Category Archives: Career

Are you a “sponge” at work?

The idea for this article was given to me by friend when we met for lunch in New York two months ago. During our conversation we realised that lot of women we know are “sponges”, and that characteristic or quality is what is holding them back in their careers and wrecking their work-life balance.

So, what do I mean by “sponge”? A “sponge” is someone who is great at saying yes to almost every task or project that they are asked to do even if it means they have to sacrifice their own goals, plans or free time to be able to deliver on the yes. Not only are they great at saying yes, they find it almost impossible to say no. Because they are usually great delivering, other people (especially superiors) tend to continue asking them for more. Does this description resonate with you?

Have a go at the “sponge-test” below and find out where you fit on the “sponge-scale”:

For each question in the table below just write down the answer that most applies for you. Then add up all your answers to your total.

Now that you have your total, find out below how much of a “sponge” you are, and discover some key tips on how you can stop being a “sponge” and become more selective and focussed about saying yes to everything.

22-28 You are a super “sponge”
The word ‘no’ does not seem to exist in your vocabulary when it comes to doing things for other people. When someone asks you to do something for them or take on another task, you do not even take a step back to check whether you have time, it fits in with your goals and objectives or you know how to do the task. This has a major impact on your work and home life, as you are always running out of time, your task list gets longer and longer and you often sacrifice your free time to catch up. Your health and personal development suffers, and you are likely to feel stressed.

Three key tips for you to consider are to:

  • consolidate your to-do lists including all your own tasks and other people’s you said yes to. Decide for each of them, if you really, really need to do it, it’s still relevant or if someone else can do it (delegation), and then strike through whatever is not relevant and delegate whatever you do not absolutely have to do. Then plan in and schedule the remaining tasks into a diary, initially allowing at least double your estimated time for each task.
  • practice saying no until you feel comfortable doing it. Go back over the requests from the last month that you wished you had not so readily accepted. Play them through in your mind and say no instead of yes. Imagine future requests coming to you and practice saying no to those too.
  • be clear about your must do’s for your goals and your role at work. Write down your must do’s and put them somewhere you can see them during the day. When a request comes in, tell the requestor that you will consider it and get back to them with an answer within the hour (or next day, depending on the urgency of the request)! Then check against your objectives list, your schedule and your own motivation whether this task is right for you. When you say no to your requestor, offer suggestions on who else they could approach, so you are still helpful.

15-21 You are an aspiring super “sponge”
Although you have the ability to say no, more often than not you fall into the trap of saying yes, despite yourself. Often the things you say yes to are related to your job and might take you forward in your career, however you find yourself working long hours, sacrificing week-ends and free time and thus neglecting your health, friends and other personal development.

Key tips for you are to:

  • become totally clear about your current commitments and how much time you have or don’t have for anything extra coming in. The easiest way to do this, is to diarise every task and allocate a duration (do include contingency)
  • know what you want to achieve in your career and what you need to do to get there be it promotion/personal development etc. Make sure you diarise and schedule those activities!
  • learn to negotiate with the requestor, especially if the requestor is your boss. If you know what you want and you know your commitments, you can check against those when any request comes in. Like the super sponge, make sure to consider before you give a response to the requestor. Offer options, if you feel you have to say yes, e.g. I do not have time this week, however I have time for this next week. how would that work for you? or if this is urgent, I could move xx (also requested by them) to next week?

8-14 You are on your way
You are able to say no to things that do not fit in with what you want or what your job requires. however, sometimes you succumb and find that you are working longer than you wished, or have to sacrifice your gym session (or similar) to finish something at work you wished you had not said yes to.

The key tips for you is are to:

  • set clear boundaries with the task requestor, and be clear how much you can deliver in the time you actually have available.
  • negotiate delaying other tasks if this particular task is urgent, and
  • agree with your boss which of your non essential tasks you can delegate to other colleagues who would benefit from the experience.

0-7  Congratulations, you have it sussed!
You obviously know what you want and are able to say no to things that do not fit with your objectives and goals. The only danger you could run into is saying no too often. Remember, it is OK and good to help out others even if their request does not fit in with our goals, so don’t just say no for sake of it.

Today you have now taken the first vital step towards “de-sponging” your worklife, which is awareness! The tips above are not exhaustive and there are many more ways how you can reduce your “sponge” like qualities. So, do experiment and find out what works best for you!

Let me know how you get on!


What’s your ‘obstacle’ strategy?

How you deal with any obstacles or blocks that appear on the way to your goal is a key indicator whether you are likely to achieve your goals and what the journey to your goal will be like for you.

Obstacles can be of an external or internal nature. The external obstacles, which include things like rules (‘we do not do this here’ or ‘you can only get ahead if you fulfil certain criteria’) or lack of resources (money or time).

Then there are the internal obstacles. In my view, they are the more critical to us. We often do not recognise that we have them and use external obstacles as reasons or excuses to procrastinate about taking the next step or even abandon our goals. Internal obstacles include limiting beliefs or decisions about us such as our capabilities, our self-worth, what we deserve or do not deserve. Internal obstacles also include how much we subscribe to shared cultural beliefs. Do we accept that something is true for us if is the accepted norm in the environment we live and work in? For example, Roger Bannister obviously did not subscribe to culturally accepted beliefs that ‘it is humanly impossible to run a 4 minute mile’, whereas other athletes obviously did.

Both types of obstacles whether internal or external are very real to each of us. Having a good obstacle strategy helps us to not only deal with obstacles successfully but also to stay on course to achieve our goals.

So what does it mean to have an obstacle strategy? A strategy is a sequence of steps or techniques we go through to achieve a certain outcome. However, not all strategies are useful. For example if your normal obstacle strategy is to ‘overcome’ the obstacle however there is an easier way to walk around it, then why not walk around it and avoid the obstacle all together?

In order to come up with alternative obstacle strategies, it is helpful to know what you believe about the obstacle(s) that you perceive in your life right now.

So, take a few moments and consider what beliefs, rules, assumptions, decisions etc. do you have or have you created about the obstacle(s) in relations to yourself?

It is useful to write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t judge any thoughts that come up, just write them down and continue writing until you have listed everything you ‘know’ and believe about the obstacle as it applies to you. Then write down your possible actions that you can take using your normal strategy for each obstacle.

Now it’s time to be creative. Flip the obstacle or the beliefs on their heads.

I invite you to explore a number of options for each obstacle and each belief, rule, assumption and decision about the obstacle(s):

  • What of the opposite were true? Rephrase your obstacle and your beliefs about it so that it says the complete opposite. What action options do you have now?
  • Think of someone who you know of or a famous person you admire, and imagine you are them. How would they deal with that obstacle? Write down your ideas.
  • Imagine the obstacle was not there. That is especially useful when it comes of lack of knowledge and lack of resources. What would your next step be towards your goal, even if it was a tiny step?

Once you have written all your new options down against your perceptions of that obstacle, have a read through them again and notice how many more action options you now have. Take the one that appeals to you most at this time and put it in your diary!

Outwit the obstacle by travelling into the future

One other great way to deal with obstacles is to take a journey into the future and look back at it. Our amazing minds are able to imagine almost anything, so make use of this fantastic capability. Imagine yourself at a point when you have moved beyond that obstacle, when you have achieved your next milestone on the way to your goal of the goal itself. Make the experience real by noticing what you see, hear and feel in that experience. Then ‘figuratively’ (or if you are standing upright, physically) turn around and look back towards the present. Notice what happened that obstacle. What did you do move beyond it? Write down all your insights.

Using these techniques will help you to gain different perspectives on those obstacles you currently perceive in your life. A different perspective opens up new choices and alternatives that will help you move forward towards your goal.


The famous Glass Ceiling! (Part 2) – Crack it, smash it, dissolve it!

Welcome to the second part on the famous ‘glass ceiling’. This article focuses on key actions that you can take to crack, dissolve or smash your glass ceiling.

Breaking through or smashing a glass ceiling whether based on one’s own limiting beliefs or other people’s and/or society’s collective beliefs or a combination of both, isn’t always a walk in the park. However, it can be done and numerous women have proved this. A great way, to break or at least put cracks into a glass ceiling is to identify someone who’s already done it.

There are lot of examples of women who have reached senior management positions and are CEOs of companies. So, whether a universal glass ceiling exists or not, women can reach and be successful at senior positions. And this goes for other areas of life where women feel they have ‘glass ceilings’, be it in sports, health, finances, and hobbies or as parents.

So, look for role models – where in the world, your industry, your company etc. is a woman who has broken through a glass ceiling similar to yours?

Once you have identified women role models in your environment, make contact with them and ask them about their journey. You will find most women are happy to share their experiences.

I just love this story about Roger Bannister. He was the first one to run the ‘four minute mile’. Before he did it, it was a ‘known fact’ supported by medical studies that a mile could not be physically run under 4 minutes. In fact it was believed that it was medically unsafe to do so. After Roger Bannister ran the ‘4 minute mile’ lots of other runners also did it.

If you are unable to find any role models within your environment, check out the web. There are some great websites (see below) where you can find women who have reached senior management positions share their stories and tips. And there are websites that share women’s stories how broke through their glass ceilings for other areas of life. Just have a look and you will find the information. Do share any good websites you find, so other women can benefit!

Take a very hard look at your career plan

One of the findings of the ILM survey was that women tend to have less well defined and clear career plans than their male counterparts. Knowing that, how well defined is your career plan? How clear are you on your career goals for the next year, two years, five years?

Some women enjoy creating a vision board or treasure map for the career plan (or life plan). If you like being creative, there are lots of ways to make this exercise fun. When you consider your career plan, go with your ideal first and focus on what you want to happen not what you think is possible or available. Once you have developed your ideal career vision, then go back and review what is realistic and possible now, and what elements might need additional skills, resources, actions.

Make self-care a priority

Another finding of the ILM survey was that women have lower career confidence than men and therefore tend to climb the career ladder more slowly. Women also tend to experience more self-doubt.

No matter where these confidence issues originate from, we can raise our confidence or self-esteem levels. It just takes awareness and regular, dedicated time. As anything in life, if we do not use it we lose it. Consider your self-esteem and confidence like a muscle. If you do not use your muscles they go flabby and weak, and the same applies to your self-esteem. It needs regular maintenance.

The first step is awareness. What is your level of self-esteem and confidence in yourself? Some people like to draw this, others like to put a number between 1-10 on it (1 being very low and 10 being highest). It is useful to do this for each area of your career and life so you are able to identify the area you wish to work on. If your current level of self-esteem and confidence is lower than 5 and you feel you are stuck, do not be afraid to seek help from a qualified coach or therapist.

The second step is focus. Whatever you level of confidence and self-esteem is, pick the area you wish to work on. Initially, pick one where your confidence is not lower than 5 (if you used numbers) and identify what it would take for you to increase your self-esteem and confidence by just 1, i.e. if your level was 6, then what can you do to get yourself to a 7. Be as creative as you can be. Also consider role models and ask yourself, what would they do if they wanted to get from a 6 to a 7? If you find yourself running out of idea, there are some great books on the topic of self-care (see below).

The third step is taking action. Now that you have identified lots of possible actions, pick the one action that appeals to you most and schedule a time to do it. And ask yourself, what other things do you need to put in place for yourself, so
that you will definitely take that one action as part of your self-care?

The ideal is to set dedicated time aside for your self-care every day. Initially this may not seem possible for you if you are a busy mum or in a stressful job. So start small and set aside at least one hour a week to focus on your own self-care.

Let me know how you get on.

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The famous Glass Ceiling – how real is it?

Image: Ambro /

A recent study by the ILM discovered that 73% of women  believe a glass ceiling (obstacles) is preventing them from reaching senior positions. The ILM survey identified that women are held back by lower confidence and lower ambitions and hard factors such as maternity and child
care related issues. Some articles even go so far as to say that the glass ceiling only exists in women’s heads. Fact is, fewer women than men aim for and/or reach senior management positions.

When I researched this topic, I was reminded of Henry Ford’s
famous quote: “Whether you believe you  can do a thing or not, you are right.” Whether the glass ceiling is real, a  collective myth or a figment of a woman’s imagination does not really matter.  For the women who feel that it exists, it is very real and influences their  career and often life decisions.

For each woman the glass ceiling is likely to be slightly  different. Each woman has her own set of limiting beliefs (e.g. how ambitious  she can be, how much she is worth) and her own external obstacles depending on  the environment (e.g. company, chosen career field, country) she lives and  works in.

In this and the following article I want to explore what we  as women can do to break through our glass ceilings, external or internal, real  or imagined, and achieve the success we want in your chosen career or life  path.

In order to deal with our glass ceiling we first have to  identify and get to know it.

So, what or where is  your glass ceiling? What is holding you back?

This is not an easy exercise to do and takes a bit of time  and effort. Ideally, write down any thoughts that come to mind when you ask  yourself the above question. I invite you to review the area of your life that you feel most dissatisfied with. It can be in your career, your studies, your  home life, your fitness, or any other area of your life. What are you telling  yourself about this area of your life? Listen out for any phrases like: ‘I  can’t go any further because’, ‘I am held back by’, ‘there is no point,  because’, ‘I am not’, ‘it is very hard for me to’. If you can write all these  down and really get to know your glass ceiling.

One of the findings of the ILM survey was that a lot of  women did not want to become managers. Therefore before we deal with the glass  ceiling we need to be absolutely clear on whether we really want that next management position or not (or any other goal beyond our glass ceilings).

How important is  ‘breaking through’ your glass ceiling to you?

To achieve our goals we need to dedicate time and effort. We  often have to be prepared to sacrifice other activities in the short or long  term. The same goes for breaking through glass ceilings. So if all your real  and perceived obstacles were no longer there, and as if by magic the glass  ceiling would disappear, and you had that next promotion (or substitute here whatever your glass ceiling is), what would that be like? Imagine yourself having achieved it and being that senior manager (or having moved beyond your glass ceiling). Would it be worth it? And what other areas of your life (if any) have gained or suffered?

If you totally and utterly want to move beyond your currently perceived glass ceiling, then there are a number of things you can do to either break it or at least start getting it to crack in places. Some ideas I want to offer you are:

Break or put cracks into your glass ceiling

For each statement you wrote down earlier on what is holding
you back, do the following:

  • For each obstacle, write down what it would or
    could take to get rid of it, put a crack in it or move beyond it.
  • Ask yourself, what belief would be more useful
    to have instead or what would your ideal scenario be? And what evidence would
    you need to support this?

Be as creative as you can and accept any thought that comes to mind. If you find this difficult, imagine a friend wrote down all those obstacle statements and she asked you to help her find ways to deal with her obstacles or glass ceiling.

Now consider the following, if the glass ceiling was not there, how would act differently right now, today, tomorrow, next week?

Sometimes, it can help us to just mentally move beyond our obstacles. Pick just one of your obstacles and imagine the opposite was true (or your ideal scenario). What would that be like? What would change in your behaviour as a result of the opposite of this obstacle being true? If you can, try it out in practice and act differently and see what happens. You might be surprised by the results.

As this is a topic that is affecting a lot of women, we will come back to it next week with some hints and tips how to break through, smash or at least get some cracks into that glass ceiling.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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