Tag Archives: managing work load

Six Ways to Gain Team Momentum

Team Progress

Now that everyone is back from the holiday break do you have your team focused on what needs to be done this year?  Is the team up to speed on what needs to be accomplished or are they still discovering what is expected?  It’s hard to gain speed and momentum as the new year gets going.  People struggle to get focused and they often lack energy and motivation to get moving.

What you can do to get them moving:

  1. Be energetic.  If you bring a high level of positive energy to your day and your interactions with the team they will respond.  It’s contagious.
  2. Be clear.  When the team seems fuzzy on what they need to do be crystal clear in what you expect, when it’s due and what is acceptable performance.
  3. Be aware.  Make time to engage with your team so you are aware of their issues, concerns and any obstacles they are facing.
  4. Be challenging.  Push your team to get moving and get out of their comfort zone.  The holidays seem to make people relax and settle in for a while.  It’s okay to shake it up and get people going new places.
  5. Be supportive.  Take the time to help people who are genuinely struggling with the work at hand.  Offer the right level of assistance to get them moving forward independently.  It’s still their work to do, so don’t take it back.
  6. Be understanding.  If you push too hard, too fast mistakes may be made as people re-engage.  Acknowledge the errors and ensure people learn from them while avoiding beating them up with what went wrong.  Risks can lead to mistakes which inspires learning and growth when handled properly.

If you bring the right attitude to work with you, along with positive energy and a true spirit of growth for your team they will respond.  The year will get off to a great start and the stage will be set for outstanding accomplishments all year long.  Any time throughout the year you can use this tactics to increase your team’s momentum.

How do you get your team up to speed at the beginning of the year?

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Enough People Pleasing Already

Do you feel that you need to jump to help everyone around you?  That’s great – until it takes away from the things that are important to you.  If you find yourself spending your time helping others and then scrambling to get your work done you need to step back and gain perspective.

It’s important to help out, that is one of key requirements of being a part of a team.  However, your personal success is dependent on what you get done.  You must be seen as someone who gets things done in order to move up.  So how do you find the right balance?

Ask yourself the following questions?

  1. Does this request take away from a critical task I already have to do?  If the answer is yes, then you need to say no, or ask to defer your help until you get your task done.
  2. Is this request aligned with my / my team goals?  If the answer is yes, then you should proceed to help out and determine how to fit it in.
  3. Are you feeling pressured to help out at your own expense?  If the answer is yes, then you need to pause and figure out where the pressure is coming from before you act.  If your boss is pressuring you to shore up a shaky team member/ project then ask for more clarification.  Find out how this will help you in your career or why you and not someone else.  When the pressure is from a chronic needy co-worker it may be time to RESPECTFULLY decline to help. 
  4. Will this help you achieve your goals?  If the answer is yes, then go for it.  This is clearly lined up with your goals so find the time.

Remember that it is important to get your work done, work towards your goals, and to help others out.  To really be successful it is so important to learn when and how to say no to protect your time and your needs.  Helping others is part of everyday life, but you will always be behind schedule, overwhelmed and frazzled if you put others needs before your own.  This is not about being mean, it’s about having balance and when you focus on pleasing others, you will not be pleased personally.

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Take the Time to Delegate

If you are struggling to keep your head above water with all you have to do it may be time to get help.   One of the best ways to get help is to delegate some of your tasks to someone else.  When you are too busy to get everything done it can seem like you don’t have time to delegate.  The three main reasons people feel like they don’t have time to delegate are:

  1. Takes time to figure out what to delegate.
  2. I’ll have to take time to explain what is required for each item.
  3. Following up to make sure it’s done properly will take too long.

It’s true that all of the above items are required to delegate and they will take some of your time.  However, they will take less time than you will spend getting everything done on your own.  If you are spinning your wheels because you have so much to do that you can’t seem to finish anything then you really do need help.  The investment in time to delegate will pay the following benefits:

  1. You will get time to finish critical items.
  2. Stress levels will drop as you see things being completed.
  3. Your work/life balance will be better which will give you more energy and enthusiasm for what you are doing.
  4. Delegating tasks to others helps them develop new skills and allows them to grow.
  5. Builds trust with your team, in both directions, when you trust someone else to get things done.
  6. Increases self-confidence in yourself and in others by seeing that things will get done on time.

So can you really afford not to delegate some of your work to those around you?  Be careful to choose what you delegate carefully.  The tasks have to be suited to the person you are giving them to, so that they can get them done properly.  Also, dumping the grunt work only makes people feel that you don’t trust them with the difficult stuff, thus devaluing their abilities. 

When you choose wisely to delegate some of your workload you will reduce your stress, get more done, and develop the team around you.  It’s a win-win-win situation.

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Parkinson’s Law of Time

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

 When you are planning your work do you allocate the appropriate amount of time for it?  If you over estimate the amount of time it will truly take you to complete a task then you may find that it takes that amount of time to complete it.  C Northcote Parkinson commented on this phenomenon in 1955 as part of a humorous essay he wrote for The Economist.  It gained popularity and became Parkinson’s Law as people found their observations matched his.  Why is this so true?

 Here are the two biggest reasons why I think this is so true:

  1.  Lack of Urgency:  if you allocate a week to complete something that will take a couple of hours to do then it is not urgent until the last day.  Then you are under the gun to get it done, so you buckle down and complete it.  All the time before that was filled with other activities, maybe planning how you would do it, gathering materials, worrying about getting it right, etc.  All low urgency actions.
  2. Perfectionism:  If you start something on Monday you know isn’t needed until Friday then you will leave it hanging, planning to come back and perfect it before you hand it over.  You take one more pass over it to ensure everything is just right.

 So to get out of this trap you need to set realistic deadlines on your tasks.  Assign the appropriate amount of time to get them done and schedule a time to do it.  Once you schedule that time, then leave the task until it’s time.  This will prevent you from fiddling with it before you need to work on it, you will not be worrying about it because you know when you will get it done.  Also, make sure you allow enough time to do it properly the first time and then you will not feel the need to hang on to it and go back to make sure it’s right. 

 Parkinson’s Law is often cited in the time management world because it’s a comment on human nature to find the path of least resistance.  Managing your time and your tasks actively and with clear focus on the actual nature of the things to be done will make you the exception to this law.

How do you defeat this law of human nature?

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Get to Know Your Customer

As a leader in your organization it is critical that you know your customers.  This means the end-user of your company’s products / services as well as all the internal customers.  While this is not a new concept it may be time to stop and reflect on what people need from you and your team.  When we are busy keeping up with all our tasks we can easily lose sight of why we are doing the things we are doing.  To make sure we are on track and doing the right things we must understand our customers.

To ensure your efforts are in line with what your customers need start with your closest customers.  Who inside your organization does your team support?  What do they need from you?  Have you asked their manager how things are going; is there something more that would help them do their jobs easier?  Having a frank conversation with them might reveal that some of the things you are providing are nice to haves but really add no value to your customer.  Here’s something that you may be able to stop doing.  You may find out that if your team provides a bit more, or on a slightly different schedule it would make it possible for your customer to get their job done more efficiently.  This improves the company as a whole.  Focus on what the internal customers need and you will find ways to improve the business as a whole.

Next, focus on the end-user of your organization’s products or services.  You may see these people every day if you are in a customer facing position.  Often however, we are several steps removed from the ultimate customer.  Do you know who the target customer is?  Do you know what they value in your products?  What makes them pick your company over another?  If you can get clear on these issues you may be able to find opportunities within your team’s scope of work to make changes that improve the customer’s value and save you time and money.  Without a clear understanding of the end customer making changes can cause you to miss the mark on your improvements.

In the daily hustle and bustle it is easy to just do what you’ve always done.  However, the world is always evolving and needs shift over time.  Make sure you are staying on course by checking in with your customers to see that you and your team are providing the things that will add value to them.  Strive to improve the experience your customer has with each contact.  Looking ahead to what is valuable to your customers will give insight into what you need to do.  To do this, start by getting to know your customer.

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Productivity Quicksand Traps

All of us want to be more productive, even those who others hold up as their efficiency idols.  This is true because no one is 100% productive 100% of the time.  There are ebbs and flows to everyone’s life, the good days and the bad days.  The thing that really differentiates the most efficient people from the average is how they handle the bad days.

What do you do when you find yourself dragging or procrastinating on the things you know need to be done?  Are you someone who grinds it out until you get back on track or do you stage a personal intervention?  At times it may be necessary to slug away at the task to get it done.  Other times it may be much more effective to step away for a short period of time, this will allow you to refocus and come back refreshed.

I’ve struggled with this regularly, particularly on the ugly items that are necessary and just are not really my cup of tea.  When I plug away at these even when I’m not really tuned into what needs to be done, they become an even bigger chore and the next time it comes around I dread it even more.  It becomes a vicious cycle that I have to break quickly.  I’ve found the following things can help me get past the drag of these items:

  1. Take 15 minutes.  If I take 15 minutes to do something totally unrelated, something I enjoy doing then I’m in a better frame of mind.  Now I’m feeling positive and the task seems less daunting. 
  2. Set a time limit.  When I tell myself I’ll spend the next 30 minutes working on the ugly task I know it will end soon.  This keeps it from becoming something that I will “have” to do for the rest of the day. 
  3. Create a positive atmosphere.  I like to have music I like on while I’m doing routine tasks that I dread.  It creates an upbeat background to what I’m doing.  This isn’t always possible in an office, so I’ve had small pictures of scenes I love within easy sight lines.  A visual cue of a happy place.
  4. Reward yourself.  When you spend the time you allot on the dreaded task reward yourself.  Get up and take a couple of minutes to reflect on getting it done.  Get a cup of coffee, a drink of water anything to break away from the task and breathe.  Stretch to relieve the tension in your muscles.  Enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that task is DONE!

These four things provide me with the productivity intervention I need to get back on track.  Even though it takes time away from the work up front to stage the intervention I end up getting more done and it’s all done better so the return is there. 

What do you do to pull yourself out of a productivity quicksand trap?

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Defining Personal Productivity

I’ve been thinkning about how best to define personal productivity.  The traditional definition of productivity is output/input which looks at how much is produced compared to the resources needed.  This can be useful in a manufacturing setting if used properly but it falls short for personal productivity.  In these terms it’s more about quantity for the least effort which emphasizes doing things and doesn’t always look at what you are doing. 

Another way to define productivity is value/resources which is a better definition for personal productivity.  I’ve even seen this where time is used instead of resources.  I like the idea of resources instead of just time.  So how can you use this for defining your personal productivity?

Let’s look at value first.  Value can be defined by what you do, how well you do it and how much you produce of it. 

                Value = WHAT x QUALITY x QUANTITY

So to improve the value of what you do it is important to make sure you get all three pieces right.  Look at whether or not you are doing what is needed at that time.  This means focusing on the important items not the busy work.  You need to do the item well – high quality work.  Producing anything that requires being redone, or falls short of providing everything your customer (internal or external) needs will decrease the value of your work.  Next quantity is doing the amount needed at that time.  Too much or too little is wasted effort and reduces value. 

The trick to the value side of the equation is to make sure you know what needs to be done, when it is due, and understanding the expectations of the customer.  If you are producing a report for someone else, what do they need to see, how should it be formatted and when do they need it?  Giving them more than they need or giving it to them late makes extra work on their end and the value of your work has been diminished in their eyes.

Now let’s look at resources.  This is defined by time, people, and cost to produce your results.

                Resources = TIME x PEOPLE x COST

The easy one to focus on in this equation is time.  How much of my time does it take to get something done?  This can be measured fairly easily so it is easy to track.  Pay attention to the time it takes you to get things right.  When looking at your personal productivity remember to look at the input of other people.  How many people do you need to support your activities?  Are there ways to get information from fewer people?  Or can a system generate the information with a bit of programming instead of having someone go data mining?  Stop and look at the impact you have on others both from a task and time perspective to help reduce the resources you need to get your work done.  Lastly look at costs.  This can be more abstract at times to evaluate.  Are you utilizing the higher paid people around you or are there younger employees who could learn to do what you need?  This can pay you back by freeing your more expensive peer’s time for higher value activities and allows new employees growth opportunities.  Shifting work from one employee to another may not reduce the time but it may reduce the cost. 

  • Caution: When you move work from one person to another that you are aware of what’s already on the new person’s plate and that you are freeing up the other person to do tasks where they add more value. 

Obviously not everyone can reassign work within an office, however even if you are not a boss you can provide suggestions on how to improve productivity.

If you can increase the value of what you do while controlling the needed resources your personal productivity goes up as does your worth to the organization.  You will be seen as someone who contributes to the bottom line.  When you keep looking for new ways to improve things you will be seen as highly valuable team member.

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Quote for July 24th

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.

Alfred A. Montapert

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When the Cup Runs Over

There are times that all of us have way too much going on in our world.  Often the things that are happening are good, positive things which should bring joy to our lives but in the midst of it all we can’t find that joy.  So how do we get control over things so that we can enjoy the events filling our lives?

This past week was one of those weeks for me.  About a month ago I started doing some consulting for a fun company and I love what I’m doing.  On top of that, this past week we: hosted my youngest son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor, my oldest son’s high school graduation, all the fun of celebrating those, and getting my kids off to Jamaica for a church mission trip.  On top of all that we packed up our house for our move.  It’s been fun and very overwhelming for me.

As I look back on all the things we jammed into the past couple of weeks I am stunned at what we accomplished.  To get it all done we followed several critical steps:

  1. Created a well-defined timeline.  We made sure we knew the milestones needed to be accomplished to make the event dates.
  2. Divided tasks.  We split up who was handling each item, based on skills and available time.
  3. Enlisted outside help.  There were things that we could, and did, ask others to help us with, so we could focus on enjoying the events.
  4. Stayed flexible.  As expected things did not go as planned and plans had to be adjusted on the fly.  This meant all of us had to be willing to change what we were going to do and how. 
  5. Communicate openly.  We had to stay in touch daily on all the things going on and check in to see if anything was slipping or if someone needed help.  My husband was at our new home in the weeks leading up to this week of celebration, so calls, emails and texts became vital to knowing who had what covered.
  6. Focus on the moment.  The thing that made it all so much fun and bearable was to stay focused on what was going on at that time.  During the Scout event, we could not be thinking about graduation even though it was the next day, and during graduation packing had to be put out of our minds. 

By following these steps we got through the week with our sanity intact and had a great week with our family while celebrating major milestones for our boys.    Most people think we’ve lost our minds to do it all in one week, but it worked for us.  I will admit I plan to space things out more in the future, or at least hire movers instead of packing myself.  🙂

How do you handle having so much happening that you risk missing the joy in your life?

photo from iStockPhoto.com

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Forest vs Trees?

Do you focus on the forest or the trees when you look at projects or all the things you have to do?  I know some people who only look at the trees; they see each individual tree and can’t see that they make up something much bigger.  Other people I know only seem to see the forest; the individual trees don’t exist to them.  Unfortunately, these folks are both missing part of the picture which can hamper their ability to get things done.

I’ve known a few unique people who seem to be able to see both the forest and the individual trees at the same time.  These are a rare breed of people and yet they are the ones who seem to get the most done in the most efficient manner.  So how do they do it?

First they look at the overall picture to see the overall scope of the project (the forest).  This allows them to understand the size and shape of what is to be tackled.  Looking at the bigger picture can really help identify the boundaries of the project, anyone else who going to be impacted by it, and what resources are going to be needed to get it done. 

Once they get the lay of the land it’s time to look at the details (the trees).  This is the time to get into the nitty-gritty of the tasks.  What needs to happen, when it needs to be done and by whom.  Taking the time to identify all the steps in the project along with the specific timeline and resources is critical to the successful completion.

Most of us can, and do, look at projects from both perspectives.  The trick is to be able to switch back and forth between them on a frequent basis.  It is so easy to get caught up in the details that you totally lose track of the bigger picture.  Focusing on what has to be done next, what the current obstacle is, or who is not keeping up are all vital actions.  However, they aren’t the only critical things to keep track of during a project.  Take a few moments to step back from the details and make sure the project is still on track and heading in the right direction.  Evaluate if the scope has crept up (gotten bigger) or if the project is going to impact other people who were not previously identified.  These can only be done by looking at the forest.

When things are overwhelming and there seems to be too much going on shifting your natural focus is difficult, if not seemingly impossible.  The good news is it doesn’t take long to make the shift for a status check.  Looking at the forest if you are a detail person can really help you keep things in check.  As well, if you are a big picture person looking at the trees will help you make sure all the needed steps are being taken.  The other perspective will help you get a handle on the whole picture and may reduce stress because you now have a better understanding of where you are and where you need to go.

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