TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Surefire Ways to Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

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Maria Teijeiro—Getty Images/OJO Images RF


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

By Brent Gleeson

The loftiest goal I ever set in the early stages of my professional career was to become a Navy SEAL. Achieving that milestone gave me a new perspective and set the foundation for the rest of my life. Nothing seemed too far from my grasp.

The first six months of training, called Basis Underwater Demolition/SEAL, is designed to identify those not solely committed to the mission of becoming a Navy SEAL, separate them from the herd, and force them to quit. Unless you quickly identify what you personally need to be successful, you will fail. Here are 11 important tactics I learned during that journey that I use every day in the constant pursuit of personal and professional success.

1. Get the simple things right.

During training, Sunday was always depressing, because you knew the inevitable torture that Monday would bring. Monday was inspection day. To be successful as a SEAL, your attention to detail must be unwavering. So you start with the little things, like making your bed and cleaning the floors. I used to keep my bed impeccably made and sleep on top of the covers with a sleeping bag. If everything wasn’t perfect, you paid for it. And sometimes when it was perfect, you paid anyway. The lesson: If you can’t get the simple things right, you can’t expect to successfully tackle more daunting tasks.

2. Set both realistic and unrealistic goals.

Successful people are relentless goal setters. They break down larger milestones into smaller, more achievable tasks. One of the most unrealistic goals a SEAL candidate can set is completing Hell Week. You don’t sleep for a week. You run countless miles with boats, logs, and backpacks. You swim dozens of miles in the frigid ocean. You run the obstacle course daily and do more pushups and pull-ups than you can count. All while battling second-stage hypothermia, sores, and often fractures. Some students quit just minutes into Hell Week. You can’t allow yourself to imagine what the end will look like. So you make–and achieve–one small goal at a time and pray for the sun to come up the next day. A series of near-term realistic goals will help you get closer to your big audacious ones.

3. Work hard.

This one seems obvious, but many people underestimate the level of effort it takes to be successful and achieve aggressive goals. It astonishes me that some of the guys showing up to SEAL training put no real time or effort into preparation. If you don’t work hard preparing for potential success, you won’t change that behavior when things get really tough.

4. Get others to work with you.

A SEAL training class is broken down into boat crews of seven guys each: three on either side of the boat and a coxswain in the rear steering. During the first phase of training, you take the boats out through the surf and paddle miles up and down the beach every day. I was in a winter class, where the swells can be up to 10 feet or more. It takes every man digging in and paddling hard just to get through the surf zone without getting tossed upside down. When setting goals and pursuing success, you must sometimes lead and get others to paddle with you. You can’t do it all alone. The minute you realize that you don’t know everything and need help along the way, the better off you will be.

5. Don’t make excuses.

Successful people don’t make excuses for failure or shortcomings. They acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and seek feedback from trusted advisers. The longer you sit around making excuses, the further you will drift from the possibility of achieving your goals.

6. Don’t underestimate others.

One of the most fascinating things about SEAL training is that out of the couple hundred guys who start a training class, you could never hand pick the 30 or so who will graduate. Rarely is it the Rambo types who make it. Usually they are the first to go. Underestimating people, whether peers or competitors, is one of the worst things you can do. People who go far in life measure others by qualities such as integrity and strength of heart. Empower those around you, and you will be surprised by the outcome.

7. Be willing to fail.

When entering this phase of my life, I knew that statistically, the odds were not in my favor. I also knew that if I didn’t try, I would never forgive myself. I decided that I would rather try and fail than be the guy who says, “I was thinking about trying that.” You simply can’t look at life through a lens of fear. If you take a calculated risk and fail, at the very least you have a valuable learning experience. Get back up. Dust off. And never, ever, be out of the fight.

8. Embrace the repercussions of your actions.

On your path to success, you will make mistakes. One of my early mistakes was slacking off on my pushups after the obstacle course during the first day of the third phase of training. An instructor was looking through the rearview mirror while sitting in the truck. He was counting to see if I did the required 50. I decided to do 30-ish. That mistake earned me a spot with the “cheaters” the following week while at the shooting range. Each day, before we started, during lunch, and between drills, the cheaters would line up and sprint to the top of a nearby mountain in full gear. If you failed to make the cutoff time, you ran it again. It was torture. But the week after, I miraculously cut my four-mile run time by three minutes. Learn from your mistakes and turn the consequences into something positive.

9. Don’t back down.

My favorite passage from the Navy SEAL creed reads: “I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.” Enough said.

10. Laugh when you want to cry.

Staying positive seems like an obvious trait for successful people, but it’s easier said than done. Your character is defined by what you do when things get tough. During Hell Week, one of the fun tasks is called “steel pier.” After spending some time in the cold water of San Diego Bay, you strip down to your undershorts and lie down on the freezing metal pier while the instructors spray you with hoses. Your body convulses uncontrollably as it reaches stage-two hypothermia. But the guys who found the strength to laugh (partly because of delirium) during this event were the ones standing proud at graduation. When things get rough and are out of your control, don’t forget to laugh.

11. Make sacrifices.

Success comes with sacrifice. Let selfish ways fall by the wayside, and know that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. The most successful people in the world have made significant sacrifices along the way. To become a SEAL, you give up comfort, and the discomfort only increases the further you go. But you get used to it, because you know what you are doing is worth it.

The path to success is paved with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but you can’t lose heart. Stay strong, be humble, and lean on others for support when necessary.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

MONEY Careers

Reading This From Behind a Desk? You’re More Likely to Have a Fatter Wallet—and a Fatter Waist

While better paid, office workers are more likely to be overweight than their non-desk jockey peers. Use these tips to make sure your wallet is the only thing that's plump.

Spend most of your workday behind a desk? First, the good news: You probably make more money than someone who doesn’t, according to a new survey. CareerBuilder has found that workers in desk jobs are twice as likely to make more than $100,000, compared to those who do not work behind a desk.

Now for the not-so-good news: You’re also more likely to be overweight.

Nearly six in 10 of desk jockeys identify as overweight vs. five in 10 non-desk workers. And 46% report that they have gained weight in their current jobs.

Researchers have long known that sedentary work puts adults at a higher risk of obesity. But desk workers also told CareerBuilder about the psychic toll. Half of the respondents say that they feel “stuck inside,” and 56% say they spend most of their time staring at computer screens.

If you’re tied to a desk, here are some ways to stay fit and fight burnout:

Work on your feet

Citing the long-term dangers of sedentary work, the American Medical Association urges employers to let workers use standing desks or isometric balls. Ask your boss if you can make some changes to your workspace and spend more time on your feet.

Take a hike

Researchers have found that even short breaks from sitting are associated with better health outcomes. Every once in a while, remember to get up and walk around the office.

Do some desk exercises

One study suggests that workers today burn about 100 fewer calories than workers did in 1960. Adding short periods of exercise—such as these that you can do without leaving your workspace—to your daily routine could help keep off the extra pounds.

TIME Social Networking

You Can Now See How Much More Popular You Are Than Your Coworkers

A new LinkedIn feature lets users see how their profile views rank compared to their connections

As if the job market wasn’t competitive enough already. LinkedIn is introduced a feature Wednesday that allows users to stack themselves up against their connections’ profile views.

The stats include a percentage ranking comparing users to their place among their connections, as well as a numerical ranking. It also appears beside a list of your top-10 most-viewed connections, plus some inks to tips on updating your profile.

The new ranking system sheds light on how much data LinkedIn collects about us, as well as how much the network is used by others to find out about us. It may also be a subtle nudge to push users to add connections, update their profiles and spend more time on the social network.

LinkedIn said in a blog post that the feature lets consultants and business owners see how effective their marketing strategies are, and it allows new graduates to “thoughtfully build their network.” The Who’s Viewed Your Profile feature—adjacent to the profile ranker—also allows job seekers to see which employers have looked at their profiles, LinkedIn said.

 

TIME

13 Easy Ways to Teach Yourself to Be More Confident

Few are born confident, research shows. The self-assured learn to be that way, and you can too


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights toentrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Are you as confident as you’d like to be? Few people would answer “yes” to that question. But, according to Becky Blalock, author and former Fortune 500 executive, anyone can learn to be more confident. And it’s a skill we can teach ourselves.

Begin by forgetting the notion that confidence, leadership, and public speaking are abilities people are born with. In fact, research shows that being shy and cautious is the natural human state. “That’s how people in early times lived to pass on their genes, so it’s in our gene pool,” she says. “You had to be cautious to survive. But the things they needed to worry about then are not the things we need to worry about today.”

How do you teach yourself to be more confident? Here’s Blalock’s advice:

1. Put your thoughts in their place.

The average human has 65,000 thoughts every day, Blalock says, and 85 to 90 percent of them are negative–things to worry about or fear. “They’re warnings to yourself,” Blalock says, and left over from our cave-dwelling past. It makes sense–if we stick our hand in a flame our brain wants to make sure we don’t ever do that again. But this survival mechanism works against us because it causes us to focus on fears rather than hopes or dreams.

The point is to be aware that your brain works this way, and keep that negativity in proportion. “What you have to realize is your thoughts are just thoughts,” Blalock says. They don’t necessarily represent objective reality.

2. Begin at the end.

“There are so many people that I’ve asked, ‘What do you want to do? What do you want to be?’ and they would say, ‘I don’t know,'” Blalock says. “Knowing what you want is the key. Everything else you do should be leading you where you want to go.”

3. Start with gratitude.

Begin the day by thinking about some of the things you have to be grateful for, Blalock advises. “Most of the 7 billion people in the world won’t have the opportunities you do,” she says. “If you start out with that perspective, you’ll be in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.”

4. Take a daily step outside your comfort zone.

There’s a funny thing about comfort zones. If we step outside them on a regular basis, they expand. If we stay within them, they shrink. Avoid getting trapped inside a shrinking comfort zone by pushing yourself to do things that are outside it.

We’ve all had experiences where we’ve done something that terrified us, and then discovered it wasn’t so bad. In Blalock’s case, she was visiting a military base and had gotten to the top of the parachute-training tower for a practice jump. “They had me all hooked up, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this, I have a small child at home,'” she recalls. “The guy took his foot and pushed me off the tower. When I got out there I realized it wasn’t that bad.”

We won’t always have someone standing by to kick us out of our comfort zones, so we have to do it for ourselves. “Just act!” Blalock says.

5. Remember: Dogs don’t chase parked cars.

If you’re running into opposition, questions, and doubts, there’s probably a good reason–you’re going somewhere. That doesn’t mean you should ignore warning signs, but it does mean you should put those negatives in perspective. If you don’t make changes, and challenge the status quo, no one will ever object to anything you do.

6. Get ready to bounce back.

“It’s not failure that destroys our confidence, it’s not getting back up,” Blalock says. “Once we get back up, we’ve learned what doesn’t work and we can give it another try.” Blalock points out that the baseball players with the biggest home run records also have the biggest strikeout records. Taking more swings gets you where you want to go.

7. Find a mentor.

Whatever you’ve set out to do, there are likely others who’ve done it first and can offer you useful advice or at least serve as role models. Find those people and learn as much from them as you can.

8. Choose your companions wisely.

“Your outlook–negative or positive–will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Blalock says. “So be careful who you hang out with. Make sure you’re hanging out with people who encourage you and lift you up.”

When she quit her C-suite job to write books, she adds, some people were aghast and predicted that no one would read them while others were quite encouraging. It didn’t take her long to figure out that the encouraging friends were the ones she should gravitate toward.

9. Do your homework.

In almost any situation, preparation can help boost your confidence. Have to give a speech? Practice it several times, record yourself, and listen. Meeting people for the first time? Check them and their organizations out on the Web, and check their social media profiles as well. “If you’re prepared you will be more confident,” Blalock says. “The Internet makes it so easy.”

10. Get plenty of rest and exercise.

There’s ample evidence by now that getting enough sleep, exercise, and good nutrition profoundly affects both your mood and your effectiveness. “Just moderate exercise three times a week for 20 minutes does so much for the hippocampus and is more effective than anything else for warding off Alzheimer’s and depression,” Blalock says. “Yet it always falls of the list when we’re prioritizing. While there are many things we can delegate, exercise isn’t one of them. If there were a way to do that, I would have figured it out by now.”

11. Breathe!

“This one is so simple,” Blalock says. “If you breathe heavily, it saturates your brain with oxygen and makes you more awake and aware. It’s very important in a tense situation because it will make you realize that you control your body, and not your unconscious mind. If you’re not practicing breathing, you should be.”

12. Be willing to fake it.

No, you shouldn’t pretend to have qualifications or experience that you don’t. But if you have most of the skills you need and can likely figure out the rest, don’t hang back. One company did a study to discover why fewer of its female employees were getting promotions than men. It turned out not to be so much a matter of bias as of confidence: If a man had about half the qualifications for a posted job he’d be likely to apply for it, while a woman would be likelier to wait till she had most or all of them. Don’t hold yourself back by assuming you need to have vast experience for a job or a piece of business before you go after it.

13. Don’t forget to ask for help.

“Don’t assume people know what you want,” Blalock says. “You have to figure out what that is, and then educate them.”

Once people know what you want, and that you want their help, you may be surprised at how forthcoming they are. “People are really flattered when you ask for advice and support,” she says. “If someone says no you can always ask someone else. But in my experience, they rarely say no.”

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s Why Your Work Life Will Never Truly Be Flexible

This was supposed to be the golden age of employee flexibility. With everyone connected to the Internet — and their jobs — practically 24/7, there’s no practical reason why an office worker can’t do many of their day-to-day tasks from a home office the side of a soccer field or the beach.

But recent research reveals the illusion of freedom is exactly that: Today’s workforce is as much at the beck and call of their employers as ever, and some hard-won concessions are vanishing entirely. A new study of 545 employers put out by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work finds that very few are as flexible as they claim to be.

The usual way social scientists measure workplace flexibility is by asking companies if they let any of their employees do things like work from home, juggle their hours or reduce their workload to take care of family obligations. The problem with measuring this way is that the same rules don’t necessarily apply to everybody. A company that is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate a c-level executive or top performer isn’t necessarily going to be as generous with rank-and-file workers. What’s more, somebody who works at, say, a high-tech company is a lot likelier to catch a break than someone toiling away on a factory floor — manufacturing companies are the least-flexible when it comes to offering their workers options.

Working from home is generally the most commonly allowed flexible work arrangement, and even the stats on that aren’t so hot. According to the 2014 National Study of Employers, only 38% of employers let some employees work at home on a regular basis, and just 3% extend this perk to “all or most” workers.

The culprits are poor management training — most supervisors don’t really know how to manage remote workers — and a suspicion that employees will goof off if they’re not under the boss’s watchful eye, says an article in the New York Times.

This is all the more discouraging when you realize that working from home is where companies have made the most progress. Other kinds of flexible work arrangements, including leave for dads, adoptive parents and caregivers, are vanishing. Job-sharing or switching to part-time is a rare option.

“More employers are cutting back programs that would allow workers to reduce hours to better manage the care of, say, an ill parent,” the Times article says. “Employers have also cut back the length of leave to new fathers and adoptive parents, and reduced pay given to birth mothers on leave.” And the number of workplaces that permit job-sharing fell by 11 percentage points between 2008 and today.

Offering flexible work options on such a limited basis kind of defeats the purpose, according to Sloan Center director Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes. “Employers who implement limited programs might become frustrated if they don’t see the outcomes they had hoped for,” she says in a statement. “Employers and employees are better able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility when the initiatives are comprehensive.”

TIME

This Is What’s Actually Making You Horribly Unproductive

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Ron Bambridge—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

Talk about a silver lining: New research shows that crummy weather actually makes you more productive at work. Unfortunately, this means now that the long winter much of the country endured is finally over, your motivation could vanish faster than giant snow piles in a big-box store parking lot.

If you think gloomy weather saps your motivation, you’re not alone; more than 80% of people surveyed by researchers thought so. But the authors of this new study found out the opposite is actually true: Good weather makes us want to go do fun things, and thinking about what we’d rather be doing distracts us from what we should be doing. Career and workplace experts have some suggestions for how to keep “spring fever” from infecting your job performance on nice days.

Work on less detail-oriented projects. Bad weather drives people to focus more on the task at hand, which improves performance, but nice weather disrupts that focus. “Cognitive distractions led to higher error rates,” says Jooa Julia Lee, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University and the lead author of the study, “Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity.” “Individuals may wish to avoid working on a task in which errors would be costly when they have task-unrelated priorities,” she says. If you can’t avoid it, double-check your work to make sure

Do creative or collaborative work instead. Lee and her co-authors found that nice weather can benefit creative thinking. Another winner: Projects that require working with others. “Weather-induced positive moods may improve workers’ productivity on tasks that require creativity, as well as affective interpersonal skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence,” she writes.

Ask for flexible hours. See if your boss will let you work longer Monday through Thursday so you can take some time for yourself and leave early on Fridays, or ask about other flexible schedule options you can implement in nice weather. Even if this isn’t possible, take advantage of your lunch breaks and spend them outside on pleasant days, says Peter Friedes, co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC.

Don’t fight it. “A key factor of staying focused and productive is to acknowledge when you aren’t, due to spring fever or anything else,” consultant Bernadette Boas tells Monster.com’s MonsterWorking blog. Just like going on an overly restrictive diet can lead to a junk food binge, denying the siren song of a warm, sunny day can backfire. “If you fight it, it will only consume you, then sabotage your efforts,” Boas says. She suggests picking a few items on your to-do list and rewarding yourself with a brief break outside after you’ve completed them.

TIME

9 Guaranteed Ways to Enrage People Over Email

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Sam Hofman—Getty Images

LinkedIn Influencer Adam Grant published this post originally on LinkedIn. Follow Adam on LinkedIn.

When we walk up to introduce ourselves to strangers, we intuitively follow basic cultural rules of politeness. Don’t launch into a monologue about yourself. Don’t look over their shoulder to see if someone more important is nearby. Don’t invade personal space, or you’ll be branded as a close talker.

On email, though, it’s the Wild West. The internet and social media have made it effortless to contact strangers: even many influential people are just a click away. When I speak with influencers, they are often shocked by the everyday rudeness in emails from strangers. What does it take to avoid alienating the very people with whom we’re hoping to connect? Here are nine rules for polite email outreach:

Don’t ask strangers to…

1. Acknowledge that they received your email

Electronic return receipts are a thing of the past, and I know many people who interpret them as a sign that you (a) are paranoid, (b) have an inflated sense of your own worth, or (c) have just emerged from a 20-year coma and are unaware of mailer-daemons and delivery status notifications. If your message goes unanswered, you can always resend it a couple weeks later.

2. Share your content on social media

What if they don’t like your material? An explicit request to circulate puts people in an awkward position: they can say no and look rude, or drop the ball and look disorganized. It’s more polite to just send them your content along with a sentence about why it’s up their alley, and end it there. If they like it enough, they’ll share it—and they’ll do it more enthusiastically, because it’s based on intrinsic motivation rather than obligation.

3. Provide feedback on something you’ve created

If you’re seeking input on a product, service, technology, document, or idea, it’s an awful lot to ask a stranger to engage with your work and comment on it. Whereas feedback requires a lot of effort, advice can be much less time-consuming. Try asking for guidance on a specific question or dilemma that you’re facing, and you’ll be more likely to get a response.

4. Jump on a call today or tomorrow

If you’re asking the favor, the onus is on you to be flexible. Ask if they might be willing to talk sometime in the next month or two, and let them suggest some times.

5. Name some times for a meeting

It’s a red flag when people feel entitled to a face-to-face conversation. A friendlier option is to ask strangers if they’re willing to meet, or if there’s a more convenient way for them to communicate with you.

6. Introduce you to specific people in their networks

It’s not fair to ask people to put their relationships on the line for someone they don’t know. Instead, ask if they know anyone who might be a good source of insight on a particular topic, and they may suggest a person who they feel comfortable connecting.

After strangers respond to your initial message, don’t…

7. Email them every day—or even every week

Stalker alert! People sometimes interpret a polite reply from a stranger as an offering of friendship. If you’re tempted to reach out too regularly, try saving your points in a draft email, and then prune at the end of the month. Intermittent reinforcement can be a powerful thing.

8. Immediately introduce them to someone else

This can come across as using your newfound access to gain status or influence with the third party. The safe bet here is to simply ask for permission first: “I thought you two might enjoy a chat for the following reason. Are you interested in connecting?”

9. Invite them to collaborate

You just proposed marriage on the second date. Try having a dialogue first, and explore whether working together might prove mutually beneficial.

All I Ask Of You

Thanks for reading this post—I just have a few requests. Will you please like it so I know you read it, and share it on all of your social media platforms? I await your comments on the best parts of this post and how I could have improved it; let’s discuss by phone today.

I’ll drop by your office Monday for lunch. That will be the perfect time for you to introduce me to your boss’s boss.

To firm up the plans, I’ll check in with you again tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve sent an email introducing you to my dentist. He’s great, and I know you’ll be very interested in his work, so I gave him your cellphone number. Oh, and we should totally write together—you’ll learn a lot from me.

Finally, please rate my wife on www.hotornot.com.

Adam is a Wharton professor and the author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. His Twitter handle is @AdamMGrant, his free newsletter is atwww.giveandtake.com, and his dentist is Michael Smith, DDS.

TIME Careers & Workplace

20 More Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible

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A.L. Christensen / Getty Images / Flickr Open

Easy to get wrong. And easy to get right


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

My recent post, 30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible, sparked a flurry of emails requesting more examples.

So here they are. While there are hundreds of incorrectly used words, I’ve picked words commonly used in business settings.

Here we go:

1. Anticipate

“We anticipate earnings will increase by $1 per share.”

No you don’t. To anticipate means to look ahead and prepare. So you can anticipate increased sales, but only if you are also making preparations to handle that increase in sales; for example, “We added staffing in anticipation of increased sales.”

If you’re estimating or wishful guessing, use estimate or expect instead. Or, if you live where I live, use “reckon.” It’s good enough for Clint.

2. Arbitrate

Arbitrate appears in many contracts. An arbitrator is like a judge; she hears evidence, reviews documents, etc, and then makes a decision. That’s different from mediate: a mediator doesn’t make decisions but tries to help two opposing parties work out their differences and reach a compromise or settlement.

So if you agree to enter mediation in the event of a dispute, you and the other party will try to hash out your problem the help of a neutral party. And if you can’t reach an agreement that usually means your next step will be to go to court.

If you agree to arbitration a neutral party will make a decision that you will have to live with. Normally there are no next steps. (Except maybe disappointment.)

3. Behalf

The problem with behalf isn’t the word itself; it’s the word that comes before.

A person who acts on your behalf is acting as a kind of representative, like a lawyer or accountant or agent. On behalf of denotes a formal or professional relationship. A person who acts in your behalf is acting as a supporter or friend, so the relationship is assumed to be less formal.

“The customer needed an answer so Jenny spoke on your behalf,” means that Jenny stood in for you and (hopefully) represented your position. “The customer was upset with how you treated her and Jenny spoke in your behalf,” means Jenny took up for you and your clearly deficient customer service skills.

4. Bottleneck

A bottleneck is a point of constraint or limitation, like a machine in an assembly line that runs slower than the preceding equipment.

That means a bottleneck can’t grow. A bottleneck can’t get bigger. A bottleneck can’t expand. A bottleneck can cripple productivity, but it can’t spread to overwhelm your shop floor.

5. Can

Can is used to indicate what is possible. May is used to indicate what is permissible. I can offer kickbacks to certain vendors, but unless I’m ethically challenged I may not.

Telling your staff, “You can not offer refunds without authorization,” sounds great but is incorrect. They certainly can even though they shouldn’t.

6. Collusion

Many people use collusion as a fancy way to imply cooperation or collaboration. Collusion does mean to cooperate or work together–but towards a result that is deceitful, fraudulent, or even illegal.

That’s why you probably never want to refer to yourself as colluding in, well, anything.

7. Defective

A machine that doesn’t work properly is defective. A process that doesn’t achieve a desired result is defective. When a machine doesn’t work properly because it’s missing a key component, it’s deficient, just like a process with a gap is deficient.

So feel free to say, “His skills are deficient,” when an employee is lacking specific skills (because you’re focusing on the missing skill and not the employee), but leave defective to discussions of inanimate objects.

Even if an employee doesn’t work properly, in context it sounds pretty harsh.

8. Germane

Germane is the same as relevant. Each shows that something applies.

But don’t mistake germane (or relevant) with material. A material point helps make a position or argument complete; it’s essential. A point germane to the discussion may be interesting, and even worth saying… but it’s not essential.

Think of it this way. In meetings we often get bored when people raise germane points/ they’re (mildly) interesting but often unnecessary. We listen when people raise material points–because those points matter.

9. Invariably

This word gets tossed in to indicate frequency: “Invariably, Johnny misses deadlines,” is only correct if Johnny always, always, always misses deadlines, because invariably means in every case or occasion.

Unless Johnny messes up each and every time, without fail, use frequently, or usually, or even almost always. And then think about his long-term employment status.

10. Irregardless

Here’s a word that appears in many dictionaries simply because it’s used so often.

Irregardless is used to mean without regard to or without respect to… which is what regardless means. In theory the “ir” part, which typically means “not,” joined up with “regardless,” which means without regard to, makes irregardless mean “not without regard to,” or more simply, “with regard to.”

Which is clearly not what you mean.

So save yourself one syllable or two keystrokes and just say “regardless.”

11. Libel

Don’t like what people say about you?

Like slander, libel refers to making a false statement that is harmful to a person’s reputation. The difference lies in how that statement is expressed: slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published (which means defamatory tweets could be considered libelous, not slanderous.)

Keep in mind what makes a statement libelous or slanderous is its inaccuracy, not its harshness. No matter how nasty a tweet, if it’s factually correct it cannot. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation–you might wish a customer hadn’t said something derogatory about your business, but if what that customer said is true… you have no legal recourse.

12. Literally

Literally is frequently used (all too often by teenagers I know) to add emphasis. The problem is literally means “actually, without exaggeration,” so, “That customer was literally foaming at the mouth,” cannot be true without the involvement of rabies or inaccurately applied Scrubbing Bubbles.

The only time using literally makes sense is when you need to indicate what is normally a figurative expression is, this time, truly the case. Saying, “He literally died when he saw the invoice,” only works if the customer did, in fact, pass away moments after seeing the bill.

13. Majority

Majority is another emphasis word used to sound authoritative and awesome: “The majority of our customers are satisfied with our service,” makes it sound like you’re doing great, right? Nope–since majority is defined as “the greater number,” all you have said is that 51% of your customers are satisfied… which means 49% are not so thrilled.

Majority can get you in trouble when accuracy is really important. “The majority of our investors support our plans to pivot,” sounds like almost all of them are behind you… when in fact nearly half might not be. “The majority of our shipments deliver on time,” sounds like you’re the king of meeting deadlines… when in fact you could be missing delivery dates on what a prospective customer would find to be a depressingly regular basis.

Here’s a better approach. Use statistics or facts. Or just say “most” or “nearly all.” Then you won’t have to worry about giving the wrong impression.

14. New

Thank advertisers for the over-use and frequent redundancy of this word. “Acme Inc. announces breakthrough new product.” By definition aren’t all breakthroughs new? “Acme Inc. sets new sales records.” By definition aren’t all records new? “Acme Inc. creates new social media sharing platform.” By definition aren’t all creations new?

“New” might sound impressive, but since it can also sound like hyperbolic advertising copy, it may cause readers to tune out what is really important about your message.

15. Obsolete

Obsolete means no longer produced, used, or needed. But since lots of things are out of date but still usable–think flip phones–they are obsolescent, not obsolete. Obsolete is the end point; obsolescent is the journey towards.

16. Percent

The difference in percent and percentage point could leave you feeling cheated. Say you’re negotiating a loan with a listed interest rate of 6% and the lender says he’ll reduce the rate by 1%. Strictly speaking that means he’ll reduce the interest by 1% of 6%, or .06%. That means your new interest rate is 5.94%. Yippee.

Percent refers to a relative increase or reduction, while percentage point refers to the actual change in rate. If you want a 5% loan instead of a 6% loan, you’re hoping for a reduction of 1 percentage point.

Most of the time the difference isn’t a big deal. If you see a new report saying interest rates rose 1%, you can safely assume it means 1 percentage point. But if you’re signing a contract or agreement… make sure you know the difference in meaning–and approve of the difference.

17. Successfully

Here’s the king of redundant words, often used to add a little extra oomph: “We successfullylaunched our new product.” Wait: in order to have launched, you have to have beensuccessful. (Otherwise you unsuccessfully launched.)

If you create, or develop, or implement, just say you did. We know you were successful. Otherwise you wouldn’t tell us.

18. Total

Total is another word used redundantly to add emphasis. “We were totally surprised by last month’s sales,” sounds more significant than, “We were surprised by last month’s sales,” but a surprise is either unexpected or it’s not. (I suppose you could be a little surprised, but that’s like being a little pregnant.)

The same is true when total is used to refer to a number. Why say, “A total of 32 customers purchased extended warranties,” when, “32 customers purchased extended warranties,” will do?

And one last point: make sure you get the verb tense right. “A total of six months was spent developing the app,” is wrong because “a total of” refers to all six months, which is plural, which requires “were.” (As in, “A total of six months were spent developing the app.”)

If you refer to “the total of,” use “was,” as in, “The total of employee benefit costs was $10 million last year,” because in that case you are referring to the actual total and not all the different costs that make up the total.

In short: The total of gets a “was.” A total of gets a “were.”

Or you could just say, “Employee benefits cost $10 million last year.” Doesn’t sound as dramatic, but does sound better.

19. Waiver

When you sign a waiver you give up the right to make a claim. When you waver you aren’t signing it yet because you’re hesitant.

So hey, feel free to waver to sign that waiver. Your instincts just might be correct.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible

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Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Easy to get wrong. And easy to get right


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

While I like to think I know a little about business writing, I often fall into a few word traps. For example, who and whom. I rarely use whom when I should. Even when spell check suggests whom, I think it sounds pretentious. So I don’t use it.

And I’m sure some people then think, “What a bozo.”

And that’s a problem, because just like that one misspelled word that gets a résumé tossed into the “nope” pile, using one wrong word can negatively impact your entire message.

Fair or unfair, it happens.

So let’s make sure it doesn’t:

Adverse and averse

Adverse means harmful or unfavorable; “Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed.” Averse means dislike or opposition; “I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue.”

But you can feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Affect and effect

Verbs first. Affect means to influence; “Impatient investors affected our roll-out date.” Effect means to accomplish something; “The board effected a sweeping policy change.” How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them, or can effect changes by implementing them. Use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct; “Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects.” Affect refers to emotional states so unless you’re a psychologist, you’re probably not using it.

Compliment and complement

Compliment is to say something nice. Complement is to add to, enhance, improve, complete or bring close to perfection. So, I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings, you have a full complement of staff. And your new app may complement your website.

For which I may decide to compliment you.

Criteria and criterion

“We made the decision based on one overriding criteria,” sounds pretty impressive but is wrong.

Remember: one criterion, two or more criteria. Although you could always use reason or factors and not worry about getting it wrong.

Discreet and discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment; “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company.”

Discrete means individual, separate or distinct; “We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels.” And if you get confused, remember you don’t use “discreetion” to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit and illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract or, even worse, extort. So if one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.

Illicit means illegal or unlawful. I suppose you could “illicit” a response at gunpoint … but best not.

Farther and further

Farther involves a physical distance; “Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee.” Further involves a figurative distance; “We can take our business plan no further.” So, as we say in the South, “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you.” Or, “I ain’t gonna trust you no further.”

(Seriously. I’ve uttered both of those sentences. More than once.)

Imply and infer

The speaker or writer implies. The listener or reader infers. Imply means to suggest, while infer means to deduce (whether correctly or not). So, I might imply you’re going to receive a raise. You might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure and ensure

This one’s easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure. So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost — then feel free to insure away.

Number and amount

I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to; “The number of subscribers who opted out increased last month.” Amount refers to a quantity of something you can’t count; “The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering.”

Of course, it can still be confusing: “I can’t believe the number of beers I drank,” is correct, but so is, “I can’t believe the amount of beer I drank.” The difference is I can count beers, but beer, especially if I was way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total — so amount is the correct usage.

Precede and proceed

Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an “ing” comes into play. “The proceeding announcement was brought to you by …” sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.

If it helps, think precedence: anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principal and principle

A principle is a fundamental; “We’ve created a culture where we all share certain principles.” Principal means primary or of first importance; “Our startup’s principal is located in NYC.” (Sometimes you’ll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or (relatively) co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)

Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set; “Our principal account makes up 60% of our gross revenues.”

Principal can also refer to money, normally the original sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe — hence principal and interest.

If you’re referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you’re referring to the CEO or the president (or the individual in charge of the high school), use principal. And now for those dreaded apostrophes:

It’s and its

It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything. If your dog is neutered (that way we make the dog, however much against his will, gender-neutral) you don’t say, “It’s collar is blue.” You say, “Its collar is blue.” Here’s an easy test to apply: Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. In this case, turn it’s into it is. “It’s sunny,” becomes, “It is sunny.” Sounds good to me.

They’re and their

Same with these; they’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything. We’re going to their house, and I sure hope they’re home.

Who’s and whose

“Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. “Who is [the un-contracted version of who's] password hasn’t been changed in six months?” sounds silly.

You’re and your

One more. You’re is the contraction for you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything. For a long time a local nonprofit had a huge sign that said “You’re Community Place.”

Hmm. “You Are Community Place”?

Probably not.

Read more from Inc.com:
How 4 Entrepreneurs Started Up (Really) Young
Firing an Employee–Even a Bad One–Is Hard to Do

TIME Parenting

Stay-at-Home Moms: Not Who You Think They Are

Carey Kirkella; Getty Images

Forget the mommy wars, the real battle; for many stay at homes is just getting by.

The phrase Stay At Home Mother generally conjures up two images: the nice Midwestern mom with a car pool and a husband with a nine-to-five, or the highly educated former career woman now channeling all her hard-won achievement and scholarship into finding the exact right kind of juice box and organic cheese stick. But the data keeps suggesting that both these images are off the mark. Increasingly, the stay at home mother is beginning to look like a woman who doesn’t have too many other choices.

This is not to say that most stay at home moms are only staying home because they’re no good at anything else. Rather, it’s that an increasing proportion of the women looking after their kids full time are having a tough time of it. They can’t find well-paid work and they can’t find childcare that would make less than well-paid work worthwhile. Average weekly child care expenses rose more than 70% from 1985 to 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Wages, especially for women with only a high school education, did not rise at nearly that rate.

Of course there are some übermoms–women willingly reining in their considerable earning potential to look after their offspring. Who are they? Opt-out mothers, by Pew’s definition, have a postgraduate degree, an annual family income of more than $75,000, a working husband, and they say they are out of the workforce in order to care for their family. And despite all the media attention on these women, there aren’t very many of them. According to an analysis from Pew Research, a very, very small percentage of home-based mothers are highly educated and affluent. “Just 1% of the nation’s 35 million mothers ages 18 to 69 who are living with their children younger than 18,” are the so-called opt-out moms, notes Pew in analysis released on May 8.

In fact, only 4% of all stay-at-home moms are in this highly educated category. According to Pew, only about 10% of women with such qualifications decide to stay home. And almost 90% of those say they intend to return to work and historically 70% of them do, after about an average of two and a half years.

So let’s take stock: A tiny percentage of moms are extremely highly educated and affluent and have chosen to raise children full-time. Most of them are only stepping out of the workforce fleetingly. This is what all the cover stories and books have been about?

The other end of the stereotype—the midwestern mom with her traditional values—is also misleading. Guess which state has the lowest proportion of stay-at-home mothers? If you picked South Dakota, come to the front of the room and collect your prize. I know I didn’t. But according to an interesting study on the history of the working mother by Ancestry.com using Census data, 80% of mothers in the Mount Rushmore state work outside the home, the highest in the nation. Conversely, California has one of the lowest rates of working mothers: 62%.

Check where your state falls here:

So what are most stay-at-home mothers like? The Pew Report released a few weeks back paints a darker picture. A third of them were not born in the U.S. Half of them are not white. Almost half of them have a high school diploma or less, 20% are single mothers and 7% have husbands who were unemployed in the 12 months prior to 2012. More than a third of them live in poverty. Stay-at-home mothers’ education levels have risen across the board in the last 40 years, but the share of them living in poverty has more than doubled.

Most Americans still think that having a mother at home full-time and a father at work is the most optimal arrangement for raising a family. But increasingly, that arrangement is also becoming untenable or unrealistic. So next time you see a headline saying More Women Are Staying Home To Raise Kids,” you might want to brace yourself for what that story is really going to say.

 

 

 

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