Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

The Truth about College: It May Not Matter as Much As You Think

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It amuses me to tell people I went to college for 40 years. Their reactions vary from shock to admiration, from pity to surprise.

As a high school sophomore, I learned the local community college would admit select high school seniors. Acting partly out of youthful arrogance and partly from moxie, I met with an admissions counselor, hoping to be admitted the following year. The advisor never asked my age or my grade as he mechanically pulled my high school transcript. Mathematically challenged, he struggled to convert my school’s quarterly grades into the semester credits he was accustomed to. “Well,” he concluded, “it sure looks like you have enough credits.”

I completed my first college class before I started my junior year in high school. I took at least one class a semester for the next two years. College offered a challenge that high school lacked. Though I earned high marks in high school, I excelled in my college courses.

As my senior year in high school wound down, classmates announced their college plans. My best friend was headed to a private school to study a new field called computer science. It seemed an interesting and promising choice, and I decided to follow her there. However, despite my parents having sacrificed to make weekly deposits into my college fund since the day I was born, the amount they accumulated fell short. This reality, coupled with frequent media reports of college graduates being under-employed in entry-level positions, led me to a more practical decision. I enrolled in electronic technical school where I could quickly learn practical job skills and enter the work force at a fraction of the cost. Upon graduation, I grabbed the first job that came along: repairing copy machines.

Pursue a Practical Education

It quickly became apparent this was not the job for me. My electronic school credential read, “electronic engineering technician,” and though I fancied myself an engineer, prospective employers viewed me as a technician. To make the career change I wanted, I needed more education. I reapplied to the community college and earned a pre-engineering degree.

I transferred to a local university and enrolled in its electrical engineering program. Well before graduation, a job change took me out of state. I established residency there and resumed my education. During this time, I responded to a help wanted ad. The stated salary was three times what I currently made. I met every qualification and dashed off my resume, fully expecting to be hired. But they didn’t even interview me. I later learned the company was deluged with applications, and it summarily rejected every applicant without a four-year college degree. I resolved to never let that happen again.

A College Degree Can Be More Than an Attendance Certificate

Now being cynically convinced that a college degree was little more than an attendance certificate, I sought the shortest path to a four-year degree. I found the perfect solution. It was geared for full-time employees who had at least two years of college. By attending evening classes, in an intense one-year program, I could parlay my various college credits with documented experiential learning into a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t care what the degree was in; I just wanted that piece of paper. As the school year wound down, however, I met with a surprise at work. In my annual review, my boss told me that my management skills had greatly improved. He rewarded me with a substantial raise. Although I had been striving for an arbitrary credential, I inadvertently ended up improving my job skills.

I shared this news with my professor, thanking him profusely. In what seemed unwarranted humility he dismissed my gratitude. “I don’t deserve any credit,” he said matter-of-factly. “All we did was offer you an opportunity; it was up to you to make something of it. It’s what you have inside that made the difference.” It was years before I would fully comprehend this.

Now seeing a direct connection between education and earning power, I returned for a second major. What I had previously learned were “soft” skills (interpersonal communication, group dynamics, human resources, and so forth). Now I needed to complement this with course work in accounting, business law, and strategic planning. This major, business administration, would enhance my job skills, making me a better and more marketable employee.

It’s what’s inside that makes the difference. Click To Tweet

A Masters and a Doctorate

After a few years, missing the elixir of education and feeling inadequate as a manager, I began considering a master’s degree. Again, I found a program geared for non-traditional students. Their offer was compelling, but even more intriguing was that I could enroll in a joint masters/doctorate program. I did. I anticipated the master’s degree would make me complete as a manager, but I viewed the doctorate more as a personal milestone.

After completing my master’s degree as planned, I immediately began working on the doctorate, which I had two years to complete. Already worn down by the intensity of the master’s, I soon regretted committing to the doctoral program. But stubbornness prevailed and I plodded on, meeting the requirements only a few months before the deadline. I was 42; it was 26 years since I had gotten a jumpstart on college at age 16. There were some diversions along the way, job changes, relocations and even a few breaks, but for the majority of that time, I was attending classes—somewhere.

A Second Doctorate

Fast forward a few more years. I felt a prompting to return to school once again, this time for personal edification, picking a Bible college – again distance learning. I applied for a second doctorate but they didn’t accept me. Not caring about the credential, but the learning opportunity, I accepted placement in their masters program. However, a couple classes into it, during a routine call to the school, I learned they had undergone a change in how they evaluate transfer credits. They bumped me up to their “second doctorate” program, which for me actually required fewer classes then the masters program I was in. I switched. By graduation, I had spent nearly 40 years in college. And that will be enough college for me – unless I want to return to teach.

College has meant many things to me: a challenge, a means to a job, help with a career change, an attendance certificate, an avenue to a better salary, an enhancer of job skills, management training, and personal edification. College can be many things depending on what we need and what we want to accomplish, but it is not a cure-all.

When I worked as a call center consultant, I would do week-long business audits. I would begin the week with an overview of the client’s company and then drill down to uncover weaknesses and opportunities. In doing so, a distressing pattern emerged. On about the third day, I would often find myself in a follow-up meeting with the person who manages the call center. They sharer their common concern in different ways and with various levels of emotion, but it always boiled down to the same sentiment: “I feel inadequate as a manager. I think I need a college degree.”

This broke my heart. I was never sure what to say.

Do You Feel You Need a College Degree?

These were successful, dynamic women, who started at entry-level positions and through hard work, dedication, and a talent for doing what’s nearly impossible, rose to significant positions. These individuals oversaw the majority of their organization’s workforce, controlled about half of its expenses (primarily labor costs), and maintained virtually all of the company revenue, yet they still felt inadequate. They believed a degree would make everything right. This always caught me by surprise because they conducted their work with such great aplomb, confidence, and success.

Here’s what I should have told them: “Yes, college can help you. If you have the opportunity to go and are willing to make the sacrifices of time and money, while putting much of your life on hold, then do it. It will make you a better manager. But it is not a panacea. There will still be times when you will feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or unprepared at work. Most managers have these feelings and a formal education won’t make them go away.”

While my educational choices have, in part, enabled me to get to where I am today, I know that had I gone down a different path, the result would be no less meaningful, because as my college professor said, “It’s what you have inside that makes the difference.”

What If You Don’t Already Have a Career?

These comments about college are strictly for those who have an established career. For the recent high school graduate and those just starting out or without a career path, I always recommend college, provided they can handle the workload. Being a traditional student and going to school full-time allows one to get a degree in the shortest time, but it is not financially possible for everyone. In this case, as for me, intersperse education with vocation. Although this approach takes longer, it enhances the experience as education is magnified by work and work is complemented by education.

What If You Have No Idea What to Study?

If this is the case, be sure to pursue marketable job skills. Don’t focus on skills that will maximize earning potential. Instead look at on what will maximize your enjoyment of life—which is not money. For those who are analytical thinkers, business and computers are good pursuits; for creative minds, consider marketing or graphic arts.

And remember, most college graduates don’t end up working in the field they studied. Instead they use their education as an entry-point to the work force. Once you have successfully proven yourself in full-time employment, work history generally becomes more important than your degree—as long as you have it.

So, if you go to college, study hard, make the most of the opportunity that you are given. Just remember, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Do you want a staff of perfectionists?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Some managers say “yes,” whereas others respond with a resounding “no.” The informed answer is, “it all depends.” Here’s why:

Of that portion of the populace who are perfectionists, some are blindly or proudly so. Others are self-aware of possessing this characteristic and informed about it; I call them recovering perfectionists. A self-aware perfectionist understands this condition, knowing how to tap into and celebrate the many strengths and benefits of pursuing excellence. At the same time, they know to guard against its limiting, self-defeating, and even paralyzing facets.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. However, knowledgeable perfectionists can tap into the positive aspects of their natural tendencies when appropriate, that is, when it is to their advantage to do so. At the same time, they can usually avoid being handicapped by perfectionism’s alluring snares.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of ominous and debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. Click To Tweet

For a perfectionist, there are many traits which provide great value in the workplace:

  • Produce quality work: Perfectionists tend to produce high quality work. They take pleasure in excellence and find satisfaction in a job well-done.
  • Exceed expectations: If the boss expects a short summary, the perfectionist will submit a report. If achieving a 99 percent rating is admirable, the purist will aim for 99.9—and then 100. Being above average is not good enough; being the best is a self-imposed requirement.
  • Go the extra mile: Perfectionists often give more than asked. If a report needs to be five pages long, they will turn in six. If a product needs to have three new features, they will add a fourth and maybe a fifth. If they set a record last month, they will strive to better it this month. In sports, this results in shooting free throws while the rest of the team showers or taking 30 minutes of extra batting practice—every day.
  • Set high standards: Another trait is that perfectionists set high standards, both for themselves and others. As long as the standards are reasonably attainable, it is acceptable, and even admirable for the perfectionist to set a bar high—for him or herself. (However, foisting faultlessness on the others does little more than establish the groundwork for future frustration, disappointment, and conflict between the precision-minded and the rest of the world.)

Of course, there are counterparts to these traits. One is procrastination. It is said that the perfectionist subconsciously reasons that the results of their work will never be just right—no matter how much time is invested—so why start? In fact, the project is often delayed until the last possible moment, so there is a plausible excuse as to why it’s not perfect: “I didn’t have much time to work on it!” Taking this to an extreme, some perfectionists miss deadlines and blow past due dates, often agonizing over some trivial or irrelevant detail.

Another side-effect associated with perfectionism is having problems in making quick decisions. Sometimes, they need to “sleep on it” to be assured of the correctness of their judgment. Other times decisions can be agonizingly difficult for them to reach. They fear making the wrong conclusion, that is, a less than perfect one. They delay a decision, while awaiting more information, so they can conduct an informed analysis. Unfortunately, this mental paralysis is seldom cured by amassing more data.

Over the years I have often interviewed perfectionists during job interviews. As it becomes apparent that I am talking to a perfectionist, I segue into a special interview segment, just for them. “So,” I inquire, “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”

Their responses fall into one of three categories. The first one is shock or denial. If a person who has just exhibited several perfectionist traits is taken aback at the thought of being called one or disavows any connection whatsoever, I judge them to either be disingenuous or lacking in self-awareness. Neither are characteristics that I seek in an employee.

The second type of response to my perfectionist query is unabashed pride and total satisfaction in possessing this quality. To make sure I am not rushing to a snap judgment, I give them one last chance for redemption. “What,” I ask, “do you see as the weaknesses of being a perfectionist?” Occasionally, they will comprehend the importance of that question, using an astute answer to move them from this category over to category three. Usually, however, they give me a blank stare, as if my inquiry was nonsensical, responding that there is no downside or that they don’t understand what I asked. In similar fashion, I don’t want to work with a perfectionist that has failed to realize the turmoil and trouble they can produce by their proclivity for perfection.

The third type of perfectionist applicant smiles at this question and begins to share their self-awareness about the shortcomings of how their version of perfectionism is manifested. They openly identify the less then admirable ways that it reveals itself in them and often proceeds to communicate how they guard themselves and others from this tendency. This is a person I want on my team. Yes, they may require a bit more management effort from time to time, but doing so is worth the extra energy as the results will be an employee who produces quality work, frequently exceeds expectations, goes the extra mile, and sets high standards for him or herself. Isn’t that who you want working in your organization, too?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-the power of compliment

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference. Click To Tweet

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

The Only Constant is Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Click To Tweet

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Are You Really Too Busy? Seven Steps to Reclaim Your Life

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Perhaps you’ve heard this story. Imagine you’re sitting in a college class. It’s one of those big classrooms, with tiered seating, able to accommodate hundreds of students. The class is assembled in expectation; what will the prof do today?

At exactly 8 o’clock, he strides in and without acknowledging the classes’ presence, reaches under the lectern and produces a gallon glass jar. He sits it on a nearby table. Then he pulls out a box of rocks and sets it next to the jar. Finally, he fixes his gaze on his students. Garnering their attention, he clears his throat, gestures to the rocks, and asks, “Who would like to show us how much you can fit in?”

Unable to contain himself, an eager-to-impress freshman shoots up his hand. Desiring to make an impression, Mr. Eager-to-Impress carefully places rocks in the jar.

“Is the jar full?” The professor asks.

“Yes!” the students reply in unison.

“Can you fit any more in?”

“No!”

Then the instructor produces a bag of pebbles. The students gasp; a hush falls over the room. Mr. Eager-to-Impress is in a quandary. Should he cut his losses and keep quiet or attempt to salvage his bravado. Hesitantly he raises his hand and then comes forward. With greater care he places a handful of pebbles at the top and by tapping, shaking, and rotating the jar, they make their way to the gaps below. Satisfied with the results, he returns to his chair hoping for the best.

We must guard against becoming so busy dealing with life that we forget to live it. Click To Tweet

“Is the jar full, now?”

“Um, yes,” the students answer.

“Can you fit any more in?”

“No.” Their answer is guarded.

Next the instructor brings out a pail of sand. Many students smile. “How about now?” Eager-to-Impress is not so eager anymore, but feels his fate is already decided. Without being asked, he slinks back to the table and using the same technique, filters the sand through the courser maze of rocks and pebbles. Red-faced, he sits down, anxious for class to end.

The teacher gleefully asks, “Is the jar full now?”

No one ventures a response. Whatever they might say, they fear would be wrong; plus, no one wants to stand out like Eager-to-Impress.

The professor ignores their silence, “Can you fit any more in the jar?” More silence.

With practiced timing, the learners squirm in the hush of the moment. Without saying a word, the teacher reaches under the podium and brings forth a pitcher of water. Some students groan; others laugh. Unable to contain himself, the educator grins. “How about now?”

Slowly he pours the water into the jar, permeating every crevice. He fills it to the top and then overflows it. There’s no doubt whether or not the jar is full.

“What can we learn from this?”

Eager-to-Impress, wanting to salvage something from this debacle, summons his courage and hesitantly says, “It means that no matter how busy you are, you can always fit more in!”

“No,” the professor bellows, pounding his fist on the table. “It means that unless you do the big things first, they’ll never get done!”

I’ve heard several variations of this story. Since I don’t know who wrote it, I share my version with a nod to “Anonymous.”

I’m adept at handling the pebbles and sand in my life, topping it off with an abundant supply of water to make things seem full. However, I must be intentional to handle the rocks, those important tasks. Without deliberate action, I put off the big stuff until tomorrow, attending to life’s minutia, without tackling its priorities.

It’s epidemic; everyone is busy. We’re busy at work and leave to be busy at home; we’re busy in recreation and busier still on vacation, needing to return to work to rest. Our busyness distracts us from what’s important, from what really matters, from those things that could truly make a difference.

I’ve pondered my own busyness and am working towards my cure:

1) Time Management: The thrust of time management is controlling how we spend our time to allow time to do more. This doesn’t bring relief, it just means we’re squeezing more into an already full day. Turn time management on its head, using it to control how we spend our time, so that we do less.

2) Multitasking: When I multitask, I’m not really doing two things at once, but merely quickly switching back and forth. I fear my pursuit of multitasking has only served to make me ADD! Not only is multitasking counter-productive, there’s evidence it messes up our brain.

3) Keep a Time Log: I used to unintentionally irritate my managers by periodically asking them to keep a time log for a week; I’d do it too. They hated it and so did I, but the results were instructive.

Let’s look at some easy timewasters. How much TV do you watch a day? How much time do you spend online? This amounts to hours that could be put to a different use, attending to the big things, not squandered in passive activities of no real consequence. While we all need to relax, if we weren’t so perpetually busy, we wouldn’t need so much time to escape.

4) Just Say No: We tell our kids to say “no” to certain behaviors and would do well to heed our advice. Sometimes it’s wise to say “no” to good things in order to protect ourselves from over-committing and ending up too busy to do anything well.

5) Set Limits: My tolerance for work is about 50 to 55 hours a week. If things balloon beyond that, out of self-preservation I cut back until I again have a tolerable schedule. If I was self-policing to a 55-hour workweek, I theorized I could learn to limit myself to 45. It took some time, but I was able to do it. In looking at my output and quality during those 45-hour workweeks, I saw nothing that suffered. I was also more relaxed, less stressed, and had more free time.

6) Know Yourself: My tendency is to handle the pebbles and sand at the beginning of my day and attend to the rocks in the afternoon – if there’s time. This isn’t wise, as my time of greatest focus and peak energy is in the morning. Ironically, I was handling trivial stuff at my peak while reserving the important tasks for my low point. I’ve noted a similar cycle throughout the week and another that is seasonal. It takes concerted effort, but I strive to prioritize key tasks for peak times, while delegating lesser activities to my lower energy moments.

7) Then Do the Big Things: Once we take steps to control life’s activities, we can attend to the big things. Without the pressures of trivial concerns, there’s freedom to focus on the important, the life altering, and the significant, removing us from the rut that all too easily goes from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year—all without noticeable advancement.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.