the tinkle of utensils/coffee cups).

The quality of the playlist/app you purchase:

Because the creation of “white noise”, or background noise, apps have become so popular in recent months, there are quite a few options to go with, including apps such as Noisli where you can pick, choose, and customize noise “playlists” that will play on repeat for extended periods of time. Experts say that ways to tell if the app is worth the install (or purchase), is the size of the app’s installation, as this will give an indication on the size of the sound file (essentially the bigger the file, the better, as all the megahertz’s will have been fully recorded and replicated).

The type of environment where you are most productive:

We can all think of a specific place/time where we are the most productive. The joy of having so many white-noise application/playlists is that most of these environments will have been replicated; you just have to search for it. For instance, Coffitivity offers three types of sounds: morning coffee shop, lunchtime, and university library. Users can pick what song they want and the never-ending background noises will play until the user presses “stop”. The sounds are authentic and the murmuring is quiet enough that it does drown out subtle/small noises in your immediate vicinity (i.e. people walking by your cubicle/desk/office). If you are a person who truly works better in pure silence, however, getting an actual white-noise app (there are no playlists for this type of sound), rather than a background noise app, should achieve that type of environment.

To download an app or playlist, that is the question:

Now that you’ve figured out what type of environment is the best for you, you’re able to start whittling down the what, where, and how of your noise-cancellation bubble. If you’re the type of person who concentrates best with background music, a playlist may be your best option (Apple and Spotify both have fantastic generic playlists for musical genres such as “classical”, “jazz”, and even “videogame/soundtracks”). If listening to noises, such as ocean waves, rain, or birds are more appealing then apps are a perfect choice.

What do you like listening to most when working? Do you have any preferred white noise playlists or apps? We’d love to hear from you. Please share your suggestions below.

Stop Saying these 2 Words and Drastically Improve Your Communication

Great communication skills are essential for getting ahead as an independent contractor. While just one word, “communication” encases so much! At the highest level, it’s being a good speaker or writer, but you also need to understand your audience (their generation or knowledge on a subject) and yourself (tone and approach go a long way). Right down to the specific words you use and, more importantly, don’t use.

Have you ever been in a conversation or listened to a speech and was baffled by how many times the speaker said “Um” or “Like”? Now, have you ever paid attention to how much you’ve been guilty of the same? These two words come out of nearly everyone’s mouth, and it’s not limited to any education level or seniority. You rarely notice if they’re not said, but when they are, they stick out like a sore thumb and affect a listener’s perception of you.

Put an end to (or minimize) both of those words in your spoken vocabulary by looking through the two infographics below. We found the first one on 9gag.com and it provides 11 killer tips to stop saying “um”.  More recently, we found the following infographic from Quid Corner that gives advice of no longer using the word “like” in the wrong places.

Stop Saying Umm Forever

Stop Saying Like All the Time

These 12 Scents Will Make You a Better IT Contractor

Are you an aroma therapy enthusiast, or just curious about it in general? Do you want to improve your problem solving skills, performance, attention and energy? Then this infographic from FrangranceX is exactly what you need to get through the work day.

You’ll need to be aware of scent-free office policies, but did you know that rosemary, vetiver or coffee can improve your problem solving or lemon, jasmine and citrus helps improve your overall performance? There’s more and all of the information can be seen below.

Do you have any preferred scents that help you? Will you try any of these? Let us know in the comments below.

These 12 Scents Will Make You a Better IT Contractor

The Age of Working Remotely: Tried and True Advice for Working from Home

Alison Turnbull By Alison Turnbull,
Permanent Placement Specialist at Eagle

The Age of Working Remotely: Tried and True Tips for Working from HomeAs a long-standing employee at Eagle, I have had the benefit of participating in the company’s work-from-home program, “WORKshift”, for a few years now. The program allows staff to work from their home office once or twice per week but I have now transitioned to a new role that allows me to work remotely 100%. As referenced in a recent post, working remotely brings lots of pros, but certainly has its share of challenges. More and more clients and employers are embracing this style of work. With very effective collaboration and communication tools at the ready, it can make it a feasible option and a definite benefit or ‘value proposition’ when trying to attract new talent.

Whether working full-time or in a contract role, there are several important factors of consideration if you are going to move to a remote work scenario.

Anyone will tell you that the single most important facet of remote work is having a dedicated work space or office. Not only does this allow you to stay focused and engaged during the work day, but one of the biggest challenges is that it can be difficult to differentiate and separate your home and personal life from work. One of the things I’ve found most beneficial is ensuring that I have a set work schedule and adhering to that. I personally have found that ending the work day with a routine or a ritual allows me to best transition from my work day to my evening (taking a brisk walk, running an errand, etc.).

Working remotely does allow some flexibility in terms of schedule but it’s essential to always be readily available during work hours or keep team members apprised of availability, if for any reason you will be away from your computer. It only takes a few missed calls or delayed responses for clients or colleagues to assume you are not in fact working — never a good scenario, especially if you need to get a timesheet signed!

Working remotely can be somewhat isolating, but if you use team messaging or instant messaging software it can go a long way in helping you to feel part of the team. It also helps if you have the type of career that requires that you are on the phone a lot – which, in my case, recruiting certainly does!

From my perspective, the benefits of remote work far outweigh the challenges and I have thoroughly enjoyed the transition. There are time savings (no more commuting), financial savings (gas or transit costs, eating out), health benefits (less fast food and more time to fit in exercise) and it’s much easier to find a good work/life balance.

If you are thinking about exploring the option of taking on some contracts remotely be sure you set yourself up for success, and you will likely never look back!

Refresh Yourself on the Best Communication Tips in Under 3 Minutes

Nearly every workplace battle begins with, or is made worse by, a miscommunication. Getting the right message across sounds like a simple task yet we can all recall too many scenarios where something fell apart simply due to a misunderstanding of words.

Nobody’s perfect and we all fail at communication sometimes. The best we can hope for is to prevent misunderstanding as much as possible, and the prime way to do that is regularly remind ourselves on best practices. This video below runs through 10 of the most important points for solid communication, and in less than 3 minutes! If you want a quick break, hit the play button now and save yourself the stress of fixing a miscommunication later.

Let’s Talk About It… Grief

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

Bell Let's TalkToday marks Bell’s Let’s Talk Day with national efforts to remove the stigma of mental health.  It really is a great thing to have in our society, this constant push to talk about our feelings. But how many times do you really talk about stuff?  About the self-loathing, self-doubt, about weird feelings you don’t even know how to articulate let alone deal with?  That stuff is hard. There is no abundance of professionals to help you through plus there is a societal stigma looming over you with a bubble that says “you are a lesser human being” for having them – where do you begin?

With so many areas of mental illness to cover I decided to pick just one:  Grief.  Today marks the anniversary of my brother’s death.  Stephen died, 3 years ago from Pneumonia.  It devastated my family; my parents haven’t been quite the same.  Nor really have any of us.  We had to deal with this loss and with feelings we were not familiar with, together and as a family.  Was this mental illness? Certainly, situational yes; long-term, it could have been.  A normal and important part of life, death has to be dealt with, however uncomfortable.  As well as lots of personal reflection, tears, and of course time, here is how my family dealt with it:

Journal

  • You don’t have to be a journalist to know how to write, it doesn’t even have to make sense or be spell checked, but you can pour your heart out into the pages and feel the relief.
  • Move your words towards a positive viewpoint, entry by entry.
  • Look back to see how far you’ve come, if you think you have not progressed, write about it. Keep writing until nothing else comes to mind, then you’ve had enough — until the next entry

Really Talk it Out

  • Seek out a grief counsellor, many Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can help in this area with referrals, reference material and support groups.
  • Talk to your family, and friends — really talk to them — be vulnerable, be honest, they will still love you, and your feelings will dissipate.

Take a Step Outside

  • Get physical, grief can affect our whole body, it is a physical and mental loss. One of my siblings had so much rage he hung a punching bag in his garage and punched until he could no more.
  • Take the dog out — again, and again until you too are ‘dog tired’. Sleep will come easier and deeper that way.  Your subconscious will be able process your feelings, a two in one kind of deal!

Allow yourself to feel sad, don’t push the feelings away and don’t self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol.  Keep a healthy menu on hand and give yourself time.  Perhaps for my family the one biggest thing that got us through was our sense of humour and sharing stories of Stephen.  My heart still breaks but now I know ways to deal with that.