Rita B. Allen President Rita B. Allen Associates

Staying Positive, Empowering Ourselves and Other Critical Life Lessons: an interview with Boston Club member Rita B. Allen
"I truly believe finding focus is the differentiator between effectiveness and ineffectiveness."

Q: Most people are busier than ever, torn between lists and lists of obligations and "things to do." How do you maintain effectiveness when there are so many priorities competing for your attention?
A: I truly believe finding focus is the differentiator between effectiveness and ineffectiveness. We all have long lists of things we need to accomplish and even when we have great plans to work through our lists, something unexpected comes up that pulls us away and/or distracts us. The reality is that everything on that list does not need to be done today. All projects have different timelines and being able to prioritize what needs your full attention today, then differentiating the big items from the smaller items can help you determine how much time you need to dedicate to each item on a daily basis.

In my coaching work, I find time management is one of the culprits that can derail people from achieving their best work. It requires discipline and individual accountability as well as the ability to say “no” or “not now” when appropriate. I have learned to manage my time and my schedule in an efficient manner. I make adjustments on a weekly and daily basis to ensure that I focus on the right things at the right time. Getting organized and staying organized is important.

Another strategy I have found helpful for me personally is to not expect to cross everything off that list. It is quite liberating when you acknowledge that life is busy and will always be busy! There is only one constant that we can all expect to encounter each and every day, and that is to expect change. Having an open mind to expect and embrace change every day can help us manage demands and shifting priorities much more easily and effectively. 

I have a quote in my office that is very appropriate: “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” Stay focused on the important and timely deliverables, and take it one day at a time. 

Q: What are your top two tips for effectively dealing with stress?
A: The first tip is to identify what your personal stressors are. Awareness can be enlightening and it can help us manage stress much more effectively. Everyone is different—some of us handle certain things well while others find them stressful. Keeping a journal can help to uncover stressors as well as to identify patterns that we may have created. Once we can identify what the source of our stress is then we are better able to determine the best ways to proactively manage it. 

The second tip is to accept the fact that we cannot change or control other people or situations, only how we react to them. I realize this can be easier said than done, but I have learned that often, stress is created when we are overwhelmed, want a different outcome or have a different expectation. 

Our happiness and inner peace is within our control. We make choices every day that determine how we deal with everything in our lives. The key is to embrace the fact that we determine how we will deal with stress and whether we allow it to manage us or vice versa. Here’s another great quote on this topic from the end of a poem by Charles Swindell: “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

I must add a third tip, and that is to eat healthy, be active and get enough sleep. When we don’t do all of these things, it greatly impacts our stress level. On the flip side, when we do these things well, it can eliminate stress in our lives because we are much more equipped to think clearly, make good choices and manage our time and outlook more effectively.

Q: What one thing do you try to do every day that provides you with the energy you need to be effective?
A: The one thing I try to do every day is to always stay positive and see the cup half full. It is very easy to go down a path that drains us of our energy to be effective. It also leads to behaviors that cause stress. I look for the positive in every situation and focus on the things that are important. Life is too short to dwell on the negatives. Staying positive always energizes me and helps me focus on the important things in life. Being positive also helps me be creative, keep things in perspective and see the big picture.

When I stay focused on the positive, I am inspired and that always energizes me do to my best work—delivering the highest quality service to my clients. Laughing and smiling also help, as does connecting with other positive people in my life! 

Q: How do you ensure you stay true to your career/life goals and not let them lose priority to things that are more "urgent?"
A: I’m going to share with you an analogy I always use in regards to managing our careers as well as our lives. It really is all about empowering ourselves so that we can take charge–it’s the difference between sitting in the driver’s seat vs. sitting in the back seat going along for the ride. If we don’t stay true to ourselves and we allow other things (or people) to take priority, we are sitting in the back seat rather than in the driver’s seat. Who’s determining what is urgent? It should be within our scope to make that determination and/or to be in agreement. 

Empower yourself by doing these 3 things:
• Know what you have to offer—your “value-add”;
• Know what you want, be goal-oriented; and
• Know how to ask for it. 

The best way to not let your own career and life goals lose priority is to always stay focused on them. Do your due diligence—empower yourself by always having a plan and staying true to it. Even when unexpected and/or urgent challenges present themselves, when you are in the driver’s seat, you will determine which direction to take. 

As women, we may have a tendency to put others’ needs before our own, and there is a time and a place to do that. When it comes to our children and families, we will make those choices and be more than willing to put their needs before ours. But, if we have a plan and have identified our priorities, those choices are ours and no one else’s. 

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to women today, what would it be?
A: Trust yourself. I mean really trust yourself—your judgment, your capabilities, your instincts and your dreams. Don’t short-change yourself or minimize your talents, accomplishments and decisions. Take more risks—what’s the worst that could happen? Get rid of the guilt and learn to gracefully say no! Lastly, it’s really important to take care of yourself emotionally. Our well-being and our balance comes from inside first and if we know our emotional self at the core, that truly makes all the difference in how we are able to be present and fulfilled. Find your passion and allow yourself to experience the things that make you whole both professionally and personally! Enjoy the journey!

Rita B. Allen is the President of Rita B. Allen Associates, a provider of career management consulting and coaching services for individuals and organizations representing a variety of industries including high technology, biotechnology, financial services, professional services, medical devices/pharmaceuticals, higher education, healthcare and retail/consumer products. With over twenty five years human resources experience, her specialty areas include a variety of talent management offerings including executive coaching, leadership development, management training and career development. Previously, she held roles as Vice President of Marketing and Search Services with Gatti & Associates, and human resources positions with C.R. Bard, Inc., BTU International and Unitrode Corporation. 

Rita holds an MS in Leadership and a BS in Business Administration from Northeastern University. She currently serves as a board member of More Than Words as well as the Association of Career Professionals International - New England, and is a former board member of The Boston Club. She is also an active member of other professional associations, a frequent speaker at local events, the author of several articles and writes a monthly column and blog, Rita’s Career Corner, on the Global Business Hub section of Boston.com. Rita is an adjunct faculty member and Lecturer at Northeastern University and Bentley University. She is certified in a variety of assessment tools and is fluent in Armenian.