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Category Archives: Personal Wellness

Taking care of yourself is an important part of developing professionally. Here are some tips for personal wellness that will improve your IT contracting career as a result.

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

We all come across these colleagues occasionally. People who are completely stressed-out, to the point that they’re snapping at others, putting off decisions, and are just scattered. Some of these folks seem to live their lives in this state (and enjoy it?) and for others, it’s an unusual occurrence when things just pile up too much. We’ve all been there, but working with an over-stressed person presents different challenges than being said person.

At first, you might avoid them and keep your head down, hoping they’ll sort it out. But when a co-worker is stressed and unable to find a way out, it starts affecting their work, your work and the overall morale of the team. In these cases, you can take a leadership approach and help them get that stress back under control and focus properly on the tasks-at-hand.

Approaching a strained person can make matters much worse if done insensitively. There is truth to that witty social media meme that says “Never in the history of calm down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.” Here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Start by checking yourself that you’re not being judgmental. Everybody reacts differently and manages different emotions. Keep that all in mind before moving too much further.
  2. Acknowledge the person’s stress and ask if you can help. If they say no, respect that.
  3. Start by listening carefully. Sometimes people just need to vent and put the situation into perspective.
  4. Continue listening and asking questions to help uncover the root of the stress, as well as consequences the person may be worrying about, again, to put things into perspective.
  5. Help the person solve those root problems with practical solutions. Offer to step-in where it makes sense.
  6. Encourage your colleague to take some time to relax with a walk or meditation, giving them time to reconnect with the present moment.
  7. Don’t get too involved yourself. Stress is contagious and your own mental health needs to stay intact. It’s great to help, but don’t let it bring you down.
  8. Most importantly, remain positive and keep calm yourself. If the person refused your help back in Step 2, maintaining that approachable and friendly demeanor is what will bring them to you for assistance when they’re ready.

Stressed out team members, colleagues, clients, recruiters, or family can all affect your life and career, as they bring down both attitude and productivity. You can’t keep avoiding them so the next best step is to help where you can. But while that’s all nice, remember, you’re not a trained psychiatrist and it’s certainly not your job to deal with other people’s stress-levels. It’s great to help, but everything must be balanced. How do you deal with the people in your life who are showing signs of excessive stress?

So, Now What??!

So, Now What??!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

I’d like to begin by stating that this is purely an opinion piece. I’ve no better access to information than most other people (the information I’ve reviewed comes from internet sources and my own discussions with contractors, consultants and clients) but, I think, that this may be the point. I don’t know what’s coming next, no one does. Many say they do… but they don’t. So in this COVID-obsessed and stressed out world, what is one to do?

There are very few people in this world who truly love and embrace change. (And no, I am not one of them!) Sure, many of us can appreciate the concept of change being needed for progress to occur, we may even agree that it could be a good thing. But it rarely “feels good” when we are in the middle of it. And, boy! Are we in the middle of it now!! Everybody has everything in their lives turned on its head right now. Sure, we’ve made accommodations and are in the process of defining our own “new normal”, but the truth is that the way things are today aren’t the way they are going to be in 6 months from now, nor will they ever be the same way they were before! It’s a scary thought for most people — the “future normal” is unknown.

Wait a minute… the future has never been known… how is this “new” in any way? What is different now, is the scope of the changes that we are facing. Too much of our lives have been changing too drastically too quickly and it will continue to do so for some time to come, for the foreseeable future, actually. I guess hyper-change IS the new normal. Or, to put it oxymoronically, un-normal is normal. And we would do well to get used to that idea.

So, back to the original question: what do we do now, today, to set ourselves up for success in this “oxymoronical” (not a real word) time. I don’t know (for sure). But here are a number of ideas that have shown to be useful when living in times of great change:

  • Accept that you cannot stop change. Your plans, whatever they were, may no longer be possible to accomplish — at least in the way or time frame which you’d intended. If your situation has created an insurmountable obstacle to your plans, stop trying to fight it. Your time and energy would be better spent focusing on something else, something that will lead to positive results for you.
  • Be flexible. Look for ways to adapt your plans so that your goals might still be met. Look for a “Plan B”. Expect that you might need to look for a Plan C, D, E…
  • Be engaged. As much as you might want to hunker down, withdraw and ride it out, these massive changes will continue. Unless you are retired, with everything paid off and have a sizeable, well-hedged nest egg, you are not going to be able to “sit this one out”. “Group Think” is real and it is a powerful tool for you to use to keep current. Working your network of family, friends, colleagues, etc. will help to keep you abreast of the changes as they happen and provide ideas for making the accommodations necessary to limit the downside and maximize the opportunities.
  • Limit the downside and maximize the opportunities. As we all know, change does not need to be a negative thing. Although it can be uncomfortable, there will be both opportunities to take advantage of and pitfalls which we’d like to avoid. Being “opportunistic” might not always have a good connotation; however, in times of great change, it is an approach one should embrace.
  • Give back. As bad as we might have it, others have it far worse. Helping others in need is a great way to do good while attaining perspective, lifting your spirit, and generally feeling better about yourself (and your own situation).
  • On the career side, if you find that you have unwanted-but-extra time on your hands, investing in your knowledge/skills through training, reading, networking, etc. often pays a good return. If you don’t have the time or wherewithal for a formalized course/certification, there are many free sources of information and training available. As well, there are user groups (albeit virtual these days) that you can join. Not only are these a great networking opportunity, they are also great places to learn!
  • Try something new. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I always wanted to… ??, but never had the time“. Or, “Someday, when the time is right, I’ll try to… ??“. Maybe now is the time. You may find a hidden talent or something new that you love to do and the rest of your life may be richer for it. Learn a new language! The direction of macro-changes suggests that globalization will continue unabated and being bilingual or multi-lingual can be a real advantage.
  • Do some soul-searching. Most of us have been “running hot” for a long time. We’ve had our heads down, and pushing forward with our careers/lives/relationships/etc. When evaluating your opportunities, it is a good practice to challenge your own goals, philosophies, and ideals. Is what was important to you 10 years ago still important to you today? If you take time to peel back that “onion”, you might be surprised to find that your priorities are due for a change. What Color Is Your Parachute? is an old, tried-and-true, self-help book meant to guide people through a career change; but it contains excellent exercises that helps one to identify what is most important to them and set goals and priorities and make new, better-fit life plans. Resources such as this book (and countless internet sites) are valuable as guides to your self-awareness journey.
  • Exercise and take care of your health. The benefits of this go without saying… so, I’ll only say this: Regardless of the amount of change facing you over the coming months and years, attending to your physical and mental health will never be a wasted effort.
  • Take time to read — news sources, industry articles, biographies, editorials, training literature and whitepapers. Listen to podcasts on subjects of interest to you. It doesn’t even have to be career-related; it can be of general interest to you or hobby-related. Try to choose things that engage you and stimulate your mind… and minimize your time watching mindless TV shows, the black hole that can be YouTube, etc. because, in these, you lose hours of your life and come out no better for it.

Here are some links to websites that share ideas on how to cope with change. They are good “reads” and can augment my own list here:

That’s my list for coping, Mid-COVID – August 2020. As I said at the beginning of this blog post: this is an Opinion Piece and I am the world’s leading authority on my own opinion. I’m sure you have your own advice to add to this list… and maybe even counter points to argue! I’d be pleased to see you share your own ideas with our readership by leaving a comment below! In the words of the great and wise Red Green: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. Were all in this together!”

Take care, stay well, be strong… and thrive!

Multitasking Isn’t Always as Bad as Everyone Says… But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking Isn't Always as Bad as Everyone Says... But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking is not a new concept in the workplace and much research has been done on the topic for decades. Some people are proponents of it, digging for solutions on how to optimize your multitasking to get more done. Others hate the practice and there are plenty of studies proving that it harms your productivity. One thing all sides agree on is that multitasking can increase your stress levels and you need to keep that in check.

What Is Multitasking?

Taking a step back, for the purposes of this post, multitasking comes in two forms. First, there’s the practice of doing multiple items at once. For example, checking emails and writing code while on mute during a conference call.

The other, slightly harder-to-define, form of multitasking is alternating between tasks, without finishing one first. This is also the more common type of multitasking that is a reality for nearly all office workers. Many of us are checking email every 15-30 minutes while bouncing back and forth between projects.

How Multitasking is Stressing You Out

We won’t get into the debate of whether or not you should multitask. As already noted, for some, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it all together. It is important, however, to recognize that you need to manage it to reduce your stress and better serve your clients.

We first need to understand what the brain is doing when we multitask. Studies have shown that although we believe we’re thinking about many items at once, the brain is more similar to your web browser, going back and forth between different tabs. It can only focus on one tab at once. Each time you go to a different task, it must use energy to open the other one and reprocess what’s happening. Too much of this can cause burnout and even lead to anxiety.

If we agree that multitasking harms productivity, then we can understand how it causes more stress because you start missing deliverables, submit bad work and it can all snowball into more negativity. In addition, the result of switching between projects can deteriorate your focus and, in turn, your ability to retain information.

On the other hand, if we subscribe to the belief that multitasking has benefits and improves productivity, studies continue to show that stress is inevitable. Interestingly, one study found that even when multitasking makes you more productive, you’re still likely to feel as though you weren’t productive which, you guessed it, leads to stress! Being a master multitasker also creates habits of needing to check-in. This causes stress when you find yourself in situations where you suddenly can’t regularly check emails or work on multiple items.

Taking the Stress Out of Multitasking

Certainly, if multitasking isn’t for you, the best solution is to eliminate it. Monotasking takes more discipline, but as noted a couple times already, many productivity experts swear by it. They say it allows you to be present in the moment and complete tasks faster.

To make it more of a reality in your job, you can monotask by creating sub-tasks and mini-goals. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to focus on writing my resume and will not do anything else until it’s done”, you would say “For the next hour I’m going to focus on writing a summary of my Project Management experience in the Oil and Gas sector.”

If you want to continue multitasking, that’s great too. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get to where you want to be, and reduce your stress:

  • Use the right tools. There are plenty of apps to help you out with this and the most basic tool is a pen and paper. Write to-do lists and take notes on where you’re at with each task before switching. This prevents you from using energy when picking up where you left off.
  • Limit distractions. Multitasking is fine, but sometimes it’s toxic. Turn off your notifications so you control when you check email, not the other way around.
  • Know what requires your full attention. Sometimes you cannot multitask. Especially with more complex items or in subjects you’re still new and need all your brain power. Turn off the music, close out your email, and save all other projects for another day.
  • Practice! Like everything, practice makes perfect and multitasking is no different. Set your own routines and processes until you find a system that works for you.

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

You and your family are at home, being responsible with physical distancing. Great! Thank you for helping to flatten the curve. Now, how can you ensure you stay healthy? We recently posted about the importance of your mental health and how to take care of that through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also important to take care of your physical health. Here are a few tips:

Keep Your House as Clean as Possible

Just because you’re locked in your house is no reason to believe you can no longer contract the Corona virus. Others in your house may already have it, food or other items that you bring home might contain the virus on its surface or you might pick it up while out and about grabbing some essentials.

First, monitor everyone in your house and be aware if they’re showing signs of COVID-19. The Government of Canada published this self-assessment tool to help you assess if somebody is sick. If somebody does show signs, do what you can to quarantine them within the house and pay extra attention to disinfecting any surfaces they may come into contact with. Use gloves around areas they touch, including when cleaning their laundry.

The CDC offers tips for cleaning and disinfecting your house here. They recommend you clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches and toilets. It’s worth noting that cleaning removes germs but doesn’t kill them, it just lowers their numbers. You need to disinfect with chemical to kill germs on surfaces, after you’ve cleaned them. To disinfect, diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are best. You can create your own solution by mixing 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water.

This post from ITWorld Canada also provides tips for cleaning cellphones and other devices, including your cell phone, keyboards and mice.

Exercising

It’s the little things that count. Even if you never had a regular workout routine, walking to the office and back from your car, going out for lunch, and taking a few sets of stairs are all forms of exercise we’re no longer getting. You must keep physically fit to stay healthy through these times, but it’s difficult when we barely leave the home and the couch is so tempting.

First, always remember that a walk outside is alright and encouraged by health professionals, as long as you maintain your distance from other people. If you’re looking for something a bit more structured, this CBC article is packed with free, no-equipment online fitness classes. It lists a variety of free apps and channels (ex. Nike Training Club or Fitness Blender), studios offering online workouts (ex. Fit Squad Training, Body Barre Fitness & Training Studio), and other opportunities to get some good family workouts at home. Those with kids can also check out some YouTube channels like Cosmic Kids Yoga and Barre Alley.

Food Safety

There are many questions regarding food, and how to ensure it’s safe, either when it comes home from the grocery store or a takeout restaurant. In a CTV News interview, infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch called the risk of contracting the virus that way “so extraordinary small”. He said the virus doesn’t appear to thrive on surfaces like food or paper, but it can survive for hours or days on others.

The same CTV News article provided a few suggestions for keeping safe with takeout. For example, use rubbing alcohol to wipe down the box (but not the food) and thoroughly wash your hands after exchanging packages or cash.

As far as groceries are concerned, experts say this comes down to good hygiene. That should come as no surprise to anybody today. Sanitize before and after entering the grocery store and sanitize your grocery cart before taking it. You can wear gloves during your shopping trip and remove them once you leave the store; however, don’t let them give you a false sense of security. Germs can still spread on surfaces of gloves.

For more details, here’s a video by Jeffrey VanWingen with some detailed tips on how to sanitize your groceries and takeout when you bring them home:

How are you ensuring you stay healthier (or get healthier) while social distancing? Please share your ideas and suggestions with our community in the comments below.

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

The COVID-19 outbreak is locking the world down inside their homes and many of us are already going stir-crazy. Evening extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, live sports are taking a hiatus, and we’re discouraged from going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even telecommuting, as convenient as it is, gives you an hour or two more at home… inside the house… bored.

As we noted in last week’s post, it becomes easy to create an unhealthy routine of rolling out of bed, doing your work, then watching Netflix, all while eating junk food throughout the day. That behaviour is acceptable over the Christmas holidays, but is not ideal. Instead, use your extra time to better yourself and plan some of these tasks into your daily routines:

Professional Development

How many times in the past couple years have you missed out on a gig or higher rate because you were lacking some specific training or certification. Did you tell yourself you’re going to get on it but life is too busy? Now is the time! There are plenty of ways you can expand your skills and learn right from your home. We recently updated this post that contains over 50 different online resources for building skills and earning certifications. Included in that list is ICTC’s newly launched ICTC Ditital Pulse Channel. It will include live virtual events via video conference and available on their Vimeo page.

Perhaps you just need to use some existing skills and develop tangible experience. In that case, try creating  a few made-up projects, similar to this video of Python projects that look good on a resume. Or, you can offer to help a friend or past client with a project at no charge, with the understanding that you are learning a new skill.

Update Your Resume

We see thousands of resumes. Few of them are perfect. Can yours use some polishing? Here’s a checklist of things worth reviewing:

  1. Experience: Review it and ensure you list all technologies and skills you used, in each project description. If you know you will be responding to public sector bids in the future, check out this past post about building a resume for a government matrix. Remember, when you’re in a crunch to get a resume to a recruiter, it will be easier to cut information out of a detailed resume than to write new information to put into it.
  2. Wording: You have the meat, now make sure you’re selling yourself! Check out this post that helps you write the perfect profile summary. It will hook a recruiter into wanting to read more of your resume, then you can sell them on your experience. This infographic contains powerful action verbs to incorporate into project descriptions.
  3. Formatting: It’s amazing how many great resumes are destroyed because the formatting is awful. The biggest letdown is when a candidate gets too fancy and designs a beautiful resume that staffing agencies’ Applicant Tracking Systems can’t read. Then all that work becomes pointless. Even when it gets through the system, some IT contractors still fail to catch a recruiter’s attention. A few years ago, we asked recruiters what IT contractors can do better when formatting their resume, here’s their responses. Does your resume have any of these mishaps? If you’re spicing up your resume, also check out the video series we did a few years ago that gives tips for formatting your resume in MS Word.
  4. Match it to LinkedIn: It is no secret that all recruiters leverage LinkedIn to build their network. You need to have an updated profile to be found by the industry’s top recruiters. You also need to confirm it matches your resume which is one of the top things recruiters look for in a great LinkedIn profile. Use your downtime to update your LinkedIn profile, complete with a great profile photo.

Organize Your Business

Keeping your business running smoothly requires extra time to organize, and frankly, few IT contractors have time for that… until now! Here are a few past posts that will help:

Take Care of Yourself

If all else fails and you don’t want to think about work, use your time to take care of yourself.

  • Add Exercise into Your Daily Routine. It can be as simple as a few push-ups and crunches throughout the day, taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, or finding online workouts to follow along with. Many gyms are offering free live sessions to help cope with quarantines, you just need to search for them.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Especially during uncertain times where stress and anxiety are high, this is a good opportunity learn more about mindfulness. Explore and practice meditation in a quiet area to help focus your attention on the present moment and accept it without judgement. Some forms of yoga can have similar results, and also accomplish that exercise goal!
  • Enjoy Time with Others. Enjoy board games and activities with kids and spouses. Then, when fights inevitably break-out, call old friends and relatives who you’ve lost touch with.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for the world and it’s a test for all of us. How we react and move forward will determine who will come out on top when this is all over. These are just a few ways you can take advantage of your downtime to better yourself. What else are you doing to keep busy while stuck at home?

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing Your Stress and Anxiety Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is causing drastic amounts of change and reaction from government, businesses and individuals. The unknown brings plenty of stress and anxiety to everyone, and that’s alright, as long as we deal with it in a healthy manner. While over-reacting and panicking has terrible consequences, under-reacting and denying the situation can also have tragic outcomes.

As the famous Serenity Prayer says “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the thinks I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s easier said than done, but a step towards eliminating anxiety is to identify what’s stressing you out, and then decide if you can even control it. If you can’t, then let it go.

6 Things Within Your Control to Help Reduce COVID-19 Anxiety

The most uplifting news you need to remember is that you have full control over a number of actions. Taking control helps you rid anxiety because you know you’re doing your part. The most obvious example relating to the Coronavirus is that you can follow all recommendations that have been handed down from health professionals so we can flatten the curve. Here are six other suggestions, completely within your control, that will help reduce anxiety and help others while you’re doing it:

  1. Control the Information You Take In. The first step is to replace irrational thoughts with facts, which you can do by staying informed. But there is such a thing as being too Depending too much on articles from your Facebook feed or allowing yourself to go down an Internet rabbit hole is going to inundate you with information and much of it will not be valid. To prevent anxiety from over-information, find 2 or 3 credible, trusted organizations and stick with them for information. Only review the sources a couple times per day, and aside from that, stop yourself from being exposed to any other information related to COVID-19. The World Health Organization recently launched a service on WhatsApp so you can get information direcetly from them.
  2. Stay connected with people. Social distancing, quarantining and isolating does not mean you can’t have any social life. Make extra effort to maintain contact with friends and family. We can guarantee that the Coronavirus does not spread through text, social media, and phone calls.
  3. Take Care of Those Around You. Deliver groceries or take a moment to call somebody who you know is probably alone and worried themselves. Simply put, be kind to others. These are already stressful times and petty arguments are extremely unproductive. Making other people’s lives easier also just feels good and improves your mental health.
  4. Keep a healthy routine. Working from your home office for 8 hours, eating an greasy meal and then sitting on the couch until it’s time for bed is going to deteriorate your mental health. You probably have extra time, so experiment with new, healthy meals and fix up that sleep schedule. You can also help your mental health by getting outdoors, continuing (or starting) an exercise routine, as well as making time for relaxation and mindfulness, such as reading, taking a hot bath, practicing meditation or doing yoga.
  5. Help Your Kids Cope. Anybody who has kids is probably already going crazy. On top of trying to entertain them and split up fights every 10 minutes, you might be getting blasted with questions about what’s happening in the world, and that increases your own anxiety. Remember to stay calm and stick with brief facts. Allow them to ask those questions, but limit responses to what they need to know and especially limit their exposure to news sources that spread fear.
  6. Seek Help When You Need It. Most importantly, understand that there will be times when you don’t have the answers and coping alone isn’t going to cut it. Whether that means calling a friend or a professional, know when it’s time to reach out. Below are some links with information from credible organizations that can help you get started.

While we’re doing what we can to protect our physical selves from the Coronavirus, we can’t forget about our mental health as well. It’s normal to experience extreme amounts of anxiety due to the uncertainty; however, being able to cope mentally is a necessity in moving forward and getting through these unprecedented times.

Resources

Let’s Talk About Mental Health in Tech

Let's Talk About Mental Health in Tech

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day. A day when Canadians are encouraged to speak out about their struggles with mental health and breakdown the stigma often associated with mental illnesses. In the last 10 years, mental health awareness has taken a front-seat in many organizations around the world and we’re becoming increasingly aware that we’re all impacted by it.

A 2018 study by Sunlife Financial revealed that nearly half of Canadians have experienced a mental health issue, but the reality is that 100% of us have. Mental health issues go beyond more talked-about illnesses like severe depression, addiction, and schizophrenia. They include work-related stress, burnout and anything else that prevents you from being completely present. When not treated, each of these can become more severe and lead to negative outcomes.

Bell Let's Talk Day LogoIT contractors are not immune to mental health issues and, in fact, many believe they are at higher risk. According to the BIMA Tech Inclusive & Diversity Report 2019, tech workers in the UK are at least 5 times more depressed than average, with those in web design and development, admin and project management most likely to experience symptoms. These findings make sense given the nature of the tech industry and many IT jobs. It is not uncommon to hear about developers working late into the night, depriving themselves of sleep, which has severe long-term effects on one’s mental health. But even without that common stereotype, technology-related positions are often isolated and high-stress. They regularly have tight deadlines, implementations lasting hours longer than they’re supposed to, and a lack of ability to “wait until Monday” when things go wrong.

The nature of contracting also has elements that are known to lead to mental illness. A study by the University of California found that 72% of entrepreneurs experienced mental health concerns. They coined the term “Founder’s Blues.” That’s because on top of having to excel at your own position, you’re also dealing with running your own business and always thinking about the unknown as you search for the next gig. Adding to the problem is that independent contractors don’t have the same support systems as an employee. There is no HR department with resources and programs, nor is there an option to take a Mental Health Day without giving up pay.

Improving Mental Health Issues in the IT Industry

Many are already recognizing the increased risk of mental health issues in tech. Open Sourcing Mental Illness (OSMI) is a non-profit organization that is created specifically to help those in the tech sector. They conduct regular studies, share data, and provide access to resources around mental well-being. Another organization made up of tech professionals around the world is Prompt, which encourages conversation of mental health in the IT industry. An initiative of the Travis Foundation, Prompt connects speakers on the subject with conference and meetup organizers.

Of course, you do not need to be part of a non-profit organization to help tackle this issue in your industry. Being aware of your own mental health and knowing when to take action and care for yourself is the first step. You can also look out for others and encourage them to take a break when they need it. Watch for symptoms like headaches, being withdrawn, taking time off, missing deadlines, letting work slip, sudden weight loss or gain, and lack of care over personal appearance.

When you take a cough drop and get some extra sleep because your throat is a bit sore, you can prevent a cold that may have knocked you down for a week. Similarly, recognizing symptoms of a mental health issue and acting upon them quickly will prevent it from snowballing into lost work and damaged relationships.

Quick Poll Results: How do you manage notifications on your phone?

For most Canadians, the amount of time we spend on our phone, and productivity lost because of it, is terrifying. Just have a look at this post from the RescrueTime blog that’s filled with eye-opening statistics.  For example “Most people check their phones 58 times a day (with 30 of those during working hours)” or “Half of all phone pickups happen within 3 minutes of a previous one“. Fortunately the post is also filled with some great tips on how to combat such behaviour, with the third in the list being “Turn off notifications (or go into do-not-disturb mode while working).

With that in mind, last month’s contractor quick poll set-out to find out how many people heed that advice, and to what extent. There appears to be a mix of behaviours among IT contractors…

How do you manage the notifications on your phone?

Only REALISTIC Goals are Worth Anything. The Rest are Depressing Fantasies.

Only REALISTIC Goals are Worth Anything. The Rest are Depressing Fantasies.

Whether you’re planning your long-term IT contracting career or working on getting your next gig, setting goals and working towards them is a surefire way to make sure you get to where you want to be. Our team at Eagle has shared a number of posts on the topic, specifically using SMART goals to plan for the future.

The SMART acronym has a few variations, depending which expert you speak with, but for the most part, it’s agreed upon that great goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (sometimes Realistic) and Time-Based. That Attainable/Realistic step is key. Failing to get that right can lead to expectation creep and you will find yourself feeling inadequate and miserable.

Ambition is a strong character trait but too often, we set goals with too much of it and combine it with a vision of perfection. This creates fantasies of achieving something we can’t, setting us up to be doomed for failure and feeling depressed about life.

Make Sure Your Goals are Realistic…

…for You

First and foremost, when setting goals, you have to know yourself. Ask some internal questions. What is your motivation for accomplishing this goal? Is it something you even want to accomplish or have you set this goal to please others? Taking on a goal that lacks intrinsic motivators is less likely to be accomplished.

You also must understand your weaknesses. Setting a goal to learn a new, in-demand skill is a great idea. But, if it means working in a subject where you’re generally weak or if you have a learning disability, then associating short timelines is unrealistic.

In summary, to set realistic goals, you must know yourself.

…for Your Life

Once you know yourself, you must also take a step back and understand where you are in life. Do you even have time to work towards the goal in the timeline you set? Does it have a financial, education or geographic requirement that would destroy other parts of your life?

Setting goals that will not fit with your current lifestyle is not only a recipe for failure but it can also have serious consequences on your health when you try to squeeze too much in. Know when to say no, both to yourself and to others.

…for Others

While your goals might be fully achievable for you and your life, there is a strong chance that complete success depends on external factors. Perhaps you want to get a job within a certain client or industry that isn’t hiring right now. Or the economy in the region you would like to work is weak at the moment. Or, maybe that job is stuck behind a recruiter with whom you have a terrible relationship and there will be extra work to get around that barrier. Truly realistic goals will take these external factors into account.

…in General

An IT professional who is fresh out of school is setting themselves up for failure if they expect to get a Senior Software Developer position within their first six months of graduating. If you’ve always been an accountant, planning to land that developer job next week is a joke. Understand time and physical boundaries and don’t set goals that only one in a million people could ever accomplish. While this ambition may look great on paper, this type of failure will not be helpful to your career or your mental health.

Do not be discouraged by the points above and eliminate your goals because they don’t meet the criteria of being realistic. Begin by brainstorming all possible obstacles to your goals (internal and external) and set plans to work around them. They will become smaller goals to work towards with your larger one being the big picture goal. Next, look at the timeline and adjust it based on those smaller goals and the other factors holding you back. Set mini milestones to help celebrate all accomplishments and understand that you are moving closer to the ultimate goal.

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone’s Day

20 Simple (and mostly free) Ways to Brighten Someone's DayWe’ve all had terrible days. We’ve also experienced the slightest gesture from somebody else that turned everything around. How many people do you interact with during your workday? Clients, their employees, other IT contractors, recruiters, the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be great if you were that person who turned around somebody else’s terrible day?

Many IT contractors are fortunate to interact with a variety of people, giving you more opportunities to brighten a day, and it doesn’t have to be grand like buying them lunch or delivering a speech filled with compliments. Many quick actions may seem small but, to the person on the receiving end, they are exactly what they needed to push them back to the bright side.

Consider trying any of these, at least once per day:

  1. Smile
  2. Help a busy colleague
  3. Compliment a teammate on their work
  4. Hold the door for somebody
  5. Bake (or bring donuts) for your client’s office
  6. Wish a nice day to a stranger in the elevator
  7. Lend your umbrella (or keep a spare one on-hand for people who forget)
  8. Ask someone about their children/pet/family
  9. Follow-up on a story they told a few days ago
  10. Fill the kettle in the office kitchen
  11. Introduce yourself to the contractor who’s new to the office
  12. Talk to the staffing agency’s receptionist when you arrive for an interview
  13. Send a hand-written thank you note
  14. Reach out to an old colleague just because
  15. Address someone by their name (studies have proven that a person’s own name is the sweetest sound they’ll here)
  16. Show your appreciation for the little things people do
  17. Invite someone you don’t know well to join you for lunch or drinks
  18. Actually listen when others speak
  19. Let someone get in line ahead of you
  20. Be nice and use your manners (it’s amazing how much these are missed in a busy world)

Doing little things to brighten somebody’s day will not only make them happier, but you’ll feel better about yourself as well. And the added bonus, they will remember you in a positive light, and that could come in very handy during your next job search.