Author Archives: gopivajravelu

You just need to ask

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Employees often get frustrated with their lack of autonomy. We have a great idea to help make your department more efficient. We want to work from home occasionally to save time commuting. We want to take on a few tasks from another department so you can learn more about the company as a whole. But you feel frustrated that you aren’t allowed to do those things.

Sometimes, getting the autonomy to try to things is just as easy as asking your boss a yes or no question.

Honest conversations are pretty easy to have. And when two people have built a trusting relationship with each other over time, they want to say yes to each other.

If you’ve done good work and helped your company become better, your boss will be much more likely to let you try new ideas. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as asking “can I try this new idea” to your boss, explaining why everyone will benefit from it, and getting a “yes” response.

Why Dressing Like Your Co-Workers Is Actually Hurting Your Career

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For anyone who’s worked in an office, you know that your wardrobe plays a part in how people react to you. The better you dress, the more senior you appear. Dressing appropriately for your job is part of developing your interpersonal skills for your career.

While I dress well, I’m no expert so I’ve asked Sunjeev Prasad of Street Gentlemen to write about dressing well for the workplace. He does 1-on-1 consulting for men looking to improve their style and physical appearance and get more confidence in their lives. And while this post focuses on men’s style, women can use the principles also to improve their confidence in the office. Sunjeev knows a thing or two about fashion so here are his words about using fashion to improve your career.

Welcome Sunjeev!

Looking for a competitive edge?

It might actually be easier than you think.

Positioning yourself as a well-informed leader, go-getter, and likeable guy can all be achieved through how you present yourself.

You’re probably wondering, “how the hell is this possible?!”

Let me explain.

Your image plays a key role in your career success.

Guys that don’t care about their work or climbing the corporate ladder often don’t put much effort into their appearance. They do just enough to “get by.”

These are the guys who buy their suits off the rack without giving it any thought.

This results in a wardrobe that fits poorly, looks cheap, and doesn’t command any respect or barely any attention from women during happy hour.

If you’re taking this approach and you’re not happy with your dating life or your career situation pay very close attention to this post because you’re going to find out exactly how to turn things around.

Get familiar with your tailor:

You can find some very nice suits off-the-rack.

Don’t sell yourself short, they NEED to be altered to your body shape before they see the light of day. Doing so will highlight your best physical assets.

This has the ability to make you appear leaner, more muscular for the skinny guys, and taller if that’s what you’re looking for.

Of course before you even go to the tailor it always helps to know what your measurements are first.

This article outlines exactly how you can achieve that.

Mirror the boss:

Using his style as a source of inspiration would be wise for more than one reason, even if you don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Before you become a leader at work people need to picture you in that role.

That means that you look the part. When you look the part, you’re going to carry yourself as a leader in the workplace.

There’s actually an emerging branch of science called Embodied Cognition.

The main idea is that we don’t just use our minds to think but also our bodies.

It’s all about the way our clothes influence us —  how they feel against our skin, when we see ourselves in the mirror, and actually wearing certain items like a suit completely alter how we carry ourselves.

Break free from the pack:

Unless you’re ok with being an office drone don’t do what everyone else is doing.

If most guys in the office are typically wearing khakis, a light blue button-up shirt, and black dress shoes avoid dressing like them at all costs!

Your first step will be to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to stand out. When you stand out, there’s a chance that your buddies may crack a few jokes at your expense.

Deep down we all know they wish they looked as good as you.

Once they realize that you’re in serious consideration for the next raise or promotion they will come running to you in hopes of finding out how you did it.

Though all of your qualifications may be on even playing field, you’ve found your competitive edge by positioning yourself as a leader through your style.

Last Thoughts:

You’ve heard it a million times before — dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have.

So if your goal is to become an executive, partner, or upper management, it’s time to start dressing like you’re already there.

Remember, your colleagues need to picture you in that role before you’re even considered for it.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Make sure you’re well-dressed for any occasion by downloading this FREE style guide.

It outlines the 16 Essential Items Every Man Needs To Build The Perfect Wardrobe.


Sunjeev Prasad teaches men how to dress well and know what’s stylish so that they can carry themselves with confidence.

This mission came about after a fateful trip to the mall back in high school. He was the butt-end of jokes and took a huge blow to his confidence.

After promising to never feel that way again, he’s dedicated the last 10 years of his life to learn as much as he can about men’s style.

Today he works 1-on-1 with men to help them achieve their personal style and confidence related goals.

You can connect with Sunjeev at Street Gentlemen — personal image consulting.

Careers don’t go according to plan

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One thing I’ve learned from talking to successful executives and entrepreneurs is that things don’t go according to plan. You can plan your future, make smart decisions, and work hard, but life won’t turn out the way you expected.

One executive told me that when he started his career he was in the operations side of a large company. Over the years, he advanced up the ranks of that company to become a Vice President but eventually hit a ceiling. The company valued marketing more than operations and promoted employees from marketing to become executives.

Then he decided he’d go to a different company and joined their marketing division so he could get a shot at being an executive. Unfortunately, his new company valued operations more than marketing! Oops, that didn’t work out as planned…

After a few more years and using the opportunity to learn marketing, he moved companies again. Here he got his chance to become an executive and later became a Fortune 500 CEO.

Dealing with uncertainty is a key skill in managing your career. Things might not work out as planned, but you can still make progress in your career over time by learning from others, helping others, being patient, and taking calculated risks.

How to succeed in a new job

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You know the jitters of starting a new job. You feel a combination of excitement, nervousness, and stress in your stomach. It’s a rush of unknown possibilities: a new boss, a new company, a new role. There are so many unknowns but also so many possibilities for success.

You might be leaving a job you liked for greener pastures. Or you might be leaving a job you hated for something that you’ll enjoy more. You could be starting your first job out of school and hoping to build an extraordinary career.

No matter what situation you fall into, there are a few keys to succeeding at a new job.

One of your first priorities after starting a new job should be to learn the way your new team communicates.

Presumably, your company’s orientation talked about some of how the company communicates, but there will be certain idiosyncrasies for your team. Do they talk face-to-face? Do they prefer to talk over email? Do they have meetings to make every decision or does the boss delegate each decision or does each team member have the autonomy to decide? Take some time to observe how your team makes decisions, talks about projects, asks for help from each other, and how much they talk about non-work topics with each other.

One way to learn how the team communicates is to read emails more closely than usual. Take a look if the emails are more informational or if they are open ended questions for discussion. Also take note of which people are working on which types of projects. Sally talks a lot about the Acme account. Maybe she’s the point person for that account? Take note of it.

Then at your next one-on-one meeting with your boss, you can ask about the breakdown of projects. You can say something like:

I’ve noticed that there are 2 major projects going on now: the Acme account and the XYZ report. How is the work split between the team?

By keying into how the team communicates and how the work is split up, you can hit the ground running faster.

Another goal is to learn who the key decision makers are.

You’ll also want to understand the decision making hierarchy in the company. It might seem like your boss is the decision maker over your decision and her boss is her decision maker and so on up to the CEO, but that’s not always the case.

Some managers are very hands on and want to be involved with every decision. Others are more hands off and let their direct reports do most of the decision making. You’ll want to learn how much autonomy your boss gives your team and which decisions need approval from above. You’ll also want to learn the same dynamic for your boss and her boss. When does a decision need to go two level up?

Likewise, you’ll want to learn who makes which decisions. Who decides who gets hired and fired? Is it your boss, or your boss’s boss? How are promotions and raises determined? It might be your boss’s boss or maybe HR needs to get involved. Who decides company strategy and who is the person you talk to regularly who meets with those decision makers?

Learning all of these answers takes time. You might only learn who decides promotions after two or three years of seeing people move in, out, and around the organization, but if you keep you’re eyes open, you’ll learn it over time.

I previously wrote about how to learn what’s important to your company. It’s also important to learn what’s important to the other decision makers in your company, most likely your boss and your boss’s boss.

Learning this information will help you prioritize your work. If you know that your department is focusing on a new strategic area, you should work on those projects before other tasks. You’ll know which projects will benefit your company the most and help your department reaches its goals.

Finally, focus on getting quick wins and building momentum with your projects.

One of the ways to get your confidence at a new job is to get quick wins. That is taking on small and simple projects to get some momentum. Even though these won’t be difficult projects, you will show yourself that you can get work done, you will show your coworkers that you can get work done, and you will show that you are a team player who is earning your paycheck.

As you go on, you will get involved with larger and more difficulty projects. Over time they might become more strategic in nature where you also get to talk to people in other departments and other companies, but for now try to get simple projects completed to prove that you are a good worker.

Do everything that is asked of you especially since this is the only time when you won’t be overloaded with work. After you’ve worked at a company for two years, you’ll easily have a full schedule everyday, but when you get started you have more time to explore different areas of work. Take on projects in different areas of your department. As you continue, you will find a niche you can specialize in and be the lead person in that area.

Also, start slow and build momentum when you propose new ideas. You’ll want to make sure you understand the full situation before giving suggestions on new projects or new ways of conducting business. You don’t want to bring up a bold suggestion in a large meeting only to have your boss’s boss shut it down quickly because it’s infeasible. Perhaps the business already tried what you wanted to propose with disastrous results a year ago. You don’t want to bring up bad memory by suggesting it again.

Bring up the suggestion to one person during a casual conversation and get her feedback before you speak to the higher ups. She’ll be able to give you a warning if it’s something that didn’t work out before, and if she thinks it’s a good idea then share the idea with your team. As you learn the company dynamics and history, you can speak up in larger groups without running your ideas by other people first. Understand the full situation before proposing new ideas.

Starting a new job is stressful enough as it is. Take some time to prioritize learning how your team works, finding out who the decision makers are, and getting some small projects done before moving on to bigger tasks. After you learn this information and get your work done, you’ll be on your way to a successful career in your new role.

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Why people really get hired

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(This isn’t a trick accusing hiring managers of nepotism.)

When a job posting says a company wants to hire an accountant, the company’s management isn’t really asking for an accountant. It’s more likely that they have a problem that they need solved and a well trained accountant can solve that problem.

Case 1: Perhaps their banker says they don’t have accurate enough financial records to qualify for a loan.

Problem: We can’t get a loan.

Solution: Hire someone who can create the financial records the banker needs to give us a loan.

Case 2: Maybe the Board of Directors is upset at the CEO because the annual budget is a mess and they can’t determine what financial health the company has.

Problem: The CEO is at risk of being fired.

Solution: Hire someone who can accurately summarize the company’s financial health so the Board won’t fire the CEO.

Case 3: Or management wants to cut costs by getting an in-house accountant.

Problem: We spend too much money on outside accountants.

Solution: Reduce the costs by getting someone in-house to do the work.

In each case, the company has a problem they need solved so they post a job for an accountant because they believe someone trained as an accountant can solve those problems. If you are interviewing for that accounting position, knowing what problem the company has and what solution they want will go a long way to getting your hired. If you demonstrate that you can create the financial records they need to get the loan, they will want to hire you.

The same can be true for any job: engineers, bankers, lawyers, analysts, and even social workers. You aren’t hired just to do your job description. You get hired to solve problems the company has.

Sometimes you have to dig past the job description to find what problems you need to solve, but if you find those problems and demonstrate you can solve them during the job interview, you will be much more likely to get hired.

How to be a great manager

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We’ve all had our share of great managers and not-so-great managers. Some managers bring the best out of their team. They can make you feel productive and like a valuable employee.They know how to take you from one level and make you even better. They are truly great managers.

Then there are the not-so-great managers. The types of managers that no one wants to work for. They are some combination of selfish, rude, and oblivious to how they make their team feel. The team isn’t productive and everyone hates Monday mornings that much more because it’s a week with a bad boss.

But what about when you become the boss? You’re now the manager. How do you make sure you’re the great manager? Whether you’re a first time manager or an experience one, it’s tough to know how to get the most out of your team, but it’s absolutely possible.

Your team comes first

At one point in your career you were a great individual contributor. Your boss and her boss both thought of you as a great employee and someone who the company can develop to be a leader.

One mistake not-so-great managers make is continuing to act as an individual contributor. As a manager, you are now evaluated based on how well your team does. Even if you are still tasked with making individual contributions while managing, you must keep your team’s development as the first priority before your individual contributions.

You are first a coach and second a player on the team. You are now in charge of developing talent, delegating the department’s priorities efficiently, and making sure your team has a work environment that will make them productive.

A large part of putting your team first and giving them that productive work environment is accepting the blame for problems and handing out the praise to your direct reports for the successes.

One thing that drives employees crazy is when their manager takes credit for their work or when the manager passes on blame down the corporate ladder. As a manager, you will need to own up to the team’s failures and share the success with your team.

If your boss asked why a certain project didn’t work out, you should take the responsibility for it yourself even if it was one of your direct reports who messed up. You should let your boss know that you didn’t help out that employee enough and the project has slipped up, but you will get it back on track.

Likewise, when a project goes great, let your boss know that the success for that project goes to your employee. And also let your employee know that your boss was told what a great job she did, perhaps by sending an email to your boss:

To: [Boss’s email]

CC: [Employee’s email]

Hi [boss’s name],

I wanted to let you know that the XYZ project wrapped up earlier this week. All signs point to success so far. [Employee’s name] did a great job on this project and deserves the credit!


[Your name]

Your boss will know that the accomplishments were led by you, but it also motivates your team to know their great work is recognized by upper management.

Treat everyone as an individual

Your team is a group of individual people, each with their own goals, fears, beliefs, and personality. As such, treat each of your direct reports as an individual person.

Give employees as much freedom as they need to work efficiently. Some people prefer to work solo and others prefer to work in pairs. Some work better with their manager checking in often and others work great with fewer discussions during the day. Find how each person works bests and give them a work situation where they can thrive.

Understand your individual team member’s emotions. Know when they feel overwhelmed. Know when they feel lost. Know when they are unhappy. All of this revolves around emotional intelligence and better leaders tend to have more emotional intelligence than other leaders.

When an employee feels overwhelmed, help him manage his workflow. Take an item or two off his priority list until he feels ready to take it on. When another employee feels unhappy about something at work, ask her what’s bothering her. If one of your team members needs support dealing with someone else in a different part of the company, stand up for her. If you need to go a level up for that support, ask your boss to support that team member too.

I remember once when I was having trouble getting a lower level employee at a vendor our company worked with to get a project done on time. It was a simple project that had been going on for three weeks. I told my boss about my frustrations and he picked up the phone that moment and call an executive at the other company. He voiced his displeasure with the situation…The job was done two hours later. But more importantly, he stuck up for me and my team. You can bet I had his back in the future too.

Do what you need to do to keep your team members feeling positive about their work.

Ask for help

Like most things in life, getting the help of more experienced people will make you better. Find a mentor ask for advice in the areas you want to improve. Management is a skill that you can improve over time and it’s especially improve to get help during the first year when you transition from an individual contributor to a manager.

Your boss is probably the best person to ask for help. She knows the situation you are in and likely has more management experience than you. She was probably in a similar situation to you just a few years ago. I wrote about getting your boss’s help before: How to ask your boss for help without looking stupid.

If you know other experienced managers, perhaps bosses at previous jobs, you can also get their help. If you are dealing with a particularly tricky situation within your company, it can be better to talk to someone outside the company so you can be more honest about the problems you face with political situations inside the company.

And the most overlooked place to get help is from your direct reports. Everyone can learn from other people whether they are older than you, younger, your boss, or your employee. Your direct reports can tell you what you are doing best as a manager and where you need improvement.

During your regular one-on-one check ins with your reports, go through the normal agenda: projects, priorities, and your employee’s feedback. Then turn the tables and tell your employee about what you are working on. Perhaps it’s meetings with your boss, the different projects other people on the team are working on, and then ask for feedback about how you are doing as a manager. You can say something like this:

Since these one-on-one check ins are for both of us to learn, I was hoping you can give me some feedback. What is one area that you think I’m doing well as your manager? [Start with a positive point to open the conversation. It’s easier to give a compliment than criticism. Listen carefully.]

Thanks so much for that feedback. I’m glad I can help you and the team like that. What do you think I can improve on to make the team better? [Ask an open ended question. A yes or no question will get you a yes or no answer. Also focus on how you can help the entire team. This takes some pressure off your employee to give you more honest feedback.]

Here you are letting your employee know that you care about keeping her in the loop on other projects on the team and that you respect her opinion. You also get to know exactly what challenges your team is having with each other and yourself.

As always, take any negative criticism as well as you can. It likely isn’t personal. It might just be your direct reports wanting to vent about something beyond their control, but also use the feedback to improve the work environment for your employees.

In the end, being a manager is about making your team productive and engaged so they can help the company. Doing that will make you a great manager.

Quick tip: position business cards in the same order people sit

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You get into a business meeting with a lot of people you’ve never met and immediately forget everyone’s name after introductions. That doesn’t bode well for the meeting since you never know who to address when you’re speaking. You feel like you might look incompetent talking to the wrong person across the table.

I’ve had trouble remembering people’s names and job titles too, but I found an easy way to fix that throughout the meeting.

When people pass out their business cards, I recommend ordering the cards in front of you in the same order the people are sitting at the table.

using business cards in a meeting

where to position business cards

This way, you will remember each person’s name and who you should talk to based on job titles. If you need to talk about accounting, you can glance at the business cards and remember who the Senior Account is. If you want to address the highest ranking person in the room, you can look at the cards and see who the other company’s CEO is.

Try this tip so you can make a strong impression in your next business meeting.


Indicators of your company’s financial health

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Apart from looking at your company’s financial statements or getting honest answers from executives, there’s no real science in determining the financial health of the company you work for. If you work for a public company, you can look at its SEC filings and investor reports. Even still, you might not get a complete picture for your department.

And for those of us at private companies, you won’t get access to those financial documents. But it’s very important to learn the art of determining your company’s financial health. If the ship is sinking, you want to know before it goes below the surface so you can find another job while there’s time. If the ship is moving full steam ahead, you want to know; otherwise, you might miss out on good career opportunities. And if the ship is changing course, you want to know so you can determine if you want to stay on for the ride.

Here’s a list of some of the key qualitative indicators of your company’s financial health:


People are promoted internally

One key indicator of good financial health is that people get promoted internally. Just as companies are more likely to hire a new CEO from within the company if things are going well, companies are more likely to promote internal people if things are going well. After all, if things are going well, you want to have people who know why things are working take on more responsibility. If a VP leaves and a Senior Director gets promoted into that position, it’s a good sign that the business unit is doing well. If the company is expanding and a Director takes on the new VP role, even better. Then the company is growing and promoting from within which means you’re chances for promotions are higher than normal.

On the flip side, if the company hires a CEO from the outside, it’s likely that the Board wants the company to change directions and improve performance. It’s also likely the new CEO will make changes to the company which could affect job security for lower level employees. Likewise, if a VP leaves and an outside hire comes into the role, management probably wants changes within that business unit or none of the director level employees have been trained adequately. The health of the business unit is likely on shaky ground. If you’re in that unit, it might not be a good sign for your career growth.


Bringing an outsourced area in house

This is something like previously having an outside accounting firm work on the monthly financial statements and then hiring an in house accountant to do the work instead. It could also go for other types of work like programming, document storage, or HR. Management usually makes this decision for one of two reasons.

First, it’s a good cost savings measure. The outside company is charging too much and there is now enough work to warrant hiring an employee to take over the work. The company wants to save money in the long run by increasing costs with an upfront investments today. It isn’t struggling so it will put in an initial investment in hiring an employee and get her up to speed.

Second, management sees some competitive benefit to bringing the work in house. When the work is in house, the company is building knowledge in that area. There can be more customization in the work and that might lead to competitive advantages down the road. Management is making an investment. And investments often mean that there is extra money and the executives are thinking long term.


Outsourcing a previously in house function

On the flip side, when an in house function is outsourced management is trying to cut costs by moving internal processes to a cheaper alternative. Executives want to cut costs, likely because they want to increase profits or revenue dropped. As one of my mentors, a founder of a startup that was acquired for over a billion dollars says, “You can increase profits by cutting costs, but you can’t grow by cutting them. You need to increase revenue to grow.”

You’ll need to find out if costs are getting cut to just to trim the excess waste or if costs are cut because revenue dropped. The former can be a good thing as it will create a more profitable company in the long run. The latter isn’t good since it means the company is struggling to make sales. And if your job could be outsourced, you are more likely to get laid off.


Reduction in benefits

Here’s a clear cut sign that the company is struggling. Management needs to cut expenses so they reduce benefits. It could be anything from salary, to health benefits, to free food in the office. The bottom line is that, well, there isn’t much of one which is why they’re cutting expenses. Cutting benefits hurts for everyone involved. Management doesn’t want to cut benefits for employees and employees don’t want to lose their benefits. The company is really hurting if this happens.


Not replacing people who quit

The closer you work to the position that isn’t being replaced, the bigger a problem it is for you. Here management is trying to save money by seeing if the role is really necessary. If that role turns out to not be necessary and you work closely with that position, it either means that you’ll have more work picking up the slack or your job might not be worth replacing. On the other hand, if it just takes some time to interview replacements or there is talk of moving someone internally to the position, then everything is fine.


More company outings

This is a great sign that management is investing in team building. There is likely some extra money flowing in the company and management wants to use it to reward the employees with a good time and have them get to know each other better. I’d also bet that the company is in the process of hiring more people which is another sign of good financial health. More people is an investment that the company will expand and there will be more work to do.


Taking inventory on equipment and assets more often than usual

This is a pretty sure sign that the company is going to either be acquired or close down and liquidate. There might be an exception because the accountants want to get a better idea of physical assets for the balance sheet, but if inventory is getting counted more often than usual, it’s likely because management is planning to sell or liquidate some part of the business. It’s not necessarily a negative to sell or be acquired, but you’ll want to keep a close watch on what’s going on. You’ll want to use the other indicators of financial health to figure out what will happen with your department.


Executives pitching employees a story that no one sees being put in action

The company is likely changing directions. Management wants to change directions but hasn’t found a way to make it happy yet. And as you know, changes in directions means that some people might get laid off, some business functions might get outsourced, and other employees will need to move to other business functions.

If executives are telling a story that isn’t in action goes on too long, it’s a sign that management is out of touch with employees. They want to move in a direction but don’t know how to get there. It’s unlikely that management will be able to turn things around.


People in suits walking around the office

By people in suits, I mean consultants or investment bankers. If consultants are walking around, management is looking to make some changes. The changes might not be bad, but some changes are going to happen in a few months.

Same for investment bankers walking around the office. That means your company is likely to be acquired, merge, or acquire another company.

All of these indicators are inflection points. I prefer to stick it out through negative times if I trust management has my back too because you can make huge gains in your career at inflection points. Take on more responsibility and be a good team player. The downtimes are when you can learn the most about the industry and the company. As other colleagues get scared and leave, you can take on leadership in your department. On the other side of the struggles will be a time of growth and that will be your chance to get promotions and raises.

But if you think management doesn’t have the employees’ best interests in mind, then move on. Sticking through negative times only works out if both management and employees trust each other.

And if you are going through the positive indicators, take on new responsibilities. Train new hires, take on new projects, and volunteer to lead new initiatives. As the company expands,  you’ll have more chances to get promoted. And you might find yourself leading a new team that forms around you as the company expands.

In the comments, what are some of signs you’ve seen of your company’s financial health?

Inflection Points

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In a company’s life it goes through many inflection points, or times of significant change. Many employees at companies going through an inflection point get scared, and rightfully so.

Inflection points can be times for organizational restructuring, pivoting the core business, and low cash flows. During these times, employees tend to start looking for a new job and hedging their bets on the company.

But I suggest a different approach which has worked out well in my career. An inflection point is a time to dig in and support the company: take more responsibility and embrace the pivoting business model. As other employees leave the company, pick up the work they were doing. As executives want to build new products and go after a new market, lead the charge to break into that market.

The benefits will pay off when you hit the other type of inflection point: when the company is hiring again and cash is flowing in. Here, the company has emerged from its challenges and is ready to prosper.

Now that you took on extra responsibilities during the tough times and led the company into its new era, you will get the opportunity to manage the new hires, get promoted, and climb up the ladder. You are the only person in your company with the skill set that it now needs to scale and grow. There is no option but to let you lead the new department that will form around you.

You will reap the rewards of sticking through the tough times and creating a stronger company.

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What to do when you feel overwhelmed at work

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New tasks pile on your to-do list twice as fast as you can finish them. You’re never going to get all of this work done. You wish you had someone who can take some of this work off your plate or that your boss would roll up his sleeves and help.

You feel like you’re drowning in work. Every time you get close enough to see the surface, you get pulled back down.

You’re starting to get short tempered and are less patient with your coworkers. You just want to put your head down and get rid of some of this work. But then someone interrupts you again. You try to escape by checking your email over and over again to ignore the building to-do list.

There is just too much work to do and you are feeling overwhelmed. You might even be burning out.

But you can get back in control of your work day. We’ll focus on the big picture first and then dig into the specifics projects you need to accomplish.

Start by putting your projects in perspective.

Write a list of all the tasks you have to do in order of priority. Take a step back and see if any of them can be outright ignored. Perhaps they were important when they got on your list but compared to the new items on the list, they just aren’t worth the time anymore. Take those tasks and move them onto a separate list that you can look at when you don’t have anything important to do. But for now, we’ll take them off your immediate priority list so it’s less overwhelming.

Now look at the remaining list. To tackle these items, we’ll borrow two concepts from personal finance: the snowball method versus avalanche method in debt reduction.

The snowball method is where you take the smallest item and finish it first. You then move on to the next smallest item and finish that task. As you keep going, you’re to-do list gets shorter and shorter quickly. You’ll feel less overwhelmed more quickly.

Or you can choose to use the avalanche method. This is where you take the most important project, however you choose to define that (due the soonest, will generate the most revenue, most important to your boss, etc.) and complete that item first. The advantage of this method is that you add value to the business faster but the disadvantage is that your task list will continue to be long for a while.

I personally prefer the snowball method but please choose whichever you prefer.

Once you’ve knocked a couple of items off your task list, take a moment to identify the cause of all of the work.

As one of my mentors says, “If there are babies floating in the river, you can spend all day trying to pull them out, but at some point you have to go upstream and fix why they are falling in the river.” Weird analogies aside, you’ll need to fix the source of the problem: Identify what’s causing you to get so many new projects and also why it’s difficult to finish them on time.

Are the people reporting to you asking for too much help? Is your boss piling on more work? Are coworkers coming to your desk too often and interrupting your thought process?

Once you’ve identified the problem, you’ll need to handle the situation with tack. If your reports are asking you for too much help, see if one of the senior employees who reports to you can field questions from her coworkers for a week and only send the really important questions to you.

If coworkers are stopping by your desk too often for work related issues, ask your boss if you can come to the office early before anyone else so you get some quiet time. (And if work-life balance is important to you, also ask to leave earlier in the day.) If coworkers are stopping by your desk for non-work issues, let them know, “I’m sorry. I’d love to chat, but I’m swamped with work right now.”

If you’re boss is giving you too many projects to work on, you have a few options. First, see if you can delegate to someone who reports to you. If not, ask when the project needs to be completed by.

If that doesn’t make the project manageable, try asking, “Where does this fall on the priority list?” and show your boss your priority list. Seeing your projects will make it immediately obvious to your boss if this project really is important, and if it is, which other project should get dropped.

Keep in mind that even though you try to fix the source of all the work and interruptions, they won’t go away 100%. But if you cut it down 50% it will help you out a lot in the long run. You’ll get more time to do your existing work at a higher quality and you’ll feel overwhelmed less often.

Once you’ve solved the source of all the work, it’s time to go back to your projects. Slowly but surely you’ll finish them, one by one, and you won’t feel overwhelmed anymore. In fact in a week or two, you’ll look forward to coming into work because you’ll be in control of your work day again.