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Changing Skill Sets for Changing Times: 5 Focus Areas for 2021

What skill sets are employers looking for most in 2021? How can they partner with employees to develop these sought-after skills?

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic – alongside countless social justice movements – shaped the world in a new way. Now, employers must reevaluate their businesses and see what new skills match the world’s ever-changing landscape.

For employers in 2021, what follows are five of the most in-demand skill sets for our changing times. By enabling growth in these areas, employers across all industries will help their employees and prospective teammates thrive in our post-pandemic workplace.

Skill Set 1: Remote Teamwork

The most obvious change to come from the pandemic is the new work-from-home dynamic. According to Pew Research Center, 71% of employees were working remotely as of December 2020. Given this new landscape, employees need resources — primarily, they need technology to connect and work together.

Businesses should focus on hiring talented individuals who know remote working systems well. In addition, helping current employees further adapt by getting them the resources they need will instantly improve work efficiency. Critically, all workers must have communication channels available, like Slack or Google Meet.

A lack of teamwork causes a communication breakdown and disrupts the company’s goals. But the solution is to provide the right technology and assistance.

Skill Set 2: Time Management

With remote work, limited office capacities, and social distancing, many employers changed their schedules to accommodate health and safety concerns and physical space. Now, many in the workplace may start and end work at different times. These alterations force a focus on time management.

New and existing employees should demonstrate that they can independently manage their time, schedules, and projects. Employers and HR managers should emphasize helping talent learn to meet deadlines efficiently while assisting fellow employees stay on track, further developing time management across their teams.

Of course, employers should continue being flexible with remote work teams. Allowing employees to choose their own hours lets them build their work schedules around home commitments. They can then work when they’re at their most productive, distraction-free – which is the best possible form of time management.

Skill Set 3: Soft Skills

A people-first approach helps a company stand out in the crowd. So employers may not consider soft skills “soft” for much longer.

As social justice movements and awareness grow, soft skills add the human factor businesses need. These skills include adaptability, emotional intelligence, creativity, collaboration, active listening, and knowing how to help other employees thrive.

Soft skills also lead to solutions that put public safety first. For instance, curbside pickup and delivery have been a creative solution for shopping. Employers want workers who can come up with service and people-focused ideas like these.

Businesses also need to recognize and reward employees who can slip in and out of new roles depending on what the company needs. The pandemic has put pressure on companies of all sizes — and they all need employees trained to be adaptable to these changes.

Skill Set 4: Social Media Marketing

Social media has been around a long time; however, 2020 brought a new way to use these digital bullhorns. Specifically, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok help influence and reach the 3.6 billion people who used social media in 2020.

Instagram recently added a shopping tab, which companies of all kinds can use. Facebook Marketplace continues to have a significant impact on shopping habits. Combined with the growth of TikTok’s influence, employees will want to know how to curate a business page and list the company’s products or services in an engaging way. So smart employers are looking for new employees with these talents and will cross-train existing employees to further leverage e-commerce channels.

Moreover, social media is where social justice movements, new trends, and pop culture moments happen. If employees stay current, they can add meaningful or relatable approaches to the brand’s social media pages.

Skill Set 5: Cybersecurity

As the pandemic hit the United States, people wanted information about employment, finances, and staying safe. With countless people and businesses turning to the internet for resources, cybercrime shot up drastically. Still, as people try to get vaccines, phishing scams run rampant. The FBI reported between 3,000 to 4,000 cybersecurity complaints daily last summer.

If a business faces a breach, scam, hack, or malware attack, it could lose sensitive data, like employee or client Social Security numbers and bank accounts. To prevent this catastrophic loss of data and trust, businesses must focus on hiring cybersecurity professionals and upskilling entire IT teams. Simultaneously, managers are helping current employees learn the ins and outs of cybersecurity.

Still, the best employers know cybersecurity is an industry of its own, and specialization often requires years of training. Now more than ever, it’s in every company’s best interests to focus on retaining cybersecurity talent or securing reliable outside services.

Skill Sets 2021: A New Employee Landscape

The unemployment rate is still coming down from April 2020’s record high. On the positive side, there’s plenty of new, eager talent looking to make a difference. And existing employees are showing genuine interest in providing the reskilling and upskilling to update in-demand skill sets. By focusing on these five areas of skills development, your company can revolutionize your workforce and create lasting talent pipelines – even in changing times.

 

Photo: Andrik Langfield

4 Proven Techniques to Increase Employee Productivity

The main goal of any company, of course, is to be successful. And the level of employee productivity is one of the crucial factors that makes or breaks the success of a company.

Employee productivity represents the amount of work employees complete in a given time period. An employee who completes more tasks in less time is considered to be more productive. This higher productivity has a number of tangible benefits to a business, including:

  • Making it more profitable
  • Helping it grow
  • Helping it stay competitive on the market

Here are four great techniques you can use to increase employee productivity in your team:

Employee Productivity: The Kanban Approach

Kanban is a time management technique meant to help you track progress on your work, and keep an eye on tasks that are nearing their deadlines.

The practice originated in the 1940s at Toyota and represented a shift in production. Kanban (or lean manufacturing, as it was called back then), allowed Toyota to produce according to customer demands, as fast as possible. As opposed to producing vehicles to push them out on the market.

This practice would influence the creation of Kanban 70 years later. In 2007, David Anderson and Darren Davis developed the same idea of streamlining workflow and increasing productivity. They noticed that the scope of work is easier to visualize once it was presented on a whiteboard.

KISS: Whiteboard and Post-it Notes

  • The whiteboard represents your project
  • The Post-it notes represent your tasks
  • You divide the whiteboard into four columns:
  1. “Backlog” column | For all the tasks that you need to work on.
  2. “To-do” column | For the tasks with a specific deadline.
  3. “Doing” column | Tasks you are currently working on
  4. “Done” column | Tasks you have finished.

Define the task deadlines, assign each task to an employee, and have them move their tasks across columns, in accordance with the progress status of the task (“To-do,” “Doing,” or “Done”).

The approach with the whiteboard and Post-it notes is just an illustrative example. Alternatively, you can use Kanban-based software to track your project progress.

In any case, ensure your Kanban board is available to your employees at any time. This way, everyone will be able to see at a glance:

  • The progress status of each task
  • Who is working on what
  • Whether a task is nearing its deadline, indicating it should be a priority

By knowing all this, you’ll make work more organized, structured, and easy to track, directly increasing employee productivity as a result.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management approach which mandates that all tasks have a predefined time frame and calendar slot during which employees will work on them.

Although its origins are said to exist as far back as calendars themselves, the earliest known user is said to be Benjamin Franklin. He used to take note of everything he did during the day, hour by hour. Blocking off times for chores, rest, relaxation and deep work. One could say he was the modern employer of the time blocking technique.

And today, hundreds of years later, it has proven to be a great technique to increase employee productivity levels on all types of tasks.

To implement time blocking, instruct your employees to:

  • List all their tasks, in order of priority.
  • Allocate a certain amount of time to each task. For example:
    1. First Task: 15 minutes
    2. Second Task: 45 minutes
    3. Third Task 3: 1 hour
  • Slot each task in a calendar. For example:
    1. First Task: 8 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.
    2. Second Task: 8:15 a.m. – 9 a.m.
    3. Third Task: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
  • Work on the tasks in the order you blocked time for them. Don’t spend more time on a task than what you blocked. As soon as the time block for Task 1 is up, move on to Task 2. Continue in the same manner until the end of the list.

The principle of this productivity-increasing technique is simple: all employees who make feasible time blocking schedules, and then stick to them, will be able to finish their tasks as planned and maintain full control over their time as a result.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Identify Priority Tasks

Productivity is not just about working fast, but also about ensuring enough time is spent on the right tasks — i.e., your priority tasks. One of the best approaches that can help you with that is the Eisenhower Matrix.

Its originator is Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. He was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WW2, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and went on to become the 34th president of the United States. With his life of warfare and politics, Eisenhower was required to make tough choices under immense pressure. Countless sources credit him for creating a method that aims to achieve exactly that — to see your priorities and make informed, yet quick decisions.

And decades later, the Eisenhower Matrix expanded to become a time management technique that also helps businesses organize tasks in a way that lets employees easily recognize priorities.

To implement it, take 10 minutes each morning to go through the project tasks for that day.

They can be, for example:

  • Writing a marketing strategy for the new project
  • Preparing reports for the big client update meeting
  • Solving the most immediate bugs from the day before
  • Going through customer support analytics for the past quartal

Four Quadrants

Then, sort them into four quadrants, based on whether they are important and/or urgent:

  • First Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should work on first.
  • Second Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: No) | The tasks you should work on when done with the tasks from Quadrant 1.
  • Third Quadrant (important: No, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should delegate to someone else.
  • Fourth Quadrant (important: No, urgent: No) | The tasks you should most likely eliminate.

The Eisenhower Matrix is meant to help your teams focus on the day’s most important and urgent tasks. At the same time, it also helps them recognize which tasks they could delegate or eliminate, thus freeing even more time for their priority tasks.

And after the collective meeting, you can always instruct the teams to apply the Eisenhower Matrix to their own tasks for the day.

Streamline Meetings

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, as much as 71% of senior managers find meetings to be inefficient and unproductive.

And yet, an infographic by AskCody shows that the average office employee from the US still spends over five hours on meetings. They also spend over four hours each week preparing for those meetings. Switching focus between different work wastes time and effort. Of course, this negatively impacts productivity. Which leaves employees feeling scatterbrained and drained.

To ensure this time is better spent, streamline meetings: 

  1. Create precise meeting agendas | Straightforward agendas will help you stay on topic, and hold shorter, better structured, and thus more productive meetings.
  2. Announce meetings at least a couple of hours in advance | This way, you’ll give your employees enough time to think about what they want to say or ask in advance, saving them the time they’d need to do so at the actual meetings.
  3. Limit meeting time to 30 minutes at maximum | Forbes even suggests implementing a 30-minute challenge that involves prioritizing topics better and selecting attendees more carefully in order to keep meetings from lasting more than 30 minutes.

Structure your meetings. Organize, schedule and track your tasks. Then watch your employee productivity soar.

How Knowledge Workers Really Spend Their Time

Despite the lip service organizations give to reducing productivity-killing emails and unnecessary meetings to help workers focus on what matters, the problem of workplace distraction may be getting worse.

U.S. workers say they spend only 40 percent of their workday on their primary tasks, and that they’re often distracted by emails, meetings and administrative tasks, according to the fascinating 2019 The State of Work report released by Workfront, a provider of cloud-based work management solutions.

According to the survey, emails and pointless meetings topped the list of things that keep knowledge workers from getting work done. And 63 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “If I had more time to just think my productivity would improve.”

“The [employers] that are effective in giving time back to their people win on a lot of different levels,” says Workfront spokesman Chris O’Neal. “Not only is their performance better overall, they are able to get to market faster because they’re focused on the right things.”

Let’s dive into the survey results.

How We Spend Our Time

The survey covers 2,010 U.S. workers, all of whom are employed by a company with at least 500 employees, work on a computer and collaborate with other people on projects. Here’s how they reported spending their work day:

  • 40 percent — Performing the primary duties of my job.
  • 16 percent — Emails.
  • 12 percent — Administrative tasks.
  • 10 percent — Useful and/or productive meetings.
  • 8 percent — Wasteful meetings.
  • 8 percent — Interruptions for nonessential tasks.
  • 6 percent — Everything else.

Interestingly, baby boomers reported spending a greater percentage of their week on their primary job duties (45 percent) compared with Generation X (38 percent) and millennials (34 percent).

When asked what gets in the way of work, wasteful meetings topped the list, mentioned by 62 percent of respondents. Other major productivity-killing factors included:

  • 55 percent — Excessive emails.
  • 41 percent — Unexpected phone calls.
  • 35 percent — Excessive oversight.
  • 34 percent — Lack of standard processes for workflow.
  • 29 percent — Poor work prioritization methods at my company.
  • 25 percent — Lack of collaboration within my team.

Struggling to Innovate

The survey indicates that while a healthy majority of organizations value innovation and regularly ask employees to do it, they aren’t carving out the appropriate time for workers to actually focus on on this task.

While 64 percent of workers surveyed said their workplace asks employees to think of how they can do things in a completely new way, nearly the same amount — 58 percent — said they’re already swamped with day-to-day tasks and they can’t think beyond their to-do list.

“From the top down employees are being told ‘This is part of why we hired you,’ but from [employees’] point of view they’re saying ‘They’re not allowing me to do that,’ ” O’Neal says.

Looking at Solutions

One-third of workers say the single biggest thing that would help them do more with less is if their employer instituted better processes.

“As individuals we say ‘Let me be free, don’t put shackles on me,’ ” O’Neal says. “But what we’ve come to find out is without process, we’re really exposed to a lot of this busywork. We don’t have enough data to say no to things. When you have too many ways to do one thing, there’s no real way to do anything.”

Another 26 percent of respondents said being able to block out time in their calendar to actually get work done is a top factor. Having fewer meetings to get through the week, having a central place to see all the work the team is doing and setting objectives for the entire organization ranked as top solutions to more productivity.

O’Neal says that in recent years the report has recorded an interesting shift on automation among workers, away from a fear of disruption and toward a more optimistic view that it will actually enable productivity.

In the 2019 report, on average workers said 37 percent of their day-to-day job duties are already automated. About 70 percent of respondents said automation will give them more time for primary job responsibilities, while about a third of workers said people will be competing with robots, machines and AI for jobs in the not-too-distant future.

“The majority of folks in our data now say they look forward to more workplace automation because they feel it will give them more time back to do the real critical-thinking types of work they want to do rather than the mundane repetitive tasks they have to do now,” he says.

How to Stay Productive, Even During the Summer

Research shows that kids experience a “summer slump.” When they’re out of school, they’re not actively focused on learning, and their brains check out. But they’re not the only ones susceptible to summer slumps. Adults seem to channel their inner child during the summer, making it hard for them to be productive at work.

A 2012 study by Captivate Network reveals that workplace productivity drops 20%, workers are 45% more distracted, and it takes 13% longer to complete projects in the summer. Also, 53% of workers who leave early on Friday report a decline in productivity. People often work longer Monday through Thursday to make up for leaving early on Friday, and 23% of them believe that schedule causes an increase in stress.

So how can you stay productive during the summer and throughout the year? We asked Dana Brownlee, the creator of the New Time Management Model. She’s the president of Professionalism Matters and a corporate trainer and speaker..

According to Brownlee, the New Time Management Model involves four questions:

  1. Should I do this?
  2. How should I do this?
  3. What’s the right level of effort?
  4. How can I increase my efficiency?

Should I Do This?

Brownlee recommends starting every week by assessing the most important activities for the week. Then, every day, do a reassessment. “Resist the temptation to just add a task to your to- do list because someone asked you to do it,” she says. “There must be a mental ‘vetting process’ to determine if any activity should be on your list.” Her own to-do-list only includes five items for each day.

“Another technique that I sometimes use in my classes is to ask each person to write down each of their tasks for the next day on a small slip of paper.” Then she tells them that one of those items can’t be completed – and they have to decide which one it will be. The participants have to throw away that sheet of paper and start over with a shortened list. They continue the process, until the list is down to five items. “These types of activities are just meant to reinforce the mental process that you’d go through weekly and daily to identify your truly important activities,” Brownlee says.

She also recommends using the 80/20 rule. “Figure out which 20% of your efforts will yield 80% of the results.” For example, you may need to determine which clients or client types are providing most of your revenue, and then adjust your business model or activities accordingly.

How Should I Do This?

This is a strategic step that encourages you to work smarter, not harder. Should you do it alone or with a group? Should you do it yourself or delegate or outsource it? Could the task be automated or streamlined in some way?

“As a small business owner, I often resisted outsourcing because I didn’t think I could afford to pay someone else to do things for me,” Brownlee says. “However, when I started using assistants, freelancers, and other specialists, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford not to outsource (particularly those time-consuming tasks where I had little expertise — like website updating and newsletter formatting).”

She says that pausing to answer the “how” question can save a lot of time later. “For example, if you’re developing a client list, consider putting the information into a simple database so that it’s easily retrievable, sortable, and exportable later (and you’re inputting the information only once).” Next to each task, Brownlee recommends making a note of how you can work smart to complete the task.

What’s the Right Level of Effort?

When deciding how much energy to expend, consider assigning a percentage (from 0% to 100%). Another option is to set a time limit for each task. Brownlee uses this method with her assistant. “Instead of using vague terms like ‘don’t spend too much time on it,’ I’ll often say, ‘don’t exceed 90 minutes.’ Those limits can be helpful for us as well.”

It’s also helpful to add the times together to see if your daily plans are realistic. “If you add up your to-do-list tasks and it adds up to 4 hours of tasks (to be completed outside working hours) and you have a 1.5 hour round-trip commute, that list probably isn’t realistic.”

How Can I Increase My Efficiency?

Brownlee has several personal productivity tips to help increase your level of efficiency:

  • Only schedule about 75% of your day, to leave room for the unexpected items that pop up daily.
  • Schedule work time (for example, schedule one time block in the morning and one in the afternoon to do your work, instead of running from back-to-back meetings all day and starting your work at 5 p.m.).
  • Turn off the chime on your email announcing incoming messages — usually the email isn’t that important anyway.
  • Instead of being distracted by constantly checking emails throughout the day, schedule specific times during the day to read and respond to them.
  • Have a running list of items that can completed when you’re waiting to see the dentist or waiting for a webinar to start.
  • Complete small tasks when you think of them. If you need to do something that only takes 3-5 minutes, instead of scribbling a note, just stop and do it.
  • Develop checklists or templates for repetitive tasks like preparing for a meeting, coordinating an event, or conducting employee appraisals.
  • Set time limits for escape activities. Daily escape time is important, but don’t let a quick check of Facebook turn into spending two hours on social media.

A Contrarian Approach to Time Management

Is it time to do a 180 degree shift on the subject of time management?

So much has been written on how to manage one’s time more effectively; I sometimes wonder if the guidance being offered by so many “experts” is resonating with people. In today’s world, cluttered as it is with communications, volumes of advice often go unheard and unread — despite their worth.

So let’s try a contrarian approach. Let’s see if this gets through the clutter. Here are six valuable tips on how NOT to manage your time. These tips will guide you to waste time and ensure you are totally ineffective in your job.

  1. Put a “To Do” list together of at least ten things you intend to accomplish. It’s always impressive to have a long list of tasks and projects you intend to do. And it also guarantees that you will make little progress on any one of them. Multitasking is a great way to waste time and minimize your effectiveness.
  1. Kiss up to your boss every chance you can. Rather than doing what you think is right, focus on what you think THEY want. But don’t ask them directly. Devote your day to trying to figure out what they think you should do and what you can do for them. Quite often your boss has no idea what he or she wants, so you are likely to work on sketching that is not needed. And the day passes quickly.
  1. Write activity reports on what you’ve been up to. Make sure you provide copious amounts of detail; it gives the impression that your work is precise and thorough. And, the more detail you provide, the longer it takes to write those reports, the more time you will consume. Send your reports far and wide in the organization. Your objective is to make people know that you are a “busy bee” and overworked.
  1. Send emails when you have something to say. Don’t send text messages because they are too brief and only take a few moments to compose. Again, be granular in your story. And answer every email sent to you. Set aside time every day to do this. Don’t set your spam filter to ward off unwanted communication. Every message has some redeeming value; you don’t want to miss it.
  1. Organize and chair numerous face-to-face meetings with people on every topic on your to-do list. Meetings are an excellent source for collecting action items and offer an opportunity to add to your activity reports. Don’t think too much about whether or not the action item is relevant, just do it.
  1. Stay late at the office at least four out of every five days. The more time you put in, the more activities you engage in, the more activity reports you can author. Attempt to complete as many tasks as you can each evening; this will prevent you from achieving anything and will waste time. And be sure to include your late night hours in your activity reports; it will impress fellow time wasters.

Time mismanagement is an art form requiring careful planning and perseverance to be recognized as an expert in the field. If you follow these six tips you will be successful in creating a personal brand with “time waster” indelibly etched in it.

Now, what do you think? Have I broken through the clutter and made you smile? What tips would you add to this list?

photo credit: 365:42 – Time via photopin (license)

Effective Project Management: Working From 5 to 9

When I was younger and entering the workforce I quickly understood that I do my best work at 5 AM.

I have the best ideas, I am the most focused and I’m able to perform miracles.

While doing some experiments on myself to test my abilities, I found out that working 4 hours, from 5 AM to 9AM , I could achieve more than by working in the office from nine to five.

Unfortunately It’s hard to explain it to a manager who measures how many minutes you’re late in the morning and if you’re still in the office at 4.59PM.

For each of us the best hours for working are a little different. There are a lot of people like me, who like to work in the morning, there are also a lot of people who do their best creative work after midnight when I prefer to be asleep. Yet most offices still demand a 9 to 5 commitment from everyone.

Of course there are a lot of areas where working during business hours is essential. I’m not going to argue the benefits of keeping a bank open at 4AM or barbers and cashiers who should cater to the needs of night owls.

Yet, for a lot of fields these “office hours” are just there due to hundreds of years of traditions.

If the job, in most part, requires an employee to sit on the computer and write, then demanding strict working hours is a waste of precious potential.

As I’m writing this article, it’s 6.45 in the morning. By the time I get to the office, I’ll probably have finished it. I will probably leave the office around 2PM when I’ve been there for 4 hours, while being productive for 9. Everybody wins.

As a manager you might be afraid that if you don’t keep an eye on everyone from 9 to 5, he wont work at all. You can’t walk into his house to check if he’s really doing something at 5 AM or is he watching cat videos at Facebook.

However, Jeff Boss, a leadership coach and a former Navy SEAL, said that “it’s certainly a manager’s role to breed the right working environment that gets results. So, if that means letting his or her people work virtually so they can tend to personal appointments, do it.”

He added that a manager has to “find the right temperature at which to set work processes and adapt from there.”

I’d welcome having a coffee or a meeting with my boss at 6AM, I’m pretty sure he’s sleeping at this time.

So how can we work together?

Keeping The Leaders Happy

If we can know what all our friends are doing, what they’re eating or thinking due to Facebook and other social networks, then surely implementing an application or a program that measures our work is not too hard.

To keep your leader happy you need trust. Luckily or unfortunately, trust is based on experience and that means it takes time to form.

If I’ve been working with someone for years, I know what he’s doing and I don’t worry. Yet you can’t wait years to get your teams to maximum productivity.

You need help.

There are a lot of project management tools that help with that. You could use Basecamp for project management or just have a chat based system. But you need to have an online system that everyone can contribute 24 hours a day.

We’re using our own Weekdone’s weekly progress reporting application that is based on the PPP (Plans, Progresses, Problems) methodology. This gives both the manager and an employee a daily overview about everything going on in a company or a team.

This means that with a quick look at my company’s feed, I always know what’s going on.

A lot of people use Excel based shared documents or e-mail but this is actually not structured enough and gets confusing really quickly.

We, in addition to main tools, use Skype chats where everyone can contribute. When our sales team gets a new big client, they can share it with everyone. People will see it, if they come online to start their workday. Even if it’s 4 o’clock in the morning.

If our designer finished the SlideShare presentation I need at 3AM, I’ll find out the moment I wake up and I can react to it. And our manager knows everyone is doing their job.

The same system works not only for unconventional office hours, but for handling remote or international teams.

At the same time, using progress reporting or project management in you’re downtown office gives reassurances to your internal communication and increases your productivity.

In the end, I think, the most important thing is that keeping tabs on progress and achievements is more important than keeping tabs on time.

 

Photo Credit: Bigstock

Using ‘Time’ To Attract Amazing Employees

Jeff, the managing director of a growing empire of eyewear stores, complained that he simply couldn’t find enough optometrists to achieve his expansion plans.  When I questioned him, his attraction strategy was almost solely based on salary. Jeff valued twenty-twenty vision, but he needed to look at this problem through different eyes.

Money by itself is not the greatest motivator, ranking between fifth and tenth on most employee lists of wants, so organisations that move beyond pure dollars will attract great applicants. In this instance we designed new shift times that allowed applicants to work 4 ten-hour days, rather than 5 eight-hour days, and enjoy a three day weekend. The outcome – Jeff filled all of his vacancies within a fortnight.

Time As a Commodity

clock

Time is now a valuable commodity for employees and consequently for employers seeking the best people. Despite technological improvements, work hours are escalating in many developed countries, so flexibility in scheduling time is becoming more and more sought after. Many people are prepared to take lower salaries as a trade-off.

It’s not surprising then, that companies that embed time flexibility into their systems and then highlight this in their recruitment marketing, experience outstanding success.

Take the Marriott Hotel group who was looking for staff for its new hotel in Hong Kong. The company discovered a six day work-week was standard there, so instead implemented a five day work-week. With this point of difference, they filled all their positions with employees of choice.

My local bus company was also having difficulty hiring drivers. After focusing on the needs of their target employees, the organisation created a new shift time from 9.30am-2.30pm, and filled their vacancies with parents who wanted to only work between school hours.

Creative Time-Packaged Salaries

Time can also be linked to salary packaging. St George Bank identified that many of their prospective employees wanted time to pursue other interests, without sacrificing their career. The bank introduced a policy that let employees work four years and take a fifth year off, fully paid. It worked this way – if an employee’s annual salary was $50,000, they were paid $40,000 for four years and then, when they took the fifth year off, they continued to be paid $40,000, being the $10,000 owing from each of the previous four years. The icing on the cake was that many employees locked in for five years, reducing staff turnover as well.

‘All-Or-Nothing Thinking’

Organisations who allow employees to work more flexibly have almost doubled since 2005. Yet many still resist this practice, exhibiting conventional ‘all or nothing’ thinking.  They believe that if the person isn’t in the office full-time they are just lazing around. When IT giant Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer banned employees from working from home, she announced that part of her decision was poor productivity and the need to stop slackers. Hewlett Packard’s CEO followed suit, cutting it for the bulk of her workers.

Yet all the latest studies show a statistical increase in productivity when employees work from home. Pennsylvania University conducted a longitudinal study in which psychologists examined 20 years of research on telecommuting involving 46 studies and 12,833 employees. They found an overall beneficial effect which was a win-win for employees and employers.

Often those who are the most fervent in blaming telecommuting for their company woes, have poor metrics and management processes. Moving demotivated, unproductive workers from home to office is like relocating rotten apples and expecting them to flourish. If organisations have objective measurements for employee outcomes, then managers can constructively deal with poor performers, no matter where the  workplace.

Another problem is the mistaken belief that telecommuting has to be for everyone every day, when what’s required is its judicious use. Allowing a leader to work one day a fortnight from home can be enough to attract better employees, especially if the competition isn’t offering this benefit.  That’s why blanket bans like Yahoo’s can be damaging – they can  harm employer branding and increase staff turnover, often a company’s greatest hidden expense.

More Flexible Time For Everyone

It’s not just rank and file workers who seek for more time flexibility either. Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of two trillion dollar investment firm Pimco CEO, quit in January 2014 after his daughter handed him a list of 22 milestones he had missed because of his job. In an interview a year later, Mr El-Erian was enjoying time with his daughter and they were planning a holiday together. As he told The Independent: “Hopefully, as companies give more attention to the importance of work-life balance, more people will be in a better position to act holistically on what’s important to them.”

Max Schireson, CEO of MongoDB, Patrick Pichette CFO of Google and OzForex leader Neil Helm are other leaders who cited ‘spending more time with their family’ as their specific reason for quitting. It’s a sad indictment of 21st century organisations when the only way someone can do this is to resign. It does however highlight that flexible workplaces aren’t just an effective attraction strategy.  They’re vital for retaining great people as well.

About The Author

Mandy Johnson is a best-selling author; a start-up founder of Flight Centre’s UK operation and an active speaker and advisor to both public and private organisations. Her first book Family, Village Tribe made Kobo’s 2014 top five list for Business-Entrepreneurship and is a set text in many Australian MBA courses. Her second book Winning The War for Talent has just been released and garnered excellent reviews in the business media. Follow her on Twitter @mandyjohnsonoz or download her free business tools at www.mandyjohnson.com

Use Your Time Wisely — You Don’t Have As Much Of It As You Think!

As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”

Time is the greatest lever we have to achieve business goals, yet most leaders don’t measure how it’s spent or manage it as scarce capacity.  When time is viewed as an infinite resource, it sets up employee engagement challenges and fatigued thinking.  This week, give closer attention and intention to how you leverage time with these 3 practices:

Recognize time is a finite resource and plan accordingly.
Create a time allocation plan for yourself and your team this morning to use your limited capacity wisely for the next 90 days.  Include target percentages for making decisions, motivating people, addressing issues, assessing goal achievement, and engaging customers.  As with any budget, ruthlessly prioritize so the time you plan to spend isn’t greater than the time you actually have — if it’s not in the budget, delegate it or drop it.

Align time used directly to goal achievement. 
Be as systematic aligning time to goal achievement week over week as you are setting goals at the start of the year and measuring performance at the end.  Chasing status reactively and consuming time on work that doesn’t contribute to goals waste precious time.  Define 1-3 streams of work that support achievement of each goal, and ask your team to do a short weekly report on action item progression by stream.  Put the goals and streams into the report template to ensure week over week linkage between the team’s work, everyone’s time and your business goals.

Take some time to experience gratitude.
Complement more intentional use of time and better time-goal alignment with 10 minutes a day to identify and acknowledge great work or effort – ideally the 10 minutes before you leave the office.   It’s renewing and energizing for you and others.  This habit will strengthen your empathy skills and remind others why they’re investing their time to help achieve your business goals!

Put these practices to work this week to increase your productivity and satisfaction; join the conversation on this and other topics to share what works best for you.

P.S.   Consider using Workboard for easy, effective status reporting.  You define goals and workstreams, your team tracks action items by stream and reports from their list; Workboard automatically distills their reports so you know how to focus your time and theirs.

Managing Online Classes While Working Full Time

Continuing your education can be an asset in many ways: you can increase career opportunities, explore a new field or simply acquire more knowledge. Going to school full time, however, requires a commitment that’s not feasible for some. For such individuals, online classes pose a practical solution.

Balancing online classes with full-time work can also be challenging, but certain practices in organization, time management and communication make it possible to succeed. If you’re tackling the work/online class juggling act, try some of these things to make it easier:

Be Open At Work

Tell your co-workers and boss that you are engaged in online schooling. Let them know that your class won’t interfere with your job. They’ll appreciate you telling them and might even offer to lighten your load. Your boss might even be impressed, especially if you’re going to school to be able to go further in the company.

Keep A Planner

When you’ve got so much going on, it’s best to document your work to-dos on the same page as your school to-dos. Not only does this keep you from forgetting items, but it also assists with time management. Writing down your assignments allows you to dictate which duties will be tackled first and last, and when exactly they’ll fit into your work schedule. Have a work project and lots of homework due on the same day? Reference your planner ahead of time so you’re not pulling all-nighters.

Befriend A Classmate Or Co-worker

At your class’s beginning, send out an email asking if anyone’s interested in weekly group meetings. If your online class already has set in-person sessions, befriend fellow members that way. Having an organized meeting time, and someone with whom you can communicate, will yield greater personal satisfaction. A friend in the class is also beneficial should you have any questions. At work, talk to someone who’s also going to school while on the job. You’ll find ways to motivate each other to stay focused on work through your education.

Use Time Efficiently

Make use of every moment. Mornings, evenings, lunch breaks – you should be thinking about efficiency constantly. If you’re used to taking work home when you don’t feel like finishing it in the office, you’ll need to start being more productive while on the clock. With your time at home now being spent on classes and homework, it’s best to get your work done while you’re on the job.

Prepare For Personal Sacrifice

Balancing work and class will quickly overtake your schedule. Prepare for this. Once your schoolwork is full-fledged, you may not have time for the personal luxuries you enjoyed in the past: dinners out every night, two-hour gym sessions, weekly book clubs or Wednesday night poker games. Carefully consider the things you can do without, and shift your agenda accordingly. When you’re anticipating the cutback in your social life, it doesn’t seem as bad when it happens.

You’ll also need to prepare for more expenses. Consider renting textbooks instead of buying, packing lunch instead of eating out, and planning your class times so you can driver there after work instead of making an extra trip.

Put Your Job First

Hopefully, organization and personal sacrifice will allow you to tackle both commitments successfully, but you may have to pick and choose once or twice. Remember that your job is your source of income and living may be hard without it. Getting a bad grade on an assignment, in the long run, is not as bad as losing your job.

If you put your mind and time toward the work/class balance, you’ll be successful.

About the Author: Scott Huntington is a career specialist, writer, and blogger from Central Pennsylvania. Check out his blog, blogspike.com, or follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.

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Don’t Work Harder — Work With A Better Plan

Santa Clauses throughout the country are returning to their natural habitat — shopping malls — and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to buckle down and make one final push to reach and exceed your annual goals.

Often, the knee-jerk solution this time of year is to work harder. Start spending more time in the office, and especially more time at your desk cranking out work. Unfortunately, while this might initially increase your output, it isn’t always sustainable.

Instead, as the old adage goes, “Don’t work harder. Work smarter.” But what does working smarter really mean?

Know How Long Your Work Takes

Before you can really get smart about your work and managing your time, you need to know how long it takes to do your tasks. It’s a basic but useful exercise. Knowing exactly how long your work typically takes will add certainty to your day and give you confidence to set realistic daily goals.

Of course, with experience doing your particular type of job, you’re likely to establish rough estimates for the time needed to complete your tasks. However, breaks and email and phone call interruptions can happen at any time, and your gut feeling may not actually be that accurate.

For that reason, consider using a timer and keeping a record of your tasks for a couple of weeks. Start the clock when you start a task, stop it whenever you get distracted, and write down how long it took when the task is done. With these useful data points, you’ll find it much easier to keep your day organized and to set reasonable expectations.

Set Smaller Goals

An important part of growing professionally is setting ambitious but attainable long-term goals. The difficulty with long-term goals, though, is that you can get lost or sidetracked along the way.

To avoid losing sight of your targets, research suggests that you should set a few smaller goals on a daily or weekly basis related to each long-term goal. Since these distant goals can sometimes feel insurmountable, the smaller goals keep you on track and headed in the right direction. Further, keeping track of your goals over time will help you recalibrate them when needed.

With that in mind, consider getting into the habit of setting daily or weekly goals on a regular basis. Either at the end of the day or on your way to work in the morning, focus on the two or three things that you want to achieve or tasks that you want to complete. Write them down and keep them visible. This will help you from getting distracted and you’ll enjoy the motivation from checking things off your list and getting one step closer to what you want to achieve.

Take Breaks

Getting more organized and focused on your annual goals will give you a solid roadmap to success, but you’ll also need to protect yourself against burnout that can derail you along the way. The harder you work, the more you risk mental and physical exhaustion, which not only threatens your motivation, but also your health.

As with any long-distance endeavor, the best approach is to choose and stick to a pace that you can maintain through to the finish line. In the workplace, that means taking frequent and regular breaks. Whether you’re just going for a walk, grabbing lunch with a colleague away from your desks, or playing a quick game of ping pong, taking a break will help you recharge and boost your productivity overall.

The trick, though, is to build these breaks into your schedule as much as possible. If you’re just relying on taking breaks when the opportunity presents itself, you may find yourself deprioritizing them. Set a goal to take a few breaks a day, and set reminders for yourself in your calendar. It may seem counter-intuitive, but staying committed to occasionally stepping away from your desk will help you work smarter in the long run.

Using these tips will put you on the right path to working with an organized and sustainable plan to achieve your annual goals. What are your tricks for working smarter?

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#TChat Preview: World Of Work Productivity And E-mail Excellence

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT). The #TChat radio portion runs the first 30 minutes from 7-7:30 pm ET, followed by the #TChat Twitter chat from 7:30-8 pm ET.

Last week we talked about the business leadership cliff and how to avoid it, and this week we’re going to talk about productivity and e-mail excellence.

Yes, that right — productivity and e-mail excellence. The fact is, no matter how much some of us feel that e-mail is killing “world of work” productivity, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

And while companies are losing worker productivity, employees are extending the length of their workdays, going to the office on weekends, and checking their e-mail while on vacation because they can no longer manage the volume of communication that requires their attention. This is how e-mail habits have become toxic to individuals and businesses alike.

Blech. But instead, why don’t we have a “productive” conversation around why and how unhealthy e-mail practices are sapping personal and business productivity, what you can do about it, and how much time you can reclaim for yourself and your business.

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-creators and hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as we learn about how productivity and e-mail excellence with this week’s guest: Marsha Egan, CSP, PCC, CEO of The Egan Group, ICF Certified Professional Coach and professional speaker, and a leading authority on email productivity.

Sneak Peek:

Related Reading:

Meghan M. Biro: How To Make Work Matter

Amy Gallo: 4 Things You Thought Were True About Time Management

Kris Dunn: Does A Full Email Or Voice Mail Inbox = Low Engagement?

Howard Mavity: Advice To Remember: An Attorney’s Take On How To Use Email On The Job

Terri L. Griffith: Are Companies Ready To Finally Kill Email?

We hope you’ll join the #TChat conversation this week and share your questions, opinions and ideas with our guest and the TalentCulture Community.

#TChat Events: Work Productivity And E-mail Excellence

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, November 5th — 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT Tune in to the #TChat Radio show with our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman, as they with our guest: Marsha Egan.

Tune in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, November 5th — 7:30 pm ET / 4:30 pm PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and Marsha will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: Why is e-mail so toxic to productivity today? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: How can we turn e-mail into a productive communication tool? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: How can someone fight the urge to constantly be in e-mail? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our new TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!

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Timing, Not Time, Is Money

I once had a conversation with the set drummer of the Boston Pops Orchestra. I will indulge in some grandiosity to make a point: The Boston Pops Orchestra was, at the time, the most famous and successful orchestra in the world. They had sold million of records, due in no small part to their “pop” music recordings, and this guy . . . this one guy . . . was the rhythmic heart and soul of that massive success.

We were on a bus going to a concert out of town, and it just so happened that the only seat left on the bus was the one next to this guy, so there I sat. To break the awkward silence (I was the new kid at the time), I started telling him about a new spartan practice regime I had instituted. I talked about how I was pushing myself to the highest level of metronomic and rhythmic precision I could.

I worked with this guy for 20 years and this was the only conversation I ever had with him, but it was a doozy. He looked at me with ill-masked condescension and said, “Control is essential, but precision alone has no value. The whole idea is play a little ahead of the beat or a little behind it. That’s what gives the music its ‘color’ and its emotional impact.”

When I talk about the culture-shock experience of playing in major orchestra, this is a perfect example. Here, in just three sentences, this guy basically refuted, with flawless logic, everything I had learned about time and timing in industrial school culture: the constant blind emphasis on always being right on time, never be late or behind, and always obeying the timing of a machine called a clock.

The way we traditionally think about time and work is obsolete. When you get away from doing purely physical labor, time ceases to work the same way. It’s like Newtonian physics no longer working with subatomic particles at the speed of light. One example, in a recent report on 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft explained how high-frequency traders do something called “front-running.” Simply stated, by accessing slightly shorter fiber optic cables that let them see stock market orders three milliseconds ahead of everyone else, they can see your order before it hits “the market” and buy the stock you have ordered a millisecond ahead of you. That way, they can then sell that stock back to you for a penny more than the price you thought it was going to be.

A penny doesn’t sound like much, but if you do that hundreds of millions of times an hour, it adds up. To tens of billions of dollars. It’s normally illegal, but not in this context. In this case, it was a millisecond of timing, not large amounts of time, that was money.

We have all heard the phrase “time is money.” Many of you have heard the phrase “money is emotion.” But here is one you may not have heard: time . . . is emotion. All the emotions expressed by music are expressed and evoked by subtle manipulations of time. Everything you do has a different emotional impact depending on how fast or slow you do it. If a customer feels rushed or bored or disrespected, that is almost always a timing issue. Taking too much time to help a customer is just as bad as taking too little.

The trouble is, the shame and fear of modern life messes with your emotions, and thus with your sense of time and timing, in a major way. I have met people — brilliant people — who have lost all connection to their inner sense of time. They can’t find the “one” in a four-beat bar. Have you ever watched such people try to dance? Sad. We live in an emotionally “numbed up” society, and that means our sense of timing is all numbed up too.

Industrial time management is very crude, and is based on people working like machines. It is all about “duration” equaling value. This is no longer the case. If a child learns x amount in six hours of school, that does not mean they will learn twice as much in 12 hours, but many people who think in terms of industrial machine-based time think this is the case.

Interestingly enough, the stock market “front-runners” were defeated by slowing down the flow of information, not trying to go faster. This sounds crazy to industrial time thinkers, but to a musician, or anyone who has achieved calm mastery, it makes perfect sense. Going slower gives you more control, and sometimes slower or slightly behind is just better period.

Time is not a god to worship, and it’s not something that sits on a pallet in the loading dock. It is, in essence, a medium of artistic expression, for good or for ill; as we escape from factory life, we are all on the verge of a renaissance in the workplace, going back to where we will all be less like cogs and more like unique craftspeople and artisans. We will have far more artistic/emotional expression in our daily and working lives, not constantly suppressing it to achieve greater speed, as that will be the only value we will have to offer after the robots and computers take over all the repetitive tasks.

After a century of our workplaces being ruled by a machine called a clock, the digital era has made time-duration-based measurement of work meaningless. The post-industrial world is still struggling to comprehend this, as these old industrial era traditions — of seeing emotions as a drag on efficiency, rather than both the basis of money (trust) and core of the economy (unmet desire) — dog us endlessly. Rethinking — or perhaps we should say re-feeling — how we look at time is key to making this transition. Time is not a constant. It flies by or drags on forever depending how we feel at the moment. Timing, not time, is money.

Justin Locke is a freelance writer, playwright, coach, consultant, and speaker. He is the author of Principles of Applied Stupidity, a pragmatic guide on how smart people can take advantage of the Dilbert Principle, and Real Men Don’t Rehearse, a laugh-out-loud memoir of playing bass in the Boston Pops. In his books, workshops, and presentations he shares an amusing artistic perspective on the challenges of management, and just coping with life in general. Visit his website at www.justinlocke.com.

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Nobody Does It Better, But You Still Need to Delegate

As a new manager, one of the critical skills that must be learned and embraced is delegation. Many new managers struggle with letting go of tasks and responsibilities that they are proficient in because they think these skills are what set them apart from their team members and got them their first management position.

When working with newly minted managers, Carly Simon’s famous song “Nobody Does it Better” often comes to my mind. Many new managers struggle with delegating because they have been performing the task so well for so long.  Letting go of comfortable tasks, though, is part of your role as a manager.

Learning To Let Go

Does this sound familiar to you? Are there tasks and responsibilities that you are currently doing that should be delegated?

I recently was working with a young and new manager who had recently been promoted to Operations Manager. Overnight he was given the responsibility to lead a team of seven. From the minute I started working with him, I would hear the phrase “I’m so busy” come out of his mouth often.

The question I always start with when coaching “reluctant delegators” is, “What do you want your role to be in 12 months?” And the obvious follow-up is, “What responsibilities will you need to change and additional knowledge gained to be successful in that new role?”

These two questions started him thinking into the future for the first time since he had taken on his new role. And as we got further into the conversation he started to identify tasks that he was currently doing that he should and could delegate. That was the easy part of the process.  The difficult part was identifying whom he could delegate to and what training was required before the task was delegated.

During the next coaching session he had identified whom each of the tasks was going to be given to, what training they were going to get, when he would know that they were ready to completely take on their new tasks, and when they were officially going to be responsible for the activity.

At the end of the process, he had identified enough responsibilities and tasks to delegate to free up an entire 12 hours a week. And what was he going to do with this “extra” time? Spend it leading and not doing. Now he had time to meet with his team members each month to review their progress and help with their development. He also had time to take on some significant projects that he had been reluctant to start because of his past time constraints. He was now truly leading and managing, and getting things done through others.

Five Steps to Effective Delegation

If you are in this position and want to be spending more time managing versus doing, I suggest you take these steps:
1.    Spend some time self-reflecting about those things you should stop doing, start doing, and doing more of in order to be a more effective and productive manager. If you’re unsure, ask your manager for feedback.
2.    Those stop items should then be prioritized.
3.    Determine whom you could delegate the responsibility to. Why do you think they are ready?
4.    Train those employees who aren’t ready before handing tasks over to them.
5.    Track and measure their progress, and provide them with the necessary feedback to make any necessary adjustments.

Remember, nobody does it better than you, but as a manager you need to delegate and start getting things done through others.

About the Author: Beth Armknecht Miller is CEO of Executive Velocity, a talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is also a Vistage Chair. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. Beth is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA and is a Certified Managerial Coach. Her expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. Beth’s latest book on executive leadership, “Are You Talent Obsessed? Unlocking the secrets to a workplace team of raving high performers” was released in 2014. Read Beth’s blog at Executive-Velocity.com.

 
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6 Ticks To Better Time Engagement

Let’s replace “time management” with time engagement. Time is a C.O.R.E.* resource for successful employee engagement. We want employees to invest time in their work assignments. We also want them to engage in the most effective, energetic, and enjoyable use of time. If they do that, they’re more likely to be engaged. Time engagement beats time management hands down. Three reasons:

  1. The attempt to manage time creates a competition. Like taming a lion or repairing a lawn mower. Engaging time, on the other hand, is partnering with a resource, allowing it to support (rather than control) our efforts to succeed.
  2. The reason for time management is our belief we do not have enough time. Time engagement maximizes our interaction with time, sort of like dancing. Rather than seeing time as limited and forcing us to squeeze as much out of it (or into it) as we can, we engage time by making it available as much as we need.
  3. Time management conditions us to deadlines and to working against them. Time engagement frees us to see time as a guideline for our daily operations. With time engagement we rarely sense “have to”, as in have to stop, have to hurry, have to finish.

Merely citing differences between time engagement and time management takes us only so far. More beneficial are testing and applying practices that generate time engagement in the workplace. First, positive change to time engagement requires discarding time management behaviors.

Don’t Waste Time Estimating Time.

Most time management practices have you plan how long a task or project will require. That imposes stress from the get-go because you’re automatically working against a deadline. As well, it takes time to calculate how much time you’ll need. Seems a waste of time in itself.

Don’t Work Past Being Productive.

Once your personal production level has fallen too far, you’re wasting time. Now’s the time to stop, move on to another task, or take a break. Do not allow yourself to work for the sake of putting in the time but not reaping full rewards.

Don’t Allow What’s Comfortable to Replace What’s Effective.

It’s so easy to opt for the feel-good activities, especially when the should-do tasks are more strenuous. Focusing on producing an effect results in a longer lasting, more rewarding “feel good” than does working on what’s comfortable.

Managers can open frequent conversations, inviting individuals’ examples, to demonstrate the power of letting go of such practices.

Now, with what do we replace those? These positive Do’s can hasten your organization’s Time Engagement:

Time Engagement: Do Prioritize Tasks/Projects.

Imagine Time Engagement

Encourage the practice of prioritizing the items on your to-do list. There are meetings and calls that have fixed times. Your time engagement with everything else is determined by when it is to be finished, or more truly when you want to it finished. When you set the priorities for all the tasks and projects on the plate, you allow yourself to engage with less stress and greater enthusiasm. [Feel free to substitute “your employees”.]

Time Engagement: Do Work with Chunks of Time.

Build the habit for you and your employees of “chunking time.” Define a period — a chunk — of time for which you will work on a project. At the end of that time, stop…at least for a few moments. Depending upon your energy level, your momentum, your enthusiasm, you may decide to begin another chunk on that same project. You may decide to move on to something else, with a chunk of its own. Chunking replaces “I must be finished by…” with “I am free to work until…”. Work performed in time chunks is more productive and more pleasant; it is free of the hurry-up stress that accompanies running out of time.

Time Engagement: Do Take Breaks to Re-energize.

Make breaks part of the work culture. These may be coffee breaks, talk-on-the-phone breaks, plug-in-the-iPod breaks, whatever-it-takes breaks to restore the energy, the effectiveness, the efficiency that go with time engagement. Let employees know know that 10 minutes away from work are a dynamite investment if one returns from 60% initiative with 80%-90%-100% initiative. Taking a break doesn’t mean breaking the engagement. In fact, it can make engagement even more attractive.

Time engagement reflects employee engagement while it generates employee engagement. Valuing the resource of time and the resourcefulness of time engagement can be a double win for the business that wants more engagement.

*C.O.R.E. stands for Communication, Opportunity, Resources, and Engagement (by managers/leaders). These are critical factors that contribute to a work culture that stimulates employee engagement.

(About the Author: As an Employee Engagement and Performance Improvement expert, Tim Wright, has worked with businesses and national associations of all sizes. His company, Wright Results, offers proven strategies and techniques to help businesses increase employee engagement, improve personnel performance and build a strong business culture by focusing on performance management from the C.O.R.E. For more information, visit www.wrightresults.com or connect with Tim here: tim@wrightresults.com)

To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter and G+ conversation anytime. Learn more…

TalentCulture World of Work was created for HR professionals, leadership executives, and the global workforce. Our community delves into subjects like HR technologyleadershipemployee engagement, and corporate culture everyday. To get more World of Work goodness, please sign up for our newsletter, listen to our #TChat Radio Channel or sign up for our RSS feed.

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Stop Juggling! Reach Your Goals by Doing Less

The hardest thing to learn is not “how to juggle,” but how to let the balls drop.”  Anthony Frost

“My name is Lisa, and I am a multitask-aholic.”

(Hi, Lisa…)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a support group where already overextended HR professionals could come together and share the burdens of having to do everything all at once?

Multitasking has become the modus operandi of the corporate world, and Human Resources is no exception.  Because of the involvement of HR professionals in so many aspects of a business, they often feel they have to multitask in order to succeed. With days filled with planned and unplanned meetings, recruiting, hiring and training new employees, along with taking care of payroll, benefits, employee relations, and everything else in the mix, there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.  –Amanda Banach, Demand Media

Human Resource specialists often feel that they are accomplishing more when they work on several projects at once, but in actuality they are less productive.  Research shows that chronic multitaskers have trouble ignoring irrelevant information (oops, time to check my email; I’ll be right back.)  They have trouble organizing their working memory and they switch from one task to another inefficiently.  Multitasking leads to more stress, less sleep and a feeling of always being on the hamster wheel.  Not fun.

So how do you break the multitasking habit?

According to a famous skit that Bob Newhart did several years ago on Mad TV, there are two words that will cure you – STOP IT!  It’s a magical mindset and a constant reminder. You may find it helpful to encourage yourself as well as those you work with to just “STOP IT!”

Here are some tips to get work done efficiently and effectively – without multitasking:

1.  Concentrate on one activity at a time and work on it until it’s done or until you’ve reached a logical place to stop.  Let’s say that you have an hour and you want to get the following tasks done:  (1) Sort through a stack of resumes, (2) Check your email, and (3) Send follow-up letters to potential candidates.  You often get so involved with getting through all of the resumes or checking your email that that’s the ONLY thing that you get done (and the emails keep coming.)  It doesn’t make you feel very productive, does it?

Instead, use a timer (every Smart Phone now has one) and distribute the time you have to get done what you want.  Using the above example, you may choose to set the timer for thirty minutes to go through the resumes.  When the timer goes off, no matter where you are in the process – STOP!  Set the timer again for fifteen minutes to take care of your email/internet tasks and again, when the timer goes off – STOP.  You now have fifteen minutes to write your correspondence.  If any of the tasks don’t take as long as you’ve given them, congratulations.  Take a break before embarking on the next round of tasks.  The key is to assign to each task less time that you think it will actually need.  You’ll surprise yourself with how much more productive you are when working within a time constraint versus when you’re left to your own devices.  (Think about how much you get done right before you go on vacation.)

2. Turn off your email notifications and other distractions.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but minor interruptions can cause major inefficiencies in your work day.  When you look away from what you’re doing, even if only for a few seconds, it takes longer for you to readjust and get back into the groove.  Chances are good that you will also make more mistakes than if you had kept to the task at hand.  Start to notice and track the things that distract you throughout the day.  Once you are aware of how often these incidents happen, you can prepare yourself to reduce or eliminate them from your day.

A great gift to share with your family or other significant people in your life is to “unplug” when you are with them.  Begin to have dedicated time that you will not be checking email, answering calls, or working online. Give your attention to the important people in your life, even if you start off with a thirty-minute time slot in the evening.  Work can wait.

3.  Take a break.  Make sure you get away from your office during the day.  Go out to lunch, or if it’s a beautiful day, sit outside, enjoy the sunshine and converse with colleagues or friends.  Not only does taking a physical and mental break from your work recharge you and give you more energy to get your tasks done, you’ll build stronger relationships as well

It’s also helpful to set up a few interruption-free times to stick to your goals.  Schedule these times on your calendar and stick to them.  You may decide that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 – 11:00 that you are not going to schedule any meetings.  This will give you a regular block of time to get focused on the projects you want to complete.

Which balls will you let DROP today?  Start saying “no” more often and give yourself the time to pay attention to each task.  You’ll feel better about yourself, your time will become your own, and you can once again become a human BEING instead of a human DOING.

Additional Info about the author: As Founder of Grategy, Lisa Ryan works with organizations to create stronger employee and customer engagement, retention and satisfaction.  Her proven gratitude strategies (Grategies) lead to increased productivity, passion and profits. She is the author of six books, and co-stars in two documentaries: the award-winning: “The Keeper of the Keys,” and “The Gratitude Experiment.”

photo credit: Gabriel Rojas Hruska via photopin cc

How to Build Your Network Without Burning Out

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. The following is the last post she contributed to our blog, only 10 days earlier. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all.)

The unthinkable happened during the first week in January.

TalentCulture CEO Meghan M. Biro had gone missing. She hadn’t returned a tweet from me for more than three days. Unheard of, I tell you.

Naturally, I was concerned about her well-being. I actually considered contacting Boston area hospitals. But instead, I did what any good friend would do. Resorting to an antiquated strategy, I picked up the phone and called her.

“Seriously Judy, I’m taking a break. I don’t want to burn out,” Meghan told me.

“What? A break from your BFF?” I almost blurted. Then, a calm washed over me, and instead I said, “Good for you.”

This sparked a conversation about how busy professionals like us can continue growing and navigating our social networks without compromising our stress levels. Connection and communication have taken on new importance in today’s 24/7 world of work. Those who manage the energy and minimize the stress are able to stay ahead of the competition, and sustain high performance. But it’s not easy.

Everyone manages a social network differently. It’s an intimate and personal process. We all have close connections with whom we can exchange ideas and openly vent. That’s typically not a burden on our time and attention. But in this era of digital exuberance, our social circles are growing rapidly. We need to find the signal in our niche, while filtering out the noise of a much broader network. Keeping pace requires a strategy:

8 Tips to Reduce Stress In The Face of Digital Exuberance

1) Schedule Social Sessions: Timing is everything. And quality time counts. When does your network naturally buzz with activity? If you’re a rock star, you might be inclined to check Twitter in the late evening, but if you’re into talent management and business news like me, you’re probably trolling Twitter from 7-8 a.m. Instead of trying to pay attention 24/7, pick one or two intervals each a day to dip into the stream. Don’t just “fly by” with retweets — really dive in and engage in conversations that build relationships. But when your scheduled time is up, move on. Eventually, you’ll adjust to an established rhythm, and so will those in your inner circles.

2) Take Breathing Breaks: Twitter and Facebook interactions can become surprisingly intense. Periodically, take 5 minutes to literally sit back and just follow your breath. Close your eyes, or look away from the screen. Simply being aware of how you are breathing helps regulate cortisol, the “stress-producing” hormone. Count as you inhale – one, two, three. Then hold your breath for several seconds, and exhale to the count of three. Better managing stress “in the moment” gives you more energy later, when you may need to tap into your reserves.

3) Stand Up and Stretch: Once in a while just walk away. Yes, leave the computer behind. This is important to get blood circulating in your body, which delivers more oxygen to your brain. If you prefer not to stand, push your chair away from the desk. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, clasping your hands in a “steeple” position. Look up and gaze at your hands for several moments. Then exhale slowly while your hands float gradually back down to your sides. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to shift back into business gear.

4) Hum with Purpose: That’s right — make noise. Humming actually calms the mind and body. It’s an ancient yogic technique that helps focus attention prior to meditation. The sound reverberates in your skull, and helps your brain rewire your attention. Here’s how: Plug your ears with your fingers and inhale deeply. Pause. Then as you exhale, hum for the reminder of the “out breath.” Repeat two more times. If you feel dizzy, stop. But ideally, it will help release tension and help you focus.

5) Let Filtering Tools Work for You: Sometimes we need to look beyond human behavior for help. If we opened every link that came our way we’d never sleep. Aggregation tools help consolidate and organize the chaos — news sources, blog posts, and other information sources of interest. I’ve set up Google alerts to deliver breaking news on keywords that matter most to me. For less critical topics, I receive news feeds once a week. You can use Hootsuite, Buffer Tweetdeck and Aggregation tools and dashboards to identify relevant content and create a delivery schedule that works for you.

6) Harness Hashtags: Hashtags are the fastest way to share and find relevant information on Twitter. For example, professionals who participate in the TalentCulture community share HR and business leadership knowledge by adding the #TChat hashtag to their tweets. At any moment, anyone can search for #TChat, to see the community’s latest tweets. It’s like round-the-clock access to the most popular human resources conversation on the planet. If you follow a hashtag like #TChat in your Twitter dashboard, you’ll quickly and easily find helpful peers, ideas and advice. Also, when you schedule Twitter posts, be sure to add hashtags that reflect your area of expertise. Your posts will reach people in your niche, even when you’re offline.

7) Leverage Human Relationships: Sometimes, all of us need to unplug for several days or more. When you do, plan ahead. Just because you’ll be off the grid doesn’t mean your networking must come to a standstill. Reach out to several people in your immediate network. Let them know that you’re taking a break, and ask for a little extra support in sharing your work on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — wherever you’re most active. You can even form ongoing support alliances and develop common “social back-up” guidelines. Just remember, you’re not alone.

8) Create a FOMO Free Zone: Perhaps the most important advice I can offer is to honor your social self. Competitive pressure shouldn’t drive your social brand development. Don’t let yourself become obsessed with how other people behave on social channels, or about whether volume or frequency of their activity trumps your own efforts. Whatever your message is, you’ll succeed when you deliver it through your own lens, with your own voice, to an audience that is naturally interested in you. Forget #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)!

Of course, even with healthy habits, it often feels like we’re networking at the speed of light. But hopefully these tips help you slow the pace a bit, focus on what matters, and generate more energy to fuel your social success.

Do you have tips for reducing stress and improving productivity in the age of social networking? What techniques and tools work for you? Share your ideas in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Pixabay

5 Activities to Strengthen Your Career Muscle

Planting words on my MacBook Pro stimulates me emotionally and intellectually as I sow client career stories from bud to blossom. This focused, brain-powered activity, though invigorating, is physically sedentary and potentially unsustainable if not combined with the appropriate amount of physical activity.

In Joe Lavelle’s recent post, “Exercise Like a CEO,” he underscores the importance of exercising your body. He asks, “What do you do routinely to exercise your body … to maintain mental acuity?” For many, the addition of a new or enhancement of an existing exercise routine will work wonders to add muscle to a soft career or even jump-start a stalled career.

A selection of other energy- and focus-boosting activities that will both propel your productivity and strengthen your career muscle follows:

1) Simplify Your Space

Simplifying your space may mean unwrapping yourself from a visual security blanket of ‘clutter.’ Doing so can free your mind and emotional energy to concentrate on individual projects and goals – the task at hand, if you will, versus the distractions all around you.

You may consider de-cluttering your primary work area into a clean, open, airy space that includes soothing paintings, memorabilia and perhaps even a desk-top water fountain to cultivate calm and inspiration. If you must express your clutter, identify a behind-closed-doors nook and, within these boundaries, go wild!

2) Big-Picture Your Schedule

Though your talent in creating calendars, check lists and project action steps shines, you also may find that you feel yourself drowning in a sea of details and deadlines, particularly as your career and business initiatives grow. If this describes you, consider big-picturing your schedule.

White-boarding your projects-in-progress as well as crafting a two- to three-month running whiteboard calendar of meetings and deadlines may quickly quell calendar chaos by creating a bird’s-eye view snapshot of your overarching initiatives.

Remember, project ‘detail-collecting’ within the associated project lists and files will provide the information you need to deep-dive into the specifics of your big-picture initiatives when needed. By maintaining this glimpse-able overview, you can better manage existing tasks and respond to new requests to which you commit your time and energy. With a quick glance at your calendar/project whiteboards, you can quickly accept or decline new projects.

3) Recognize That Little Choices Matter

Choosing a glass of water instead of sweet tea may be the linchpin to stay within you daily caloric intake parameters. As well, with business communications, that latest email, Tweet, Facebook message or LinkedIn invitation typically does not require your immediate absorption.  If you must, take a five-minute break every couple of hours to simply confirm receipt of new communications without fully partaking of a communications swap until a later, scheduled time.

And when faced with that emotionally-wrought virtual request for you to “drop everything and help me now,” remind yourself of the adage, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

4) Make Peace With Perfectionism

Though your next project for your boss or your customer may mean the difference between a promotion or a career-defining sales deal, most of the time this is not the case. When you single out and assess your initiatives, you likely will find that the results of your next deliverable, though important to the recipient, will not require you overextend and go that extra 10 miles to prove you are the #1 Sales Producer, Human Resources Leader, Marketing Manager or <fill-in-the-blank>.  Stop placing so much pressure and importance on yourself at every given moment of the work day.

Instead, allot yourself a reasonable number of minutes, hours or days to achieve the project goal, and then deliver!  You likely will be reminded of how sometimes the extra-mile projects fall flat while the, “I did my best and infused this project with my years of value and experience without over-analyzing” projects often net the most kudos and bottom-line results.

5) Align Yourself With Complementary Others

Finding colleagues, mentors, friends and cohorts who think a bit differently than you do may be a key to unlocking doors to new ways of thinking. Seeking to explore outside your comfort zone is an admirable trait and one we all must be reminded to tap into from time to time.

By connecting with individuals or groups of folks whose intellectual capital, like the arteries of a road map, shepherd you through unexplored and sometimes uncomfortable highways and byways, you may find new direction toward achieving the destination goal that you have been struggling to reach.

Image Credit: RightIndex

The Art of Saying "No" for Work/Life Balance

Written by Kirsten Taggart

How many times have you said “Yes” when you really wanted to say “No?” We strive to make our friends, family, and employers happy by doing favors when asked, but sometimes its okay – necessary, even – to just say no.  This doesn’t make you selfish or rude, but the way you say it shouldn’t leave the inquirer in bad spirits. When it comes time keep these five tips in mind.

1. Be polite and respectful. A graceful rejection will leave a much better impression than a defensive one.

2. Don’t lie. Saying no is best in its simplest form. You should never feel required to state your reason, so don’t feel pressured to give an excuse.

3. If it’s a task that can be completed another day, let them know that you will be able to help at a more suitable time.

4. Offer to ask around to see if someone else is available instead.

5. Hold your ground. If they ask again, calmly apologize and reiterate that now is a bad time.

It’s important to prioritize and choose your “yes’” wisely so as not to become overwhelmed. Don’t lose sight of the importance of personal time!