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Next Step Academy | Life Skills

Creating and Achieving Goals in the New Year

December 29th, 2016 by

2016 is finally drawing to a close, which means it’s time to turn over a new leaf and start the new year strong and committed to new goals. If you tend to forget about your new year resolutions once February starts, here are five tips to help you create and actually achieve them in 2017.

new-year-586148_960_720Be realistic. Don’t choose goals that are too big to achieve in a year. Be realistic about how much time, effort or money the goal will take to complete.

Break it down. See if your larger goals can be broken down into smaller steps or benchmarks. Creating a concrete plan will make your goals seem more manageable and will help you stay accountable.

Talk about it. Let your friends and family know what your goals are and how you are working to achieve them. You’re more likely to stick to a goal if you have positive people in your life keeping you accountable. You may even find someone with the same goal who will work with you to achieve it.

Anticipate problems. Sometimes life gets in the way, causing us to get off track. Don’t let one problem allow you to throw away all of your progress. Anticipate what those problems or interruptions will be ahead of time and make a plan to overcome them.

Don’t beat yourself up. If you do slip up occasionally or get off track, make sure you don’t beat yourself up about it. When you feel yourself slipping, pick a day to refocus and adjust your plan if necessary. Nobody is perfect and it’s okay if you aren’t 100 percent on track as long as you are trying.

Happy New Year!

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Tolerating Family Through the Holidays

December 22nd, 2016 by

For many people, the holiday season is a joyous time to reunite with family and friends. However, reuniting also means inevitably coming across family you’ve never quite agreed with. Conflict and differing opinions are bound to come up, whether it’s lingering post-election disagreement or a nagging disapproval of your career choice. Whatever issues come up this holiday season, it’s important to practice tolerance so you and your family can make it through the holiday season happy and unscathed.o-fox-news-women-facebook

Practice respectful discourse. This means having a calm and respectful conversations with the friend or family member you disagree with. Learn more about their position and why they think or act the way they do. Then, explain your position. Also, make sure you really listen when they speak. Don’t just nod your head and tune them out, don’t cut them off and don’t scoff or roll your eyes.

Put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps you don’t understand why an issue is important to a certain family member or you have trouble grasping how they acquired their opinion. Try seeing the issue from their perspective. Imagine how that issue could directly affect them and what impact that has on their everyday life. Also keep in mind a person’s background. Maybe your cousin grew up in Texas and you grew up in Vermont. You both have very unique upbringings that shaped who you are. Consider how different their life has been why trying to understand your differing opinions.

Accept your differences and move on. When all else fails, accept that you and your family won’t agree on everything and move on. Agree to disagree and don’t let it affect the time you have together. You don’t have to like everything about your family, but you do need to accept who they are and focus on the things you do have in common. Enjoy a nice meal together, avoid hot button issues and say farewell until the next holiday gathering.

Now that you know how to practice tolerance at home, learn more about tolerance in the workplace with Next Step Academy’s NEW course “Tolerance.”

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Give Your Speech Writing Flair

December 15th, 2016 by

You’ve been tasked with giving a speech to a large audience and you want to make sure it’s memorable. Here are several writing techniques you can implement to give your speech flair and get the point across.

2756494307_a0380a96e0_bEpiphora. This is the use of repetition at the end of successive clauses or phrases. Using epiphora is a great way to emphasize a specific point and amplify an important idea. A famous example of epiphora you may be familiar with is from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln repeats “the people” three times to reinforce the idea that the government is not an abstract idea, but an institution interconnected with the people it governs.

Anaphora. Like epiphora, anaphora uses repetition except at the beginning of a clause or phrase with the same goal of reinforcing a point or idea. Martin Luther King Jr. used anaphora at a rally in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

I’m tired of war and conflict in the world.
I’m tired of shooting.
I’m tired of selfishness.
I’m tired of evil.”

Chiasmus. If you’ve heard the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” then you should already have a pretty good understanding of chiasmus. Chiasmus is the repetition of two words or phrases in a successive clause but in the reverse order. Chiasmus is a catchy technique and has been used in famous speeches such as John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.

“Ask not what your country can do for you
— ask what you can do for your country.”

Trying to sharpen your speech writing? Take Next Step Academy’s NEW course “Developing Public Speaking Skills

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Tips for Getting Through Finals

December 13th, 2016 by

Before you can officially enjoy the holiday season, you have to get through the dreaded finals week. Whether you’re cramming in the last bit of studying or frantically finishing a report, stress levels tend to rise at the end of the semester. Make sure you are taking care of both your physical and mental health during finals. Here are four tips for getting through finals and preventing burnout.

Snack smart. It’s tempting to reach for energy drinks and potato chips during late night work sessions. However, a high caffeine and sugar intake will actually cause you to burn out faster and junk food can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Instead, choose healthier alternatives to boost your energy. You can drink caffeine, but choose something like tea that provides a much lower dose than coffee or energy drinks. As for snacks, fruit and nuts will fill you up and give you a positive energy boost.

6359780403164185121342282463_finals-babyTake breaks. Working non-stop until you pass out at your desk isn’t healthy for your physical or mental health. Make sure you take frequent breaks to nap, shower or watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show (but just one episode!) If it helps, find a time management technique to provide yourself with some structure. Time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique emphasize frequent short breaks and intermittent long breaks to keep yourself refreshed and productive during your work session.

With the Pomodoro Technique, you work for a solid 25 minutes, then take a short 5-minute break. After doing this four times, you take a longer break instead, typically 15-45 minutes. So essentially you work for 2 hours, with short intermittent breaks, before taking a longer break.

Get enough sleep. I’m not going to lie, I’ve pulled my fair share of all-nighters. But ultimately, this is the worst thing you can do during finals week. If you study all night, it’s likely your fatigued mind isn’t going to retain any of the information anyway. A good sleep the night before an exam is going to more beneficial than those extra hours of re-reading notes.

Stay off social. Checking your feed during a scheduled break is fine, but don’t leave your social media accounts open when you’re trying to work. The temptation of checking your recent notifications will split your focus and distract you from your work. You may say you’ll only check one post, but that can easily turn into an hour of wasted time scrolling through your feed. Resist the temptation by simply closing the pages when it’s time to work.

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4 Red Flags That Cause Employers To Reject You

December 6th, 2016 by

Have you ever applied for a job or completed an interview, only to never hear back? These scenarios can be frustrating, especially when you don’t hear back from a job you were really excited about. While there are many reasons this could happen, many of which you have no control over, there are a few common mistakes you may be making that cost you the job.

Submitting a generic resume. When making a resume, you want to show off your skills and achievements. However, you also want your potential employer to see why you are perfect for the job. Instead of having one, generic resume, you should have several that are tailored to specific positions. Take a look at the necessary skills listed in the job description, then add the skills that apply to you to your resume. Focus on being relevant for the job first, then you can focus on being impressive.

14110060693_e2e54aef56_bMaking mistakes on the application. This can be anything from a simple spelling mistake, to something bigger like placing the wrong email or answering the wrong question. If a potential employer sees mistakes on the application, then they’ll assume you’ll make mistakes on the job as well. Make sure you proofread your application, as well as your resume or cover letter several times before you submit. Better yet, have a friend or family member proofread it as well.

Seeming disinterested or lacking confidence. It’s okay to still be unsure about a job or nervous during the interview stage, but acting disinterested or lacking confidence during the interview can be a huge turn off to a potential employer. To combat this, make sure you have researched the company ahead of time and prepare questions to ask the interviewer. Knowledge can make you more confident, especially when asked an interview question such as “What do you know about us?” Having questions prepared will also show confidence and tells the interviewer that you are interested in the job. (Read last week’s blog to learn more about appearing confident)

Appearing to be a flight risk. Companies don’t want to hire people that might leave in only six months. If you’ve had a long list of jobs in a short amount of time, make sure you have good explanations for each. Also, make sure you aren’t only showing interest in the company, but the job itself. If you focus solely on the company, it will seem as if you’re only interested in the position to get your foot in the door. By also showing interest in the specific job, they’re less likely to get the impression that you’ll want to leave or transfer soon after being hired.

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3 Ways to Invest in Your Career

November 17th, 2016 by

Most people, at the beginning of their careers, set goals for the future. This could be a series of promotions, working towards a specific company or even starting your own business. The reality is you probably can’t achieve those goals by simply showing up and working the daily 9-5 grind.  You’ll need to put in a little extra effort to make them a reality.

Here are 3 ways you can invest in your career to ensure future development:14387367072_85312c31b3_b

Take on more projects. There are many benefits to taking on extra work. First, it will impress your superiors. Taking on extra projects will demonstrate your commitment to the field and to the company. Second, it will give you more experience. More work means you are spending more time developing your skills and improving your professional potential. Additionally, consider freelance work, if possible, to gain both experience and new contacts.

Seek out development opportunities. This can come in many forms including  networking events, conferences relating to your field or internal training programs offered by your company. You can take courses that improve your professional development. Learn HTML to increase your marketable abilities or take online courses like the ones offered by Next Step Academy. Anything that can expand your knowledge and give you an edge in the field.

Request feedback. While initially asking for feedback can be uncomfortable, it can be one of the best ways to improve and invest in your professional development. Ask your boss how they think you are doing in your current position. Ask about your strengths and possible shortcomings. You may also want to inform them of your goals and ask what it would take for you to achieve them.

There are plenty of ways to develop your professional potential. Learn more with Next Step Academy’s course “Realizing Your Professional Potential“!

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Find Your Focus: The 18-minute time management technique

November 8th, 2016 by

Are you losing focus during the day and finding it hard to stay on task? All you need is 18 minutes set aside throughout the day to get back on track according to Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners and author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

Here’s how to use this technique and get things done:

Take 5 minutes in the morning to get organized. This is your time to sit down and think about what you need to get done during the day. The key is to be realistic about what you can accomplish and what will make the day successful. Make a to-do list, then put those into a calendar or daily schedule you can follow.images-2

Check in once an hour for a whole minute. Set an alarm every hour throughout the work day and take a minute to refocus. Have you been productive throughout the past hour? Are you on track to finish your daily to-do list? Taking a moment to breathe and evaluate the time you’ve worked so far can help you get back on track and prevents you from getting lost in the eight-hour work day.

Take 5 minutes in the evening to evaluate. Turn off your computer and put your work away, then review how the day went. Reflect on how you feel, what you learned and whether you finished everything that needed to get done. This reflection period can be helpful the next morning to be more realistic about can and cannot get done in a single day.

Need a little more help managing the work day? Next Step Academy has you covered with our “Time Management” course.

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Using Critical Thinking During the Election

November 4th, 2016 by

In less than a week, the people of the United States will choose a new commander in chief. Whether you’ve already decided who to vote for or if you’re still undecided, it’s important to utilize your critical thinking skills during this election. Here are some tips for exercising those skills before you decide who to vote for on Tuesday.

160302005451-trump-and-hillary-exlarge-169Decide what issues matter most to you. It may be helpful to make a list of issues and rank them from most important to least important. Next, research each candidate’s position on those issues. This should help you objectively see which candidate is more closely aligned with the issues that matter most to you, regardless of party.

Fact check and evaluate sources. You shouldn’t take everything you hear or read about a candidate at face value. If you find a piece of information that could influence your vote, make sure you perform your own fact check. This also means you need to evaluate the credibility of your source. Consider whether the source comes from a reputable organization and whether the author is biased one way or the other.

Investigate the past. Candidates make a lot of promises during a campaign. If you want to know the likelihood that the candidate will follow through on their promises, look at the candidate’s past. Has the candidate maintained their position on issues or do they flip-flop? How has the candidate voted in the past? Who has the candidate supported or endorsed?

Check your emotions. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate or having a gut feeling, but make sure you don’t rely solely on your emotions. Election campaigns use emotional appeals to make you like one candidate and mistrust another. However, you shouldn’t base your vote on candidate likeability. Don’t become susceptible to confirmation bias. Seek out information from both sides and make sure you are informed before making your final decision.

For more ways to develop your critical thinking skills, take Next Step Academy’s NEW “Introduction to Critical Thinking” course!

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4 Signs It’s Time for a Career Change

November 2nd, 2016 by

For many reasons, the career you have now may not be the best place for you in the future. Facing a career change can be scary when you consider starting over, but they can be necessary for personal growth and fulfillment. If you’re still not sure whether or not you need to rethink the future, here are four signs that it’s time for a change.

You are often tired or bored. If you are constantly tired or bored at the office, it could mean the work is no longer challenging for you. What was hard and rewarding when you first began has become an easy and passive task. This is a pretty good indicator that it’s time to find your passion again and look for a new position, or seek out a similar position that allows for more growth and challenge.

The future doesn’t excite you. When you first started working in your current position, you were probably excited about the work you were doing and where it could take you. If your future at the company no longer excites you or you no longer see a future, finding a new career could be the right move. This may mean you just need to find a different employer, but this could also mean that you need to change industries. Figure out what excites you now and move in that direction.

Your health is suffering. A job that overworks you, is physically demanding or is especially stressful can wreak havoc on your body. Physical and mental stress can weaken your immune system and cause headaches, ulcers and prevent you from concentrating. If a job is putting a physical strain on your body, then it’s definitely time for a change.

You dread going to work. There’s a difference between enjoying your weekend and living for the weekend. There are many reasons you could be dreading work, like you may not like your coworkers or your boss, you dislike the work you do, you don’t agree with the company’s ethics or you may not like the workplace culture. If your work makes you miserable, regardless of the reason, it’s time to move on.

Considering a career change? Brush up your resume and sharpen your Interviewing Skills.

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Showing Gratitude in Business

October 24th, 2016 by

There will be many times over the course of your professional development where it is respectful and useful to send a thank you letter to show gratitude. This could be to a potential employer after an interview, at the completion of an internship, to a teacher who has been a significant role model or to someone who has agreed to write you a reference. There is no downside when it comes to taking the time to be thankful for opportunities and guidance.

thank-you-515514_960_720The value of saying thanks. Sending a thank you letter, first and foremost, will make you stand out. If you’re trying to gain employment, an interviewer will look more favorably upon the candidates that chose to reach out and say thanks over those who didn’t. Thank you notes can also help build and maintain strong connections. Upon leaving an internship, a thank note could ensure you are asked back as a permanent employee in the future. Regardless of the circumstances, people respond well to being thanked and are more likely to give you opportunities if they know you are grateful for their help.

Make it personal. This starts by addressing the letter appropriately, especially if you are writing a post-interview thank you note. Don’t just address the note “To whom it may concern,” learn the name of who interviewed you and address them specifically, “Dear Mr/Mrs last name.” You should also avoid generic phrases. Give specific details highlighting what you’re thankful for, why you are thankful and how their time will help you grow in the future.

Choose the right medium. A handwritten letter is more personal and shows that you put a lot of thought into the process of saying thank you. In most cases, this should be your first choice. However, there are exceptions. If you have exceptionally bad handwriting, a word processed letter may be a better option. Sometimes you may not have a physical address, especially with a professor, in which case email is an acceptable choice. Email is also acceptable if most of your prior communication has occurred via email.

Proofread. This cannot be stressed enough. Even if you are typing your thank you letter or emailing it, proofread it several times before you send your final draft. Autocorrect doesn’t catch everything and one small mistake could ruin the effect of the letter. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes, so consider asking a friend or colleague to proofread your letter as well.

Send a gift. While inappropriate in certain situations, such as a post-interview thank you, a gift can be a little something extra to show how much you appreciate the time someone spent helping you. It doesn’t have to be huge, just something small to show the person you value them. For example, a gift card to the campus coffee shop for a professor, or offering to take a business reference out to dinner. A small gesture to accompany your letter can show your genuine appreciation.

Need some help proofreading? Next Step Academy’s “Basic Grammar/Writing Toolkit” for useful tips and editing advice.

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