Brenda's Blog

All articles from January, 2018

As a Leader, How Clear Are You on Your “North Star?”

In these past few weeks of this new year, I’ve noticed a trend among quite a few executive coaching clients. They’re feeling a bit deflated, unsure of the direction of their career, questioning where they are. Without a true sense of purpose, they tell me they are feeling lost and without meaning. In short, they lack a clear game plan to aim for – a “North Star” – that will move them toward what they really want.


It’s easy to keep going, day in and day out, without thinking about what we’d like our lives to look like in the future. But if we don’t stop to reflect on what we truly want at the beginning of a year, we will likely flail throughout the remainder of the year, untethered and unclear of direction. The next thing we know, it will be January of the next year, and we’ll feel as though we accomplished very little. As Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

What about you – how clear are YOU about your North Star?

Plotting Your North Star

To get a clearer idea of your own personal North Star, I encourage you to do what I call the “End-Point Exercise.”

1.  Draw a horizontal timeline and write this year’s date at the farthest-left end of the line. Ask yourself: “At what age will I retire and/or quit working full-time?” Answer honestly, and then write your retirement year at the far right end of the timeline.

2. Now, ask yourself:

“By the time I’m ready to retire, what’s the ideal type of position I’d like to have?”


“When I get to this stage, what will I need to have accomplished in order to feel that I achieved what I wanted in work and life?”

“What kinds of activities would I like to do in retirement?”

“How do I want my life to look like in all areas – professional, personal, family, social, community…?”

“How much money do I want to have to live the kind of retirement I desire?”

3.  Next, imagine you’re at your retirement party. You’re sitting at the head table, and you’re being honored for your career achievements. Who will be in that room, paying tribute to you? What will they say about you and about what you’ve accomplished? What would you like them to say about you? Envision this scene clearly in your mind.

4.  Be honest when you ask yourself: “From the current direction I’m headed in my career, am I likely to reach that point when I retire?” If not, write down what you need to do – and how you need to be – to achieve that level of career and leadership success. Maybe you need to develop new skills or character traits. Perhaps you need to create new internal or external connections or learn how to “manage up” better, helping senior leaders know more about your contributions. Create a list of all that needs to happen in order to achieve your goal at retirement.

5.  Looking at your list, rank them in order of those you need to work on the most, i.e. the skills and abilities that are currently weakest for you. For example, you may feel that you’re most deficient in making sure that management is aware of your accomplishments, or you may need to develop better self-leadership or people-leadership skills, such as learning how to address conflict or the ability to delegate and lead a well-oiled, high-performing team.


6.  For the sake of focus, divide your list into time periods. For example, in the coming year, you might decide to focus on strengthening your time management and networking skills. In the following two years, you might focus on increasing your level of delegation, or you may decide to put away more money each month toward your retirement fund. Use these time-dimensions on your list to create an action plan, and include short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals.

Once you have your list, you’ve now got your North Star – your clear, long-term aspirations – as well as some mini-goals you can work on along the way. Those short-term mini-goals can drive your direction for the specific year ahead. And when this year comes to a close, you’ll have something to show for it that will serve as a stepping stone to lead you exactly where you want to be in the future.

Several coaching clients have made surprising discoveries through completing this exercise and, as a result, a few even changed their career trajectory quite dramatically. Others have simply realized they need to develop certain people – or self-leadership skills in order to reach that end point. Whatever the outcome, it’s all related to having a clear and direction-driving North Star.

Where will your North Star journey take you this year… and beyond?

Part IV – My favorite productivity tips & tools for 2018

By now, you’ve likely put New Year celebrations behind you and are fully into 2018. How will you build your brand as a leader this year? On that same point, how will you become more productive and use your time more effectively this year than you did in 2017?


Back in mid-December, I promised you four short blog posts to share with you easy-to-implement productivity tips & tools. This is the fourth, which includes how to tackle the three biggest time-wasters I’ve discovered from an assessment of my executive coaching clients’ time logs. (For more in-depth time-management strategies, check out my book Leading YOU™: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success).

And if you missed my first three blog posts, here are the links so that you can apply those tips to your 2018 productivity plan: Installment #1, Installment #2, and Installment #3.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic leadership-brand-building year ahead!

My Favorite Productivity Tips & Tools #10-12:

Tip #10: Email management


Our phones and computers typically make a sound or vibrate every time we get an email, tempting us to pause what we’re doing and take a look. But unless we’re waiting for specific important material, doing so is a mind distractor – and a major time-waster.

Here’s how you can prevent email from taking up more time than necessary:

  • Come to terms with the truth: The idea that we can “multi-task” is a myth. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that our brains are simply not capable of doing two things at once. All we can truly do is what is called “rapid refocus” – quickly shifting from one focal point to another. But, rapid refocus tires the brain, actually making us less productive and exhausted by the end of the day.
  • Instead, dedicate focused time in your schedule for reading, writing, and responding to emails. Give yourself (and your team) specific guidelines for email management, and stick to them. For example, let others know that you’ll be working on email without interruption at specific times each day, such as 9:00-10:00 a.m. and 3:00–4:00 p.m.

Tip #11: Saying “no”


If you’re like most people I’ve worked with, you’ve said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no” more times than you’d like to admit. Why do we do this? There are many reasons, ranging from cultural norms to fear of conflict. But not learning how to say “no” can harm more than just your health. It can actually damage more relationships than it preserves. So what can you do?

  • Get clear on how your life would be better if you could learn to say “no” effectively. Make the longest list possible of all the benefits of saying “no.” For example, your list might include less stress, more time with family, and fewer feelings of resentment toward others.
  • Assess how many tasks or activities you’ve taken on because you didn’t say “no.” Review your to-do’s, and put a checkmark next to each task/activity that you would honestly like to cross off.
  • Recognize opportunities to say “no.” How often do you say “yes” when you’d rather not? Note the times when it felt right to say “yes,” and those when it didn’t.
  • Begin by saying “no” to smaller requests. A sympathetic yet firm “I’m not able to do that right now” works well. If you’re asked why, simply reply that it’s conflicting with your other key priorities. Most reasonable people will accept this as an adequate response.
  • If someone tries to convince you to change your “no” into a “yes,” calmly ask that person to respect your decision as final.
  • Make saying “no” a regular habit. After some practice, you’ll find yourself able to say it to increasingly bigger requests.

 Tip #12: Meetings “triage”


According to a European survey, the average employee will attend 6,239 meetings in his or her career – a staggering number! Yet 60% of those responding to that same survey said they find meetings “pretty pointless.” Why go? Most people feel they have no choice but to attend. If you’ve been in this position, what can you do?

  • Choose your meetings wisely. Ask for an agenda in advance, and assess if you can honestly offer or receive value from attending.
  • If you truly need to be at a meeting, do you need to be there the entire time? Maybe you can only add value to a particular agenda item. Plan your time – and attendance – accordingly.
  • Could you attend the meeting via video or by phone? (Just be careful: It’s easy to get distracted with emails and other tasks while attending remotely.)
  • If you don’t feel your time is well spent attending a particular meeting, let the planner know that you appreciate being invited but that you feel your attendance isn’t necessary. Then, offer to read a summary of the meeting and follow up with any comments you might have.
  • What if you’re in a meeting that’s being poorly run? Make a calm but firm suggestion: “We seem to be getting off topic. How can we get back on track?”
  • If you’re the person in charge of planning a meeting, make sure it’s truly necessary, and create a tight agenda.

A Bonus for YOU

For more insights into how to take back control of your time, listen to the recording of New Zealand’s “time queen” radio host, Robyn Pearce, as she interviews me about time management:

As always, let me know in the comment section, below, if these tips help you increase your own productivity! Here’s to 2018, and here’s to YOU™!

Part III – My favorite productivity tips & tools for 2018

Happy New Year!  The year 2017 is officially a memory, and 2018 has the full promise of increased productivity, which will help you strengthen your brand as a leader. That’s what this newsletter is all about. So, here’s to accomplishing more than you thought possible in the next 12 months!


If you read Installment #1 and Installment #2 of this four-part productivity series, you already know the first six productivity tips I recommend you put into practice in 2018. (If not, I encourage you to click on the links and read those first.)

The three next tips I share below involve using tools you most likely already have but in a different way, making it easy to become even more productive as the new year starts.

As always, I look forward to hearing back from you. Do feel free to write me in the comment section below, and let me know how these tips are working for you!

My Favorite Productivity Tips & Tools #7-9:

Tip #7: Connect your laptop/desktop to a second monitor and use two screens.


I won’t lie:  I initially resisted this idea – big time – because I didn’t want to use up space on my desk. I look back on that resistance now, and laugh at myself!

The productivity I’ve achieved from having more than one computer screen at my desk is so much more important than the seeming “issue” of losing a little desk space (and honestly, a second screen – and/or even third – won’t take much space). What do two screens or monitors allow me to do more easily?

  • Easily copy and paste between files
  • Quickly compare two documents
  • Smoothly transition between different programs
  • Access information more quickly while running multiple programs

The list goes on and on, and being able to accomplish these tasks so much more quickly and efficiently has definitely increased my productivity.

The only downside is that I’ve gotten so accustomed to two screens that, when I’m limited to only my laptop (e.g., when I travel), I immediately recognize how much my productivity decreases without two screens!

A second screen is a small expense these days, and I believe you’ll quickly discover that your increased productivity is well worth the expense.  In our office, we use 24-inch screens, but even larger can be used.  (Before you buy one, make sure your computer’s video card can handle the monitor you want.)

Tip #8:  Create “Signatures” in Microsoft Outlook.

Do you find yourself frequently answering the same types of questions via email? I do.  For me, it’s inquiries such as, “Where can I order your books?” or “How can I find out about your availability for speaking or coaching?”


Similar to the Shortkeys tip I shared with you in my first productivity blog post, I use the Microsoft Outlook “Signatures” function to respond at length to regularly asked questions I receive via email.  (In our office, we use the version found in the Microsoft Office 365 subscription.)  As of early 2017, Outlook had more 400 million users worldwide, so it’s a widely used program both at work and at home, both on PCs and Mac. (Of course, the Signatures function is just one of hundreds of ways you can use Outlook to save time and increase efficiency.)

Just like you can create an email signature that goes out on every email you send, so you can create Outlook “Signatures” to respond to regularly asked questions.  The Outlook Signature feature also allows you to include a graphic, hyperlinks, and more. Thanks to labeling each signature created in a clear way, I can easily click on the specific one I want. It automatically inserts the words, saving me time (not having to type the same answers over and over), but still allowing me to personalize the response as I want to.

How could YOU™ use Outlook Signatures to prevent unnecessary retyping, and save you time?

Tip #9: Send audio messages via WhatsApp.


Created in 2009 by two former employees of Yahoo!, WhatsApp has become the “go-to” app around the world for no-cost texting. One advantage is that you can use it if you have WiFi service but no cell signal so it’s popular with people on the go. Facebook acquired the app in 2014 for $19 billion, and it now has more than 1.3 billion users worldwide. It’s currently tied with Facebook Messenger as the most popular instant messaging app. Quite a success story!

While I love using WhatsApp for instant messaging and group chats, I’ll admit that it can be a bit slow and tedious to type messages on a phone. That’s why I enjoy using WhatsApp’s audio messaging function, recording a voice message instead of typing. It’s not only faster but it’s more personal, too, and I can make a more meaningful connection with the receiver of the message.  Plus, I can use inflection in my voice to clarify anything that words alone don’t quite communicate in writing.

If you don’t yet have WhatsApp, you can download it here. Once you do, in what ways could you use WhatsApp audio to your advantage?

As always, let me know in the comment section below, how these tips help you increase your productivity! Happy New Year, and I look forward to communicating with you throughout 2018.