Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tool Traps

As I’m getting ready to start a new project I got caught up in figuring what tool would be the best to capture the materials.  My new project is to create a family cookbook in a digital format that I can add to over the years.  I have decades of recipes that are stuffed into the kitchen cookbook cabinet.  Every time I go to find one of the recipes I end up searching through a pile of papers.  Since we will be moving in a couple of months now is the time to get it organized.  So how best to document it?

I pulled all the papers and sorted them by type and purged the duplicates and ones I don’t want to keep.  Then I started to look into ways to document the recipes.  Should I use Word, Publisher, or other software?  Do I create my own template or use one that is already created?  Do I pay for something or use a free format?  And so goes the questions.  As a result I still haven’t really started the project in earnest.  I’ve gotten caught in an analysis paralysis type trap.

In the modern workplace we have so many resources available to us that it is possible to get caught up in a similar trap.  This can be along the lines of what I’m experiencing or it could be a glut of information that is overwhelming.  As well I’ve seen people get stuck on whether to use the new program or the old one for the next project.  It may be that you have a new electronic tool (software or hardware) and getting it figured out before you start is holding up the project.  Whatever the actual cause it is important to realize what is happening and rein it in as quickly as possible. 

Here are a couple of tips to help you get back on track:

  1. New Tools:  If it’s new and it’s required take the time to figure it out before getting into the meat of the project.  If it’s not required to be used determine if you have the time to learn it on this project before jumping in.
  2. Choices:  When you need to decide which tool is the best to use take a few minutes to determine what best suits the requirements of the project.  Look at long-term maintenance of the results, ease of use for others if needed, and what is required to get started.
  3. Information Overload:  When you are involved in a project requiring research / data set limits on what is applicable.  With access to the web it is easy to get too much information so have a well-defined scope that allows you to narrow your search to what will get the project moving along quickly and efficiently.

Whatever the trap you have found yourself in set a strategy to work your way out of it quickly, before you’ve lost time and productivity.  For me, I will spend some time exploring the options to see if there is a new approach that will benefit the project in the long run.  However, I have a start time set and as I approach it I force myself to decide and go with the choice.  For my cookbook project I have decided to use Word because it will take me longer to get Publisher up and running smoothly.  As well, I may not always have Publisher available but I will be able to edit Word in the future. 

How do you get out of the traps that interfere with your productivity?

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Weak Links on Teams

I have been reading Teamwork 101 by John C. Maxwell.  It’s an easy read and provides great insights into how to create exceptional teams.  As I read the chapter on “How Does a Weak Player Impact the Team?” it brought to mind some of the people I’ve known and worked with over the years.  Some of these were seen as weak links and really weren’t; while others were seen as strong links and yet were truly weak links.  Why is this?

One person that comes to mind was an older employee who was very comfortable with their skills and their role on the team.  Joe(*) was close to retirement and was not really interested in growing or developing new skills.  However, he did have years of experience that were still relevant to the team’s objectives.  Unfortunately upper management wanted employees who actively sought development and looked to grow.  This led them to question Joe’s usefulness and discredit his achievements.  Joe was extremely capable when given projects that played to his strengths and experience and was very good at sharing his knowledge with the newer employees.  When his supervisor provided him with the right projects he was a true benefit to the team and when he was given things outside of his comfort zone he became a bit of a drag on the team. 

In another case a team member was overly confident and was always ready to tell people what he could do.  Upper management saw George(*) as highly successful and believed he was a great asset to the team.  As such he was promoted to a supervisory level.  He was very sure of what needed to be done in all cases; however he was not effective in communicating his vision to the team below him.   This led to confusion and lack of direction for the team.  As well, George was quick to criticize people for their errors and rarely praised good work.  Additionally, he tended to play favorites and reward those he liked and ignore those who weren’t in his clique.  The net result of George’s style was that morale was destroyed within the team and the best team members started to look elsewhere for opportunities.  The overall performance of the team went down and everyone suffered over time.

As Maxwell points out often a weak link on one team would be a strong link on another team.  It’s a matter of fit between the person and the team.  As a leader it is important to step back and take a truly objective look at the team and each player to see if the fit is right.  If it isn’t right then as the leader you must take action to correct it.  In some cases match the tasks to the player so they provide the maximum benefit, as long as they don’t drag down the other members.  In other cases, it may be time to cut ties and move a person out.  To get peak team performance each link must be strong and work with the other links.

* Names changed

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Umbrella Boss

Reflecting back on my best bosses over the years I realized they all had a common trait.  As one said, his job was to be an umbrella for his team.  I loved the image then and kept it in mind as I moved into supervision.  So how is a boss an umbrella for those below him?

First the intent is to shield the team from the storms that run down from above.  This means as a supervisor you need to deal with the organizational issues and pass on what your team needs.  Protecting the team from the whims of bosses is a critical element of creating effective teams.  It also means exposing them to what they need to know.  Just like an umbrella you can’t shelter them from everything, just the worst of it all.

Next the umbrella allows the user to get out and about no matter what the weather.  Likewise, a boss that enables their team to act independently creates an environment conducive to individual growth.  Some exposure to the overall organization allows people to be seen by those above and to see the broader organizational picture. 

The final characteristic of an effective umbrella is that the user has the option of using it or being exposed to the elements.  As a boss, giving your people appropriate levels of autonomy to make decisions and live with the consequences is a key to being an effective leader.  As individuals gain competence and skills they need to be able to make decisions and act independently.  If they know their boss has their back and will help them when things get ugly they will make better decisions. 

As a supervisor if you take on the persona of an umbrella it will help you create a more effective and independent team which will allow you to focus on the higher level issues.  This then leads to your growth and development.  As your team becomes effective at working on their own with guidance and shielding from you more gets done by everyone.

Keys to being an umbrella boss are:

  1. Shield the Team:  Filter what you pass on to the team members.  Sometimes things don’t need to be passed on as they will cause confusion and / or stress.
  2. Allow Mobility:  Let your team get out and interact with other parts of the organization.
  3. User Control:  Allow individuals to act independently as appropriate.  Be there for them if they need help, but let them decide when to call in for help.

My best bosses had all of these characteristics and gave me room to grow and develop my own skills.  How did your favorite boss help you grow?

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Fears That Block Productivity

There are some common gears that block your productivity by holding you back, keep you from starting or from finishing.  Let’s look at several of them and what to do about them.

  • Fear of Failure:  Often people wait to start because they are afraid that they will fail at what they do.  This can be due to setting expectations too high or lack of confidence in your abilities.  The key to manage this fear is to review your expectations against the project’s criteria and verify that your effort meets those criteria.  Know why you were assigned the task and keep in mind that your skills are why you were chosen.  This allows you to know that you are capable of successfully completing the task.


  • Fear of Success:  There are people who don’t complete a project or go after a dream because they don’t believe they deserve success.  To conquer this fear it’s important to review what you have accomplished and what skills you bring to the table.  Be honest about your skills and abilities and you will see that you deserve to succeed.  You can also get input from trusted friends.  If you do this, get specific feedback on what you do well and what traits others admire.  Specifics about your skills and abilities help you understand you have a lot to offer.


  • Fear of Rejection:  This fear causes people to hold back on ideas or going for dreams because they are afraid others will not accept them or their input.  To combat this fear keep in mind that people are more focused on them than they are on you.  People are generally egocentric and while many will go out of their way to help others, most have their own issues to deal with each day.  Focus on what you can do with your skills and abilities and what you will can get out of reaching for more and go for it.

All of these fears can create a wall that holds you back from doing your best, and sometimes from doing anything.  Focus on what you have to offer and what you dream of doing.  Then plan the steps and get moving.  As Nike says – Just Do it!  Break down that wall!!

How have fears held you back from reaching your dreams?

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Developing Others

Today I had the privilege of being at the kick-off of two leadership training programs, one for adults and one for teens.  It was a great refresher to remember when I went through the adult program almost four years ago.  I also can relate to the fear, apprehension, excitement and nerves that were on the faces of the folks heading off for 2 ½ days of intense training.  The best part of this is that all the people attending where there because someone else believed enough in them to send them to the class.

Part of the idea of this particular program is to pay it forward.  If you are sent to the class it means someone believes in you and you get to return the favor by sending someone you want to see grow.  This is a great way to help others reach their potential.  A key to becoming a great leader is to develop those around you.

Great leaders are ones who inspire others to follow them and stretch to achieve great things.  One of the most inspiring things a leader does is to invest in the development of their team, this shows that they believe in the potential of those around them.  It feels great to know that the person who is leading you believes in you and cares enough in you to help you become better.  It is truly a vote of confidence that keeps on giving.  The bosses who sent me to training and put me in leadership development programs are the ones I look back on as some of the best bosses I ever had.  Part of that is because they wanted me to grown and to move up, not just stay put to make them look good.

Let’s look at the ways developing others helps you grow as a leader.

  1. Builds Confidence:  By sending a team member to development program it builds their confidence in themselves and it builds their confidence in you.  People always feel better about themselves when a leader believes in them.  Additionally, your credibility is increased when you help others step up, this in turns builds the confidence others have in you.
  2. Increase Productivity:  By sending people to leadership development their skills increase which allows them to accomplish more.  As the individual member’s skills are improved the performance of the team improves.  This allows you and your team to do more.
  3. Creates Successors:  As you increase the abilities of the people below you there will be a stand out that becomes your obvious successor.  By building their skills and grooming them to take your place you are opening up the possibility for you to move on to something more.

As you invest in the development of your team you are building the future of yourself and your organization.  By building confidence, increasing productivity and creating a successor you are setting the stage for the growth of the organization.  This is a sign of a great leader.

Become someone who builds the future and you will become a better leader. 

Today I got to see the boss who sent me to this leadership program.  He was sponsoring someone else today and was there to send them off.  I was there to send my youngest son to the teen leadership class.  He’s the fifth one in our immediate family to attend.  My former boss helped make it possible to send everyone to the classes.  He truly believes in helping others grow to make organizations and the community better. 

Please share a time when someone invested in you and your future.

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Team Input

Recently I was sitting down with my team to work through the logistics of a project that needed to be done within a couple of days.  If we all pitched in it would only take about 5 hours to accomplish (between 3 of us).  It’s a routine item that none of us have any enthusiasm to do, however it’s one of those things that has to be done.  Last month we struggled to get it done because one team member baulked at his assignment and fought every step of the way. 

The issue was he didn’t feel like he had any input into what was his share of the project.  This month as we talked about how to get it done I let everyone have a say in what they would tackle.  As it turns out we got done in record time and with zero problems with attitude.  It helped me realize one of the fundamentals of effective teams – buy in. 

When teams are working at peak performance it’s because they are all committed to the goals, they know what to do and how they can contribute.  This comes from getting buy-in from the start.  To get the buy-in it is critical to take all the steps to ensure that you get the commitment you need for peak performance. 

1.  Share the Goal:  The first step is to let everyone know what must be accomplished.  It is critical for the team to understand what is needed and why it’s important to the organization.  Whenever possible tying the organization’s goals to the team and down to the individual can go a long way to creating commitment to the goal.

2.  Define Success:  Once the goal is known define success so that people understand what  needs to be done.  If the team can clearly see what needs to be done they will be more effective in getting tasks done. 

3.  Clarify Roles:  Know that everyone knows what is needed and what to do it’s time to spell out how each person will contribute to the goal.   Whenever possible let the team have a say in what they will do.  It gets them more invested in accomplishing the project.  While letting people self-determine their role, keep an eye on the overall tasks and make sure things are covered and divided up fairly.


When the team is committed great things happen.  Getting them committed takes some time and requires oversight to make sure it all comes together.  However, when done well the team will be engaged and will step up to deal with the unexpected issues that always arise. 

What steps have you taken to get a team’s buy-in to ensure success?

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Interesting Reading

I wanted to share some articles that I’ve read over the last month that got me thinking about what I do and how I do it.  Happy reading!

Ideas on how to stop doing things that interfere with productivity from Stepchase Lifehack.  7 Things you should add to your stop doing list right now.

Great strategies for finding information on-line are found at Organized Online Learning from Organized Living Essentials.

A great reminder of how to get back on track when old “bad” habits reappear in your world.  Productivity Bad Habits and Solutions from

Some tips for how to gain control of your time from UnclutterEight Steps to Help You Regain Control of Your Time.

These are great leadership quotes from The Organized Executive that can inspire all of us.   Wise Words From Female Executives.

Here is another look at leadership strategies from a historical perspective, found on Stepchase Lifehack. What Makes an Exceptional Leader.

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Office Superstitions to Give Up!

In honor of Friday the 13th I wanted to take a look at office superstitions.  I’ve found four very prevalent ones that create heated conversations when I ask people their opinions on them.  Let’s look at them individually.

Open Door Policy:  So many people think if they are in a company with an open door policy they can only close their office door during a private meeting.  I believe this is false.  If you have to focus on a task then it’s okay to close the door at times.  This is not permission to keep your door closed more than it’s open, just permission to choose wisely to close the door to focus.  I used this particularly when doing performance reviews for my employees.  I never kept the door closed more than an hour at a time and never more than for two in one day.  No one complained and I got more done.

Can’t Say No:  I have worked with too many people who think they must say yes to everything they are asked to do.  Again, it’s important to know what you can decline or defer and to do so when appropriate.  Sometimes when your boss adds another item to your to-do list you NEED to ask what can be delayed to get this done, or can someone else handle something for you.  There are times when you are asked to help with something because everyone counts on you to say yes and pitch in.  If it works for you and is not career suicide there are times to say “I’m sorry I’m tied up right now on XYZ.”  This will help you get things done and allow others to step up and do new things.

Must Respond Immediately:  A pet peeve of mine is the belief that all emails and phone calls must be answered immediately.  This is so disruptive to your day that you have to get past this superstition.  Granted if you are in a help-desk type of position then you do need to answer quickly.  However, most of us have other duties and these can be best accomplished when we turn off or close email and deal with it at predetermined times.  Same goes for the phone, if you are entrenched in a task that requires total focus turn off the phone and when you reach a breaking point then you can deal with messages. 

Multitasking Works:  Multitasking is one of the biggest urban myths around right now.  It really is not possible to do more than one thing at a time effectively.  Now I do agree that if you are on-hold for a call you may be able to scan your emails or do some filing.  However, when things require your attention you must keep that attention undivided.  Do one thing at a time and get it done more quickly.

Giving up your superstitions will help you stay focused and on task.  This will allow you to be more effective and productive during your day.  The key is to know what to give up and how to manage your duties.  Good luck and happy Friday!

Images courtesy of

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Clarity in Directions

I recently saw some statistics that said 14% of a 40 hour work week is wasted due to poor communication between managers and employees.  So often this shows up in the instructions that people are given when assigned a task.  Often the results do not match the expectation at the time instructions were given.  Why is that?

The person giving the directions believes they are clear in their communication and yet something goes wrong.  There are typically four reasons why this is the case.

  1. The vision of what is required is not shared clearly.
  2. Instructions are not clear, steps are uncertain.
  3. Different perceptions of what is acceptable.
  4. No feedback to help correct course as needed.

So to improve the performance of tasks there are several steps that you can take to ensure clarity.  These will require a bit more work up front and during execution however, the payoff is in eliminating rework.  Billions of dollars are spent each year reworking things that are not done properly.  Key strategies are:

Vision:  Describe what you expect in terms of the delivered product.  Whenever possible show examples of what a quality product looks like so people understand what to do.

Clarity:  Once you give the instructions ask the person to explain to you what is required.  This gives you the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings that have occurred.

Check-in:  Whenever possible check in during the execution of the task.  See if there are any issues or roadblocks that need to be addressed.  This gives you the opportunity to provide real-time feedback that will help ensure timely and accurate delivery.

By investing in providing meaningful and clear directions to your employees you will improve the overall performance of the team.  Following the three strategies above you will have opportunities to improve your communication skills as well as develop the skills of your team.  Providing clarity and feedback allows the team to adjust to changing needs and increases their knowledge of the organizations expectations.

Aristotle Onassis once said “To succeed in business you need to get others to see things as you see them.”  Improving your ability to provide clear instructions will contribute to your success and the success of your team.

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Waste Not / Want Not Myth

Last week I was off the grid during a spring break trip to a family farm.  This farm has been in the family for around 100 years now.  During this time they survived the great depression and weathered the ups and downs of agriculture in a small southwest town.  The family has long practiced the idea of waste not / want not.  It has given our kids a glimpse of the past and family history.  However, it has created more work now to make the buildings safe.  The process of cleaning up 100 years’ worth of debris got me thinking about the practice of waste not /want not.  By the end of the week I was convinced the value of this practice can be a myth if not executed wisely.

I am a big believer in reusing or recycling items that no longer serve their original purpose, it is very important to reduce what goes into our landfills.  This only works if careful thought is given to what you save for later use.  As we were cleaning up the tool shed and garage buildings we found buckets and buckets full of bent nails.  During the depression it was important to save all the nails, even the bent ones, so that you would have one available when needed.  This was probably even true up to the 1950’s as the country recovered from WWII.  Unfortunately the practice carried on into the 1990’s.  At this point the old nails weren’t being reused so the piles of waste nails just grew and grew.  When we cleaned out the buildings, all these old nails were sent to the scrap metal recycling center.  They will now be melted down and used in new steel products.  It seems that the habits of the past were carried on without any real thought of whether or not it would make a difference in how they lived their lives. 

Digging through decades of broken tractor parts, farm tools, and bailing wire has renewed my commitment to keeping only the things that truly serve a purpose.  Keeping old items just because they might be useful one day leads to tons of waste that must be dealt with at some point.  In the case of the family farm it’s been up to us and our kids to clean up the old and make it new again.  We saved many items for family history’s sake or because they really can be used again in the new and improved farm.  I often asked “what are you going to do with this?” when my husband wanted to save something that could have been reused but in reality would never be used by us. 

I would challenge you to ask yourself these questions whenever you are contemplating keeping something you no longer use:

  1. Is it still is a useable form?
  2. Will I really ever use it again?
  3. Can someone else use it (donate or sell)?
  4. Can it be recycled?

If you can answer yes to the first two questions, then keep the item.  If you can answer yes to either of the last two questions, then pass the item on for someone else to make use of it.  If the answer is no to all four questions, then dispose of the item properly.  Saving items for the sake of saving them will create wasted time and effort at some point down the road.  Choose wisely.


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