Stop Using Filler Words

I’m sure you’ve heard them in speeches, presentations, and conversations: filler words, words like “um, ah, so, like”. Some people use them infrequently, but others seem to start or end almost every sentence with one. If you fall into the first category, don’t worry. It won’t distract from your message and is most likely to be perceived as being considerate. If, however, you use them repetitively, it may diminish your credibility as mentioned in the Forbes article “Four Ways to Stop Saying ‘Um’ And Other Filler Words.” And losing the attention, even worse, losing credibility, is definitely something we don’t want to happen, either in personal conversations or, especially, in a business setting.

The tricky part is that we don’t even know that we are using these words, we say them unconsciously. So how can we get rid of them if we don’t know? 

As with all changes, the first step is awareness. Awareness of knowing if we use filler words and, if so, if we use them (too) often?

I learned about my “ahs” and “ums” after I had joined Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a place where one can … “practice public speaking skills, improve communication and build leadership skills.” I didn’t join because I wanted to get rid of the use of filler words (as I said, I wasn’t aware of using them either), but part of their program is, among other things, paying attention and eliminating them.  

You don’t need to become a member of Toastmasters or any other organization. A family member or friend can help you find out as well. I recently told my husband that he has a “favorite” word and, like everybody else, he wasn’t aware of it. If asking someone makes you feel uncomfortable, use a recording device, record yourself and listen to the recording afterward, a suggestion made by Rezvani and Hedges, the authors of the Forbes article mentioned above.

Now that you know, you can do something about it, if needed.

Start by finding out when you tend to use filler words. Do you use them only in certain situations, or have they become a habit which you add at the beginning or end of a sentence?

In my Toastmasters club we noticed that many of us use filler words when we don’t know how to transition from one part of our speech to the next. Instead of being quiet and taking a moment to gather our thoughts, we sprinkle in a little filler word. If this sounds like you, you could pre-plan for such transitions with phrases like: “Let’s move on to…” or “Another important consideration is…” or “Let’s transition to talking about….,” a recommendation made by Hedges and Rezvani. 

But being silent for a couple of seconds would work equally well, if not better. It’ll allow your counterpart or your audience to digest what you’ve said, especially if you talk or present something they are not familiar with.

Olivia Mitchell, a presentation trainer, recommends “chunking” your information. “Chunking is talking in short chunks of words with breaks in between the chunks.” Her reasoning is that instead of focusing on something you don’t want to do, you rather direct your thoughts to something you want to do. Also, by chunking you fall into a rhythm: burst of words – break – burst of words -break, and by doing so you eliminate your “um’s” or whichever other word you may use.

Preparation also plays a big role when it comes to giving a presentation, facing a difficult conversation, or preparing for an important meeting. Organizing our thoughts beforehand makes us less likely to ramble on and use filler words to bridge the gaps between thoughts.

As so often in life, many paths lead to Rome. So do methods or ways to eliminate bad habits or, as in our case, filler words. I learned to pay attention to filler words after I joined Toastmasters. Mitchell suggests chunking, quite a different approach.

If you also use filler words a little bit too often, try and find out which approach works best for you. If you know another way or method to get rid of these little buggers, share it in the comments below. 

To fewer “ums” and “ahs” and to better communication. See you next time,

2021 – A New Year, New Opportunities, New Decisions

If you followed my Advent Calendar, you know that I shared some tips and food for thought for you and your business. The last one will be this blog: setting you and your business up for a successful 2021.

We all are happy that 2020 is almost over, and we can move on into a hopefully better year. There are things that are beyond our control, but there are also many things that will be up to us to make 2021 a good year. As you may know, I’m a big believer in planning. The reason being, without a plan you don’t know where to focus your energy and discern what is important. You may start projects because they appear interesting, only to find out that they are not the right move for your business at this point in time.

It takes some reflecting and strategizing to determine what your business needs right now, what projects to start, what projects to continue, and what projects to abort to reach your business goals. By the way, the same is also true for your personal goals.

Around Christmas and before the start of the new year is my “quiet time.” Most people and businesses take a break. It’s the perfect time for me to take stock and have a look back. I invite you to do the same.

Looking Back

The first step is looking back at what has happened the last twelve months, or whatever your chosen timeframe may be. What has happened, and what impact did it have on your business. Write it down.

Finding the Truth

Especially in cases where I haven’t achieved my goal(s), I dig deeper and ask myself WHY and WHAT happened. Be like Sherlock Holmes and find all the big and little things that have led to the current situation.

Please don’t fall into the trap of making excuses such as no time, no money… that’s not what we’re after. You may not have had the time, but there is often an underlying reason for that, the real reason. That’s what you’d like to uncover. You may not have had the money, write down why. The insights you’ll gain will guide your decisions for the next year or the time period you chose.

Maybe the cost for an assistant or a new team member is outside of your budget and you have to rely on the resources at your disposal. It means you’ll have to plan without having the additional help. Maybe a project went south despite a promising start. Figuring out why is essential for avoiding the same mistake(s). Maybe you haven’t reached the number of subscribers you had aimed for. Analyzing what happened will inform your next steps.

But it is equally important to look at the things that went well. Asking WHY in these cases will give you insights into what you should do more of. For example, you may understand what type of projects are a great fit for your company, you may find out which people you work with really well. You’ll learn what triggered people to subscribe to your new service.

Write it all down. The good and the bad.

Planning the Future

Now that you have a clear picture of where you are at with your business, you have to decide where you will go from here. Write down all the ideas, plans, and projects you have in mind.  After you are done, take a close look at them and ask yourself which ones truly align with your business purpose and goals. If all of them pass this test, you need to consider the one or two that will have the greatest impact on your business.

You don’t need to discard the other ideas, projects, or plans. But focusing on one or two major projects will ensure that you stay focused and get things moving forward. It also helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed–at least some of the time–because you have too many balls in the air. A good rule of thumb is to account for problems along the way. Often things appear simpler than they really are. And experience has shown me that everything usually takes longer than expected.

This is it for me for 2020. I’ll take some time off and hope to see you again in February 2021.

I wish you lots of success, and may your businesses flourish and grow.

The Next Step

Sometimes we are faced with problems that seem insurmountable and far too big for us to tackle. We feel overwhelmed and we don’t have the slightest notion of what to do. Unfortunately, we have to deal with these problems or challenges if we want to or not.

It doesn’t really matter if these problems or challenges are business related or stem from your personal life. The way to cope with them remains the same. Here it is:

What is the single next thing you can do or action you can take?

Don’t think of the big picture for a moment, think only of the very next step that will give you more information, a clearer picture of what you are looking for, or any other kind of help. If you have taken this step, repeat.

The beauty of this approach is that since you are busy with finding answers to your next step you don’t have time to feel overwhelmed or to worry. With each step or action you take, you gain more information that will help you decide what your next step will be. And with each step taken, you get a little closer to your answer or solution or, in our case, our own home.

Here an example:

We bought our first house a couple of months ago. I found this to be a daunting undertaking, at least in the beginning. I had no clue about the process and felt quite overwhelmed thinking of the financial aspect and implications of it.

Here is how I climbed the mountain of questions:

My first step: I started talking with friends about purchasing a house. Whatever information I got, I collected in a folder. For example: tips when house hunting, terminology, questions to ask, things to keep in mind, contact information of people they worked with, you name it.

My next first step: I divided these pieces of information into categories: Financial, insurance, contacts, house criteria, and so on.

My next first step: scheduling a meeting with a mortgage provider to learn if we would get approval for a mortgage and the amount we would get approval for. There is no point in searching for a house if you don’t have the money to buy it, right?

My next first step: scheduling a meeting with our financial advisor to discuss various scenarios and ask questions about the long-term implications. This was one of the most important aspects for me considering that we are relatively “old” for buying our first home. This meant we had to dig up a lot of information and fill out forms. By doing so, we learned a lot but also added new questions to our list.

I’m sure you get my point.

Focus on the very next step, take it, and decide what your next step will be.

Reflecting On Your Day

Do you take time at the end of the day to reflect on it? I do, (almost) every night.  Most of the time I make some notes in my journal. I call it my Insights & Actions. I write down what I found hard and challenging, what I am happy about, what I struggled with, if it was a good day and why, or if there was something that I’m not so thrilled about and why.

For me it’s the key to learning and growing, both professionally and personally. Sometimes it’s a quick note to serve as a reminder. But sometimes it’s very specific.

Learning what worked and why is helpful to remember and to keep in my personal “toolbox.” Learning what didn’t work and why is helpful to avoid making the same mistake. It may not work right away, but reflecting on the good and/or bad brings it to your consciousness and gives you a choice: keep it, or lose it.

I’d like to invite you to do the same. Take a moment at the end of the day and ask yourself: what are the things that you found hard, you found easy, you are happy about, you are [fill the blank]. The insights you’ll gain are priceless.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Did I accomplish all I’ve put on my to-to list? If your answer is no, dig in deeper and ask why? What can you change?
  • At the end of a project you may want to ask what made this project go smoothly and why? Was it due to a person, a tool, preparation at the beginning…?
  • Or alternatively, why did I run into so many problems during this project? Were these problems preventable? What could I have done differently?
  • Did I take the time to read, relax, exercise, etc.? Your promises to yourself are important for your wellbeing. If you disregard them on a regular basis you may want to find out why and what you can do differently.
  • Or simple things like being more patient with your husband, kids, colleagues, friends also deserve recognition.

Happy self-discovery and learning!

Urgent-Busy-Important Work

Urgent Work:

Tasks that pop up “unexpectedly.” Often these are tasks we’ve forgotten about or procrastinated over that “suddenly” reached their due date. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular time or on a particular day.

Our instinctive reaction is to jump to the rescue at the expense of whatever we had planned to do instead.

Busy Work:

Tasks that are on our to-do list forever. These tasks don’t move the needle of our success or progress in the right direction, but…. getting them off of our to-do list feels great, at least at the moment.

We think about these tasks as getting them “out of the way” and “finally off our to-do list” so that we can focus all our attention on the important work.

The caveat, by the time we are done with our busy work the day is over, and a feeling of dread sets in. Again, we haven’t done a shred of work that we know deep down to be far more important. 

Important work:

Tasks or actions that move us, our business or our relationship, or anything else for that matter, to the next level. These tasks follow one single purpose: deliberately following a goal and getting there.

These tasks are often scary, hard, challenging, something that may not come easy to us. We need effort, commitment, guts, trust in ourselves to do them. These are the tasks that, at the end of the day, allow us to grow, build confidence, make progress, create success, and find content and fulfillment.

No matter what we like to accomplish in any area of our lives, it’s the important work we need to focus on. 

What is your important work today that moves the needle in the right direction?

If you like to read more about this topic. Check out my blog post “Urgent vs. Important.

Say NO more more often

Imagine this situation: A friend, family, or team member approaches you and asks you for a favor. It’s a small favor, you think. And without even thinking about it, you say yes.

A couple of minutes, sometimes a couple of hours, later you realize that this small favor is really cutting into your day more than you had bargained for. You start to move your own commitments and responsibilities around to make it all work. You’re angry, and you feel stressed. You wonder why you said yes in the first place.

How do you avoid this situation? Don’t say YES right away. Ask for a bit of time to consider your answer and give it later. This way you can check in with yourself and your calendar what impact this YES will have.

In my blog “Darn, why did I say yes…. I wrote in more detail about it. Check it out. Or have a look at this blog.

Focus Time

In a previous post I explained why multitasking is impairing your productivity and efficiency and suggested turning off notifications on your devices.

I know this may be easier said than done. We don’t want to miss important calls from a prospective customer or an urgent question from a team member. So, how to go about it?

Here are 3 steps that’ll help you work around this problem: 

  1. Ask yourself the question: What is the time of day with the least calls or disruptions? This could mean dealing with kids at home, answering calls from your team or customers, you name it.
  2. This time with the least disruptions is your focus time, time to work on your complex and important projects or tasks. Turn off notifications on all your devices or set them on flight mode, turn off everything that would distract you, and yes, that means TV and radio, and get to work.

Everything that will land in your inbox or on your voicemail will be attended to after your focus time.

  1. Last but not least, don’t allow anybody to “steal” this time from you (emergencies excluded of course). Inform your team, your colleagues, or your family that you’ll be offline for x-amount of time and available afterwards.

I know, it’s far more difficult with kids. But even with kids there are periods in your day during which they won’t need you. Maybe you have to be more flexible. Maybe you have to limit your focus time to 20 minutes instead of one hour. Whatever time you can carve out make sure you use it well.

Remember, there is no such thing as perfect, but there is always the best we can do.

Your Most Important Task

Have you had this experience? You started your day deciding you will finish one specific task, and at the end of the day you didn’t even come close to looking at it, let alone working on it? That’s why it is a good policy to start with the most important task at the beginning of your day.

You are fresh, your brain is in its most active phase, and you get a great sense of accomplishment and boost for the rest of your day.

What is your most important task for today?