Cultivating Productivity in Our Teens

career fairLast week we talked about senioritis, and how giving in to the temptation to slack off near the end of the school year can come back to bite us. That’s why it’s so important that we as parents and teachers do our best to cultivate productivity in our teens.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my chance encounters with people. It goes something like this:
Me: “It’s great to see you! How’ve you been?”

Them: “Busy!” Or,

Them: “Crazy busy!” Or,

Them: “Out of control!” Or,

Them: “Overwhelmed!”

Is this good?

No, it’s not. We’re experiencing a crisis of over-commitment and information overload like never before. It’s not supposed to be this way. After all, technology is supposed to make us more efficient, isn’t it?  Not more stressed! At the risk of sounding like Fred Flintstone, faster isn’t always better—especially if it reduces our quality of life and productivity.

These days, everyone is consumed with “busyness.” You see it everywhere. Our attention spans are shorter, our responsiveness has markedly deteriorated, our cell phones have become appendages (where almost nonstop beeps and vibrations are creating a false sense of urgency), we’re having a harder time focusing, and relational depth is increasingly being replaced by superficial breadth. Our children are bombarded with information and opportunities like never before and it’s showing up in anxiety levels.

It is crucial that we arm them with a strong productivity foundation to handle this brave new world.

Let’s start with time management. Whether they go on to college or the workplace, they will be in charge of how they spend their time. Successful people are extremely disciplined with their time, viewing it as a priceless asset they cannot get back. That’s the attitude we want to cultivate in our teens. They will need to develop prioritized daily “to-do lists” arranged by importance and urgency, and plan their time accordingly. Top priorities come first and before the fun.

Another key productivity driver is their ability to set goals and plan for their achievement. Encourage your children to set goals regarding their career, family, education, personal growth, finances, service, experiences, recreation/leisure, and daily responsibilities. The more specific, realistic, and measurable they are, the better. Consider setting some time aside with your student and making a list together of their measurable goals— immediate, short term, and long term. Then, train them to develop strategies and plans to achieve them. Without a planning mindset, success is, at best, a random proposition.

Finally, our kids need to become great decision makers. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I describe an effective six-step decision-making process. The steps are: 1) determine your key decision criteria, 2) get the facts, 3) identify all the alternatives, 4) conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option, 5) engage wise counsel, and 6) listen to your “gut instinct” or intuition. By working the process, their best option will usually reveal itself. It’s a GREAT discipline for selecting among several college alternatives!

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for launch time and “train for productivity:”:

  • Are they effective goal setters, planners, time managers, and decision-makers?
  • Do they control technology, rather than allow technology to control them?
  • In their daily planning, do they focus first on what matters most?
  • Do they consider their time as a precious asset?

Let’s do our best to cultivate a foundation of productivity in our teens, as it will the foundation of success for the rest of their lives. Also, don’t forget to lead by example. Ask the above questions about your own life, too. There’s room to improve for all of us!

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Connect! (Part 2): Harnessing the 4 Motivations that Drive Human Behavior

I (Arlyn) recently spoke with an alternative education teacher who told me how her school can predict when a new student will have negative outburst. She told me, “Three weeks, pretty much to the day, is when they’ll act out. They’ll be defiant, or steal something, or throw something … or display some other behavior designed to provoke a response.”

Why? For a couple of reasons, she told me. These students are generally testing two things: 1) to see if the boundaries are really there and will be enforced, and 2), to see if the caring that has been demonstrated will prove real, or if the student will be rejected for his/her behavior.

Her school’s policy is to respond to this scenario by applying empathetic reactions to the student as a person, while extending appropriate consequences for the behavior. This has led to an affirming, relational climate that contributes significantly to the students’ ability to feel secure, connect with teachers and others students, and begin to learn.

As we pointed out in last week’s blog, “Connect! (The Best Way to Help Students Succeed),” emotions are the fast lane to the brain. When positive, affirming social/emotional connections are made, powerful hormones are released in the brain (like dopamine and oxytocin) that diminish cortisol levels and UNLOCK the brain’s learning centers.

A key to creating this kind of positive learning environment in a school (or in a home or business, for that matter) is to be sensitive to the four motivations that influence human behavior.  Good teachers (or parents or business leaders) keep them in mind at all times. These include:

  • Acceptance (feeling understood)
  • Appreciation (feeling valued)
  • Affection (feeling loved)
  • Attention (feeling recognized and important)

These are the motivations that most drive people’s decisions, actions, and reactions. They also have a profound impact on the way we receive and process information.

Sadly, research tells us that a majority of students do not perceive these qualities in their schools. According to a survey of 150,000 6th-12th grade students conducted by the Search Institute, a whopping 71% said they don’t believe that school is a caring environment. What a colossal shame, since every teacher I’ve met starts out with a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of his or her students!

With that goal in mind, here are some ideas for creating an affirming environment in a school, classroom, or home:

  • Manners, courtesy, and respect (teachers/parents to kids and vice versa
  • Smiles and laughter (don’t be afraid to show your teeth!)
  • Personal conversations (“How are you?” “How was your weekend?” “What are you looking forward to this summer?” Share from your own life, as well.)
  • Positive affirmation based on the person, not the performance (or lack thereof)
  • Appreciation/recognition for contributions and work completed
  • Eye contact, appropriate physical touch

Whether we’re educators, mentors, parents, or in some other form of leadership with young people, it’s important that we spend time getting to know our kids, understanding who they are, and utilizing our relational platform to connect with them and increase their learning potential. This is truly one of the best ways we can set them up for success, not just in the here and now, but for life in the “real world!”

Check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make Social Emotional Learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.

Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Smile–It Means More than You Think

ID-10092716“Let us make one point, that we meet each other with a smile, even when it is difficult to smile. Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family….for smiling is the beginning of love.”
― Mother Teresa

Have you ever thought about what your smile—and your countenance in general, really—say about you? When I first meet someone, I look at their eyes (are they kind?) and their mouth (are they joyful?). I am sure that judging a first impression based of eyes and smile might sound crazy to some, but actually, these cues are often spot on. They are great indicators of a person’s level of engagement with those around them. If the eyes and mouth don’t make a great first impression, it’s likely the rest of the person won’t either.

What impression do you give other people when they meet you for the first time? Your countenance matters, probably much more than you realize! After all, the person you just met could become a new friend, future spouse, future in-law, potential employment reference, employer, manager, industry contact, mentor, or client. The fact is, life is a series of chance moments with others, and you never know what might become of the people you meet and the role they could play in your life.

There’s a wise saying: “You never get a second chance to make a good impression.” In fact, most employment recruiters will say that the first 30 seconds of an interview will make or break your chances! Yes, that’s 30 seconds! For some, it only takes five!

In order to master the art of relationship building, it’s essential to make a great first impression with everyone you meet. Here’s all it takes:

  • Demonstrate through your countenance, words, andbody language that you’re happy to meet them (key: smile!)
  • Give a firm, confident handshake and look them in the eye
  • Be positive and enthusiastic
  • Be inquisitive. Show an interest in them and in what they say. Focus more on listening to them than talking about yourself.
  • Remain engaged in the conversation and avoid distractions like calls and texts
  • Use good manners and be gracious

Surprisingly, many people just don’t get it. They allow negative thoughts, cynicism, suspicion, self-focus, insecurity, and indifference to cloud their countenance. They may not realize it, but it shows—and in job interviews and in life, it doesn’t end well.. They may say all the right things, do all the right things, yet wonder why others aren’t warming up. Many times, it all comes down to countenance. Your smile can make all the difference!

Do you make sure to always wear a smile, especially when meeting new people? What are your tips for making a lasting first impression when you meet others? When you meet someone new, what are the first things you notice about them?

Photo: Freedigitalphotos.net, by stockimages

Five Keys to Nail Your Performance Review

 

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing, many of the young people in our lives are headed into the career field or starting up summer jobs. So here’s an opportunity to equip them with some “street smart” wisdom to excel on the job and win some great references!.

 

For many, few things generate more stress and discomfort than a performance review. For all parties! It doesn’t have to be that way, but unfortunately it usually is.

For the reviewee, questions race through our minds. Will it be fair? Will it reflect all of my contributions? Will he/she rip me for my missed goals? Will I get a raise and if so, what? Will I be scolded for anything? Expecting the worst, we enter the boss’s office a nervous wreck, ready to do battle if we don’t like what we hear.

 

It’s no picnic for the reviewer either. Let’s face it: most of us don’t mind delivering compliments, but constructive feedback…not so much. Arguably, most supervisors are underwhelming in the relational aspects of management and can be a bit awkward when discussing their employees’ “growth areas.”

 

I was fortunate enough to have achieved virtually all of my career goals for a number of reasons, not the least of which was by setting myself up for success in my performance reviews. Some of my methods are rather unconventional, but they worked during each stage of my career. I’m confident they’ll work for you, too.

 

  1. Understand your manager’s definition of “excellence” (then deliver!)

    On my first day on the job, my manager discussed the position requirements in great detail and then handed me the performance evaluation form. He told me that in six months I’d be evaluated and the overall ranking would determine my raise. I perused the form, noting the eight ranking categories and the 1-10 rating scale (10 being excellent). Things like reliability, job requirements, teamwork, leadership, communication, and attitude.

    Struck by these highly subjective evaluation categories, I asked how he defined “excellent” in each one. He said he didn’t give excellent ratings. I told him that in six months I wanted to be his first. I was armed now, and six months later, I indeed would be his first “excellent” employee. Yes!

    Get inside your manager’s head when it comes to your evaluation, especially if it’s highly subjective. After all, if you don’t know the target, how can you reliably hit it? Most managers will not automatically volunteer this, so you’ll have to ask for it.

  2. Have your manager to identify the most significant potential accomplishments (then deliver!)

    Another great strategy is to ask your manager to provide a list of the most important accomplishments you could achieve in the next review cycle. Chances are your job is multifaceted, but it’s always important to know what the boss would consider to be home run This way, while you deliver on your core job requirements, you also keep these key goals in mind. Again, supervisors don’t always offer this up naturally so you’ll need to ask for it. They’ll willingly comply!

  3. Contribute to your employer’s (and your manager’s) success

    In order to consistently nail your reviews and maximize your value, you’ll need to go above and beyond your job requirements. Different positions offer different possibilities, so think creatively. For example, during my investment management career, I was the “go to” person to help land major new accounts. So, in addition to delivering solid performance, I helped generate revenue for our business. That significantly broadened my impact and my list of advocates during review time!

    For the most part, there are four key ways you can contribute to your employer’s success: 1) help generate sales and retain key clients; 2) help reduce costs or improve efficiency; 3) innovate (e.g., new products, quality enhancements); and 4) lead (projects, people). How can you impact your employer’s performance—directly and indirectly?

    Lastly, it pays to understand how your manager is being evaluated. That way you can help contribute to his/her success, too. BOOM!

  4. Fully inform your manager before the fact

    Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a manager to recallall of the accomplishments and contributions of every employee over the review period (especially if it’s annual!). Consequently, it can become contentious when a manager fails to reflect key information in the review. Here’s where some preventive medicine can help.

    First, draft and deliver a self evaluation prior to the review date. List your major accomplishments and any factors that played into your performance.

    Second, to the extent that you’ve made key contributions to other departments, ask your advocates to draft a note on your behalf. Again, do not assume that your manager will know about (much less remember) your broader contributions to the organization.

    Finally, it always pays to ask for interim feedback at the midway point of your review cycle. That way you can make any midcourse corrections during the second half.

  5. Be a cinch to manage

    Management is something most people aspire for but quickly become disillusioned with. Many are promoted into supervisory positions despite lacking leadership skills or proper training.

Knowing this, I’ve always had empathy for the boss and went out of my way to be easy to manage. That meant delivering excellent work and meeting all deadlines a day or two early. I kept a positive attitude and was regarded by my peers as a constructive team player. This kept complaints to a minimum and guaranteed positive feelings about me while my review was being drafted.

These strategies will not only help you deliver great performance but will also help you receive a review that reflects it. May it be a “win win” for you and your manager!

Finding That Job!

One of the greatest unknowns for college students is predicting what the job market will be like when they graduate. After all, it’s four years down the road and lots can change in the meantime. The answer will be based on the state of the economy and the supply and demand picture for their career choice. Unfortunately, these factors are simply outside of our control.

Even if a young person’s path doesn’t include college, they’ll still be facing this kind of uncertainty. If the unemployment rate is low, chances are they’ll have little difficulty landing a good job. If it’s high, who knows how long it could take? Plus, they’ll have to work that much harder just to get their foot in the door.

So, how can all of us help? What are ways parents, educators, mentors and friends can help young people find the jobs they’re looking for—and progress once they find them?
Young adults need to be savvier and more competitive than ever to find, land, and advance in the jobs of today’s work place. Here are some suggestions you can share to help position them for a thriving career:

1. Use your existing networks. No matter how talented we are, we all need people who will go to bat for us, both personally and professionally. Their invaluable assistance can take the form of introductions and connections, references and advocacy, decision-making in our favor, an information source, or general help. They help us gain access to strategically important people. It’s like having our very own sales force!

The employment recruitment process has changed night and day since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an insider advocating on our behalf. It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

2. Broaden your base of employment prospects. Spread your net wide. Talk to others in your field. Read trade journals and industry bulletins, blogs, and newsletters. What’s going on in your industry of choice and where are the jobs? There are likely companies for which you could work that you haven’t even considered. My editor’s son is a land use planner who works for a county government. He recently discovered that a large aircraft manufacturer in our state regularly hires land use planners. He was surprised; he’d never even considered the thought of working for a company like that. Now that he knows, it’s an avenue he plans to pursue in his next steps.

3. Be flexible with respect to location. This point is short but important. Many times you’ll have to go to the job; it won’t come to you. The more flexible you can be about this, the more marketable you are.

4. Develop your competitive edge. Our world is much more competitive than ever before. Our economy has become service-oriented and knowledge-based, which has changed everything. Now, you have to demonstrate something special (i.e, skills, experiences, and achievements) in order to land the job and advance in your career. Together, these make up your competitive edge. Consider what would stand out about you to future employers during your eventual job search. Go the extra mile to become better qualified through experiences and continuing education. If you’re lacking a skill or a professional qualification, attack it with full force! Demonstrate an attitude of continuous improvement and a commitment to excellence. Show results and impact. Create great personal stories that will inspire employers. If you don’t, remember that someone else will—and they’ll wind up with your job or promotion!

This is only part of the picture! Join us next week for part two of this blog: How to Market Yourself and Move Ahead in Your Career Field.

How have you found and moved ahead in your job(s)? Do you think things are easier, harder, or the same for young adults in today’s job market? How can we help encourage students in finding and landing the right jobs? We’d love to hear your thoughts?

5 Tips for Getting SMART about Retirement

When you envision retirement, you probably don’t see yourself depending entirely on Social Security as your main source of income. Unfortunately, many people do, and are alarmed at how little money they have to live on in their golden years. Consequently, many seniors are heading back to work for some “financial supplements,” which is also affecting job opportunities for younger people.

 

It’s time to get SMART about retirement—and here’s a catchy acronym to get you started. The five tips in this acronym will help you develop an investment program now that will give you the financial freedom for later on in life: Start early and Make room in your budget, knowing the growth of your wealth is a function of the Amount you invest, the Rate of return you earn, and the Time period over which you invest.

 

S—Start early

It is never too early to begin strategically planning for your financial future! If you only take away one thing from this blog, may it be this: beginning your investment program as soon as you start your career should be a top priority. By investing early in a long-term program, you’ll have the best chances of building substantial wealth for your retirement. You might be thinking, “Why now…I’m not retiring for 30 years!” The answer is simple—the power of compounding your returns over many years is enormous. Here’s an example:

           

If Brad invests $2,000 per year at a 7% return from age 18 to 27 and lets it grow at that rate until he’s 65, he’ll have a much larger nest egg than Madison, who waits until age 31 to start investing $2,000 each year until age 65. That’s right! Brad’s $20,000 produced greater wealth than Madison’s $70,000! So, start investing ASAP!

 

M—Make room

With money, come choices and tradeoffs. Each time we buy now, we lose the opportunity to buy something of even greater value in the future. It takes self discipline to resist the now for the sake of the future. There’s no getting around that making room in your monthly budget to invest is the only way to build assets for your future.

 

A-the AMOUNT you invest (more is merrier)

The more you invest, the greater (and sooner) your wealth will grow. Strive to invest at least 15% of your income for your retirement, and take this amount into account for your monthly budgets (while considering your employer’s plan). By doing so, you’ll significantly supplement your Social Security income. If you want a retirement lifestyle similar to your career years, you simply have no choice.

 

R-the RATE of your return (higher is happier)

It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. The higher the percentage rate of return after expenses, the greater the wealth you’ll build. Develop a well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that fits your risk profile and beats inflation. The earlier you start, the greater risk you can afford to take and the more wealth you’ll accumulate.

 

T-the TIME period over which you invest (longer is better)

Remember, it’s a snowball effect. The longer the time period that you invest, the more wealth you will accrue. A $10,000 investment with a 7% return grows to over $76,000 in 30 years. That same investment is worth only about $20,000 in 10 years. Make sure time is on your side!

 

           

Being SMART about your retirement takes discipline, but the impact is astounding!

 

In what ways have you begun planning for your retirement? Have you followed these SMART steps? What challenges or obstacles have your run into? We welcome all of your questions, comments, and suggestions!

 

What’s on Your To-Do List?

Sometimes I wonder how we all survived before sticky notes. They sure come in handy for jotting down my daily reminders and holding myself accountable!

 

The discipline of writing out a daily prioritized task list (organized by importance and urgency) is a hallmark of a productive person. I begin each day with a to-do list, and it certainly has made me more focused and effective. (And, yes, when unexpected items arise, I add them to the list and cross them out after completion. There’s power in a sense of accomplishment!)

 

Here’s an idea. What if we took this concept beyond its daily application and take a “sticky pad” approach to planning our lives? After all, the most successful people begin with dreams and then establish goals and plans to make them come true.

 

How can the sticky note approach work for you?

 

Poor or random planning puts your dreams in jeopardy and, at best, makes it take that much longer to realize them. But, even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? Think of areas like your education, career, service opportunities, family, finances, health, experiences, passion areas, and interests.

 

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some shorter-range goals that will help you achieve them. You can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture.

 

At the same time, don’t forget those daily to-do lists!  You’ll be amazed how much more you accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a fancy leather-bound day-timer to keep you on track.  Many times all you need is a vibrant-colored sticky note placed somewhere visible to remind you what you hope to accomplish that day! Oh, and once all your items are checked off the list, be sure to take some time to celebrate for a job well done. You deserve it.

 

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter

 

What kinds of goals have you established for the short-, intermediate-, and long-term? What strategies have you learned to help accomplish them?

We’d love to hear your ideas!