The end of Summer and early Fall can feel like an overwhelming time transitioning back into “work mode” after a long vacation, kids going back to school, and the looming pressure of year-end goals.
One of the tactics I like to employ to “shock the system” during this time of year is to initiate a “Challenge of the Week.”
It sounds a bit cliché, but I have found it quite effective in forcing myself out of my comfort zone as well as focusing on the highest return activities on my “to-do list” (or those that should be on my to-do list). I also find it is helpful in resuscitating goals set earlier in the year and jump-starting progress toward the back half of the year.
In my experience as a business and executive coach, I have found this works particularly well for those of us who are generally risk averse or for those people who find themselves saying “I should…” instead of “I will…”
If you can identify with either of those sentiments or are ready to break out of your comfort zone, try committing to a Challenge of the Week.
Follow the 4 steps below to launch your challenge:
- Identify a High Impact Challenge: The first step is to identify a challenge that offers a high-return to your career, life, or business. The most impactful challenges are those that move the needle on your life and career but also force you to practice a new behavior. For example, reach out to the organizer of an upcoming event you plan to attend and offer to speak. This would be a powerful way to get in front of multiple buyers of your product/service at the same time while also helping you develop skill as a front of room speaker.
- Share Your Challenge with an Accountability Partner: Once you have identified and accepted your challenge, cement that commitment by sharing it with an accountability partner; a friend, family member, mentor, or business associate who will both cheer you on as well as follow-up to make sure you honor your commitment. Be sure to only include those people that will truly hold you accountable and not let you off the hook and accept excuses.
- Invite a Friend to Join Your Challenge: Completing any challenge is always more fun and a bit less daunting when you have company, so invite a friend or colleague to join your challenge. For example, if your challenge is focused on reaching out to a new prospect, invite a friend to join you who faces similar challenges related to business development. Inviting someone to join you can also create a healthy dose of friendly competition that can drive each of you forward. A friend can also be a great source of new challenges; try challenging each other regularly to move out of your comfort zones, testing and eliminating self-limiting beliefs, and expanding the boundaries of what you consider to be possible.
- Make it a Habit: Don’t just make it a one-time challenge, commit to taking challenges on an ongoing basis to push yourself in new ways that will be required for you to be successful. Consider setting a regular reminder (weekly, monthly) to sign-up for a new challenge or make a note in your calendar for times of the year where you need to jolt yourself out of old habits (e.g. end of Summer, post-holidays, your birthday, etc.). Lastly, rely on your accountability partners and friends to encourage you to sign-up for new and increasingly audacious challenges.
To help you get started with identifying a high-return Challenge of the Week, consider the following suggestions:
- Turbo-Charge Your Sales Efforts: One of the highest ROI “Challenges” for many people revolves around selling. For example, instead of focusing on the part of your lead list that feels comfortable, take a swing for the fences and call the target at the top of your list who would have the greatest impact on your quarter and year. Typically, we reserve these targets for “when I am ready” and armed with sufficient references and testimonials, knowledge and expertise, and time on the job. What if you put that aside and challenged yourself to reach out?
- Expand Your Network: People are at the center of everything we hope to achieve in business and in life. As Keith Ferrazzi notes in Never Eat Alone, goals are accomplished with and through other people. However, most people plod along and build their network without intention and without leading with generosity. Who is the person with whom you would like a relationship that could radically impact the success of your life, career, and business? So they don’t know you and you don’t know what you could possibly offer them? As I learned from Keith Ferrazzi, scour your resume, network, expertise, hobbies, and experiences to develop professional and personal currency to use in reaching out. If that fails, reaching out with generosity always works. Offer to get involved with one of their current initiatives, research projects, or philanthropic endeavors. Try it, you’ll be surprised with the results.
- Get a Business Mentor: Many entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers as well as employees at increasingly flat organizations find themselves without a mentor or even a trusted advisor they can go to for advice or to ask a question. If that describes you, try reaching out to someone you trust and admire and ask if they would be willing to be your mentor. You may be wondering, “What’s in it for them?”, but being asked to be a mentor is flattering and those of us who have had incredible mentors in their lives are more than happy to return the favor. Tip: When reaching out, be sure to define the request. Meaning, are you asking them to meet or do a call monthly/quarterly/annually or just the occasional email asking for advice? Defining the ask will achieve a much higher response rate and also ensure expectations are aligned moving forward.
- Build/Flex a New Muscle: Many annual goal lists include a new skill to learn or hobby to take up during what quickly becomes a busy year. Skills and hobbies are longer-term investments in your life and career and often slip off the near-term to do lists. So move it to the top this week and sign-up for that Spanish class to help on international business trips or join Toastmasters to transform those experiences in front of colleagues and clients. Invest now and reap the reward down the road many times over.
- Ask for Feedback: One of the most anxious times of the year for many of us is our annual (or even quarterly) performance review. This is particularly painful for high-performers who are not used to receiving feedback that could be perceived as negative (really it’s all developmental). But rather than dread the negative, flip this into a positive experience and acknowledge that feedback is really a gift that helps you improve as a professional and as a person. In addition to the performance review process, try expanding this to all parts of your life and career. You may find it a bit nerve-wracking at first, so consider reframing the ask slightly and focusing on what you could do even better. For example, ask one of your clients what you could do to serve them “even” better. Or ask your co-worker, who perhaps you have not always seen eye to eye with in the past, how you could work together more effectively. Feeling extra bold? Ask for areas where you have disappointed or fallen short in past, but quickly move to how you could have avoided this situation so that you can prevent it from happening again moving forward.
As you think about your Challenge of the Week, be sure to consider the following:
- Create Alignment with Longer Term Goals: The most effective challenges align with our annual or even longer-term goals. Trying something new that aligns with your long-term plan will have a higher (and more direct) ROI than those that don’t. That said, the key thing is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and flex a new behavioral muscle.
- Reward the Process, Not the Result: The key to a radical inflection in the growth curve of your career and business is trying new things. Make a commitment to regular “challenges”, but be careful not to anchor to the result as those will come over time. Reward the process, which is the fact that you are doing it and be sure to mentally pat yourself on the back after each challenge as that is what this is really about.
- Consider the Payoff: Most people overestimate the odds of failure and its magnitude while also underestimating the likelihood and impact of success. So if a bit of fear creeps in your mind as you take that challenge, remember that the risk is likely truly low while the payoff is LARGE.
So what Challenge will you commit to this week? Please be sure to share in the comments section below.