Do you have a colleague who is consistently producing poor quality work that impacts your ability to complete your work? Have you tried teaching them where the mistakes are and offering suggestions for how to ensure they don’t creep into the next project, only to find yourself in the same situation next time around? What if you’ve mastered your emotions by reading my previous post and want to help this colleague improve, yet their apparently carefree attitude makes them seem completely uninterested? This post will share some ways of coaching your un-coachable colleague when you’re not their boss.

Idea 1: Start small!

Don’t try to teach your colleague everything all at once. Chances are they will resent this and immediately clam up, become defensive or just completely ignore your advice.

Instead pick one thing that you think should be easy for them to learn, and will have a reasonably big impact on the quality of their work.

Now try dropping some hints on how to improve this one thing using the other ideas below.

Idea 2: Treat it like a side project experiment

Don’t invest yourself too heavily in coaching your un-coachable colleague. Instead, think of it as a management experiment for when you’ve got some troublesome employees or you need to influence a senior stakeholder to change their ways by managing up. What are some tactics you see other managers using to influence or convince their peers?

Idea 3: Make it about ideas that improve things for them, rather than criticism or pointing out mistakes

Before you speak to your colleague think about what’s in it for them. How will they benefit from making certain changes? Then when you speak with your colleague you can focus on these points. For example: If you structure the documentation of this feature as a contents page that links to a detailed child page for each area, it’ll be much easier to maintain than having it all on one page. It’ll save you time finding things and making changes when needed. It’ll also be much quicker to write because you can reuse the modular pages you created.

Idea 4: Lead them to come up with the idea themselves

Imagine you are teaching someone to play football, or you could be teaching them to play chess! If you simply annihilate them in a couple of minutes do you think they’ll feel like they want to learn anything about football anymore? On the other hand if you play hard but not too hard and you let them win, they’ll be really pleased with their progress and be eager to learn more.

Similarly if you let your colleague win by coming up with the idea themselves, they’ll feel encouraged to keep going at it. How to actually accomplish this in a work setting is trickier. Perhaps you could pose questions to try to get your colleague thinking on the right track. For example: How can you make sure that if you need to change something in your documentation, you only need to change it in one place and don’t have to go searching through pages of words to find all the places that might be affected by the change?

Idea 5: Can you understand what makes it hard for them and take away environmental frictions?

Setting up your environment to reduce friction that makes you procrastinate is a great way of making it much more likely that you follow through with things. For example if you prepare a healthy sandwich at night, you’ll be much more likely to take that with you to work and avoid unhealthy fast foods. This is because you’ve eliminated the environmental friction of having to prepare the sandwich in the morning before you go to work.

If you can figure out what these frictions are in your colleague’s environment and you can eliminate them, then your colleague will also take the path of least resistance and ultimately produce better quality work.

Think about what could be contributing to your colleague taking the quick fix route that ends up in poor quality work which slows you down when it comes time to complete your tasks. Are there any tweaks you could make to the work environment? Is there anything upstream of your colleague that you can influence such that there’s less resistance to your colleague producing high quality work?

What tactics and strategies do you use when you need to coach someone who doesn’t report to you?

We all have colleagues whose output we depend on to do our own jobs. What if you have such a colleague who produces poor quality output, over and over again, to the point where it’s extremely frustrating and you’re about to explode? This post will show you 5 steps for handling this kind of colleague without getting publically frustrated, showing emotion and regretting it later when the team is surprised at how unreasonable you are acting.

The problem

After receiving some poor quality work, you make an effort to point out the gaps and ask your colleague to correct these, expecting that the quality will be better next time. However even after you’ve pointed out the mistakes, it’s the exact same story on the next project.

Once they’ve handed over to you, your colleague may be extremely slow to respond to questions and feedback, even claiming they have other priorities. They know the perception of the team is that the task is on your plate now, so they aren’t worried at all.

While you spend days asking your colleague to re-work their output to plug the gaps and bring it up to a reasonable level of quality so you can deliver on your tasks, the team thinks you are the bottle neck and can’t understand why it’s taking you so long to complete your tasks.

You feel like you’re colleague is getting away with laziness, it’s causing constant delays in your work and nobody is noticing.

What if it’s been going on for 3 months?

Step 1 – Rise above

When you dislike someone intensely, everything they do annoys you… Take a minute to think about your situation; is this what’s happening? If so, just being aware of this will help you rise above your colleague’s behaviour.

Think of it as seeing someone on the street yelling “Gravity is a government conspiracy!” You wouldn’t spend hours thinking about it, draining your energy on something pointless. You’d laugh and completely move on in about 3 seconds; saving your energy for things that move you towards your goals.

Step 2 – Stay aware of your emotions

When you are more aware of your emotions during your interactions with people, you’ve got a much higher chance of recognising when your buttons are being pushed. Then you can take a step back. You can choose how you react and remain calm and in control.

You can train yourself to become more aware of your emotions by reflecting on your interactions. Think how you could have handled X better? If you journal these, and review the journal it will help you train yourself to handle frustrating situations like a professional.

Step 3 – Live to fight another day

You have a finite amount of political capital which takes a long time to recharge. If you make a big fuss over something small, it will be more difficult to get your way over something important. Out of control emotions will make you dig deep and turn things into arguments that can damage your reputation.

Once you recognise this you can distance yourself when you feel frustration rising, buy some time and plan how to handle your lazy colleague’s behaviour using only the facts.

Step 4 – Measurement and transparency

When your colleague’s behaviour is affecting your performance and you’ve learned how to prevent yourself from overreacting emotionally, it’s time to take action.

This is not about correctly assigning blame. This is about identifying the root causes of inefficiencies in the team’s process in a clear and objective way so that solutions and improvements can be identified.

What gets measured gets managed.

When you have tasks that are being blocked by your colleague’s poor quality output (which is input for your tasks), determine a metric or metrics for measuring the standard of input you’re receiving.

This could be to measure the time spent advising and waiting for your colleague to clarify and update their work, or the number of occurrences of these clarifications, or the number of items that need to be re-worked as a result of the poor quality input you receive, or the impacts on overall quality of the team’s product.

For example you are a developer or quality assurance staff and the specs you receive consistently have huge gaping holes all over the place. Keep track of the time and actions taken to resolve, measure the number of clarifications needed, the number of items requiring re-work, the time taken to resolve and overall lost time available to complete your work.

For transparency make sure it’s clear who the task is currently sitting with and what the next action is. For example if you have an electronic task board, don’t keep tasks assigned to yourself in your work-in-progress queue when you can’t actually work on them. Otherwise managers will think you’re working on it and question you as to why it’s not getting done. Update the title or add comments to make it clear it’s blocked and the reason why it’s blocked, while you work on getting your colleague to update their output.

Step 5 – Only focus on solutions

Once you have the metrics and some data, you can bring these measures up in team discussions and propose solutions. Say “we seem to be spending a lot of time on this, maybe we can try X which would reduce the time spent on Y and get our product out to market faster”

Remember to always come with a proposal and articulate it in a way that shows it’s important to the organisation.

If you have the data and a proposal to improve the team’s processes, this should be received well by the rest of the team and by managers – who wouldn’t want to implement a change where they can easily measure and see its effectiveness on the team’s overall output?

With data, a proposed improvement, and a reputation for always being professional gained by being aware of your emotions, you won’t be perceived as a complainer. Instead you’ll be seen as reasonable and trying to help the team and the company – and with this, you’ll be much more likely to see change in your lazy colleague’s behaviour which improves your enjoyment of the work you do.

What other strategies do you use to stay calm when dealing with a lazy colleague?

Further reading:

How smart people handle difficult people

A well thought out folder structure based on artefacts (e.g. payslips from Company X go in the Company X folder under the Payslips folder within your Financials folder) is essential for keeping your digital files organised so that you and your significant other (for personal) or colleagues (for work) can locate things easily.

I’ve learned that email is a different beast altogether.

Having a simple workflow for processing your email, combined with the Instant Search operators results in many productivity benefits during your stay and when moving between companies.

As a lot of large corporates run Microsoft Outlook by default, this post focusses on using the Instant Search operators Microsoft Outlook; however you can achieve the same results with any email client.

Work email is highly transient and only viewed by you

Why spend time creating a careful filing system for work emails when you’re going to delete them all after finishing your contract or moving to a new company anyway? Even while staying at the same company you often end up deleting all work emails older than a year, or once a project has implemented.

You’re also the only one looking through your emails, so no need to place things where others can find them, especially when you find out how much faster it is to find emails using the search tools at our disposal.

With a folder structure, you waste time thinking about where to file each email when you’re done with it – this can be a constant drain reducing your decision making willpower throughout the day, making you less productive. You also waste time trying to find emails: did I put that in folder X or folder Y?

The AE Simple Email Workflow

Have a look at the AE Simple Email Workflow. Full Inbox Zero article here is well worth a read.

I actually prefer their newer Inbox Zero workflow diagram, as it shows the path to Trash and the Calendar which you need to utilise to decrease email clutter. Full email challenge article.

There are no folders and emails are put into an Archive folder without any thinking needed after processing them. This eliminates the drain on decision making willpower. The other thing you’ll notice is the use of a task manager. I’m currently just using a single paper list for my major tasks for the day and using the Outlook flags for emails I need to reply to or follow up.

This is a really great system that will make you more productive processing emails. The Instant Search operators make you more productive working with your email archive and faster at finding emails.

Instant Search – setting up Outlook

Change the default search to include all mail items by following this simple guide with screenshots from ExtendOffice.

Now all you need to do is press Ctrl+E and type the query.

Warning: If you’re afraid of personal messages showing in search results while someone is standing over your shoulder, don’t use all mail items by default. As long as you have everything in one archive folder your searches will still be very effective.

The Outlook Instant Search operators

The basic syntax is <operator:keyword>. Here’s what I found useful in the past week since I’ve been using the Instant Search.

  1. from:<name>
  2. from:<name> to:<name>
  3. received:>=1/1/2017 from:<name>
  4. received:11/3/2017..15/3/2017
  5. hasattachment:true
  6. subject:”Project XYZ update”
  7. about:Communications
  8. hasflag:true

Once you find a message, you can quickly search for all other messages in that conversation using:

Shift+F10, then press f, then press c

Or simply right click the email, select Find Related, then click Messages in This Conversation

The query is updated with:

[Conversation]:=”Email subject line”

Using just this handful of operators I’ve dramatically reduced the time needed to find emails, and there are many more operators I haven’t tried yet.

The comprehensive office support article explains each operator with examples.

If you still have any doubts, try this for one week: keep a log of your searches and what you were looking for when you did them. For example here’s my log:

  • search 1: from:”name” about:auto
  • search 2: from:”me” hasattachment:true about:PDF
  • search 3: from:”me” to:name hasattachment:true
  • search 4: from:name received:past month
  • search 5: subject:”important project”
  • search 6: sent:>=date subject:project
  • search 7: from:me to:name about:words
  • search 8: from:name
  • search 9: [Conversation]:=”market report”
  • search 10: from:me subject:words
  • search 11: from:name
  • search 12: from:name received:=date
  • search 13: received:date..date

Some operators appear to work faster than others

I haven’t been able to find much specific information on this, however noticed that using “about:keyword” seems to slow the search considerably while using “from:person” and “received:>= date” and “subject:keyword” are very fast.

A little time investment learning the most efficient way of performing a common task

This is one example of how a small investment in learning the most efficient way of performing a common day to day task can repay itself over and over each day resulting in huge cumulative benefits over the course of your working life.

Another one of these is learning the Excel shortcuts for showing/hiding columns, deleting a selected row or column, quickly formatting the header row for data tables, formatting cells as currency, changing the selection in a formula between absolute and relative referencing using F4, and learning how to use Excel tables.

Yet another is learning to type correctly – this will really pay off every day for the rest of your working life! Or at least until technology input alternatives become the norm.

Aside – Slightly different system for personal emails at work

Workplaces commonly have restrictions on .pst files for information security which can make it hard to get personal emails off your work email when you sometimes want to retain these.

I still like to use a very small number of folders specifically to separate personal emails as this makes it easy to save these when move between companies. There are a couple of quick straight forward methods:

  1. Select all messages in one of your personal folders, then save as .txt using the file menu in Outlook. This article has more detail on saving one or more outlook emails to text
  2. Or, you can select multiple emails and print to PDF using CutePDF Writer.

Further reading on getting the most out of Microsoft Outlook

  1. Very long article however some great ideas in there, maybe read over a few sessions: Best practices for Outlook.
  2. According to this article there is a limit to the number of items you can have in one folder without slowing your searches: Single folder item limit.
  3. Indexing – If your searches are extremely slow, perhaps indexing isn’t turned on: Indexing article.

What’s the next great benefit from efficiently performing a day to day task? Getting serious about learning to use Google search operators correctly?

Let us know if you have other email searching tips or strategies.

Business PresentationThis is a long post so I’ve broken it into two parts

  • Part 1 – look at your own meeting booking habits
  • Part 2 – The story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings

Part 1 – look at your own meeting booking habits

Meetings can be effective in the corporate world when used well, however a complaint I hear a lot is that there are too many useless meetings. Meeting after meeting and scattered across the week with small gaps in between. Couple that with a workplace culture or a senior manager that absolutely loves meetings, and an overzealous Scrum Master that books all more and more meetings – can quickly lead to frustration. Especially when you’re asked the next day: So why haven’t you finished that work?

What can you do when endless and pointless meetings are sapping your productivity?

An effective meeting

First, we need to understand what a good meeting is made of. Here are some simple guidelines for a good meeting:

  • Have a specific purpose or expected outcome for the meeting
  • Have someone to facilitate that meeting (usually the organiser)
  • Have someone taking minutes and actions
  • Only people who need to be there, are there (and conversely if there are critical participants make sure they are going to be there so others’ time isn’t wasted if they’re not)
  • The meeting is time-boxed doesn’t go over the time-box; wrap up and continue another time to show you respect others’ time by keeping them on schedule
  • Keep it short if possible – a 30-45 minute meeting will expand to take a full hour if you book it for an hour.

With the minutes, make sure these are only the important decisions and actions. When you send it to people you want them to think “Thanks! That was good and useful information to have.” Once they read them. You don’t want to send 6 pages of conversation that will only waste people’s time if they open and read it.

This is just another way of respecting people’s time – always think about that before you organise a meeting.

Can you achieve the outcome with other communication methods?

Before you organise a meeting ask yourself if you can achieve the outcome more efficiently with other communication methods.

E.g. Scheduling a 10 person meeting for 30mins to give a status update will take up 45mins of those 10 peoples’ times as they have to get to and from the meeting as well as wait for others to arrive. You could have just sent an email and achieved the same outcome much more efficiently…

  • Need something now? – use the phone
  • Need something soon / want to multitask? – use instant messaging
  • Doesn’t matter if they don’t reply for a couple of days? – use email

Is the cost of this meeting worth it?

Another way you can discourage yourself from scheduling unnecessary meetings is to do a quick calculation of the cost of taking X number of people away from their work for Y time – do you have a purpose for the meeting and is it worth that? Don’t suggest this to your own manager as that won’t go down well, but it’s good to think about for your own meetings.

So now that you understand what makes a good meeting and when it’s appropriate to organise one, you’re ready to change your workplace culture! See part 2 below – the story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings.

Part 2 – The story of a manager who absolutely loves meetings

I’m sure you’ve all had a manager who absolutely loves meetings. I’m talking about having a pre-meeting discussion about the planning meeting where the project kick-off meeting is going to be planned. Imagine your manager loves meeting so much that you can’t get any of your own work done.

You need to understand what motivates your manager to do this.

It might be that your manager doesn’t actually know how to do good management work! They may think that they need to track and monitor every single thing their team members are working on all the time. So that if their boss asks, they know exactly who is working on what tasks. They also constantly organise status updates and many other types of meetings to let people know what they are working on.

This behaviour stifles the team because the team members can’t get anything done.

Your manager may think if they’re not filling their 40 hour week with this ‘management work’ then they aren’t providing any value.

However their value as a manager comes from helping their teams to get things done; not from doing ‘management work’ like status meetings. Their boss doesn’t need an immediate answer to every question – the boss just needs to avoid wasting time asking 5 different people to get an answer. The manager just needs to go to the right person and provide the info to the boss a short time later. The management work should take 10 hours a week, not 40 hours.

You can’t just go and tell your manager they don’t know how to manage!

How do you convince your boss to have fewer meetings?

You can have a discussion with your manager around the things you do that add the most value to the team and your organisation. Once you agree on these things, track our activity for the next couple of weeks and see how much time is spent on your most valuable input versus meetings, interruptions and other things.

Then in your discussion with your manager, share these findings and say: I’ve haven’t been spending my time on the things we both agreed are where I can add the most value to the organisation. A large proportion of my time is taken by meetings. How about if I excuse myself from meetings where I’m not really needed so I can spend more time on these other things?

Another thing to try is just suggesting improvements to your manager. Maybe suggest that if it’s a status update, the manager can send a spreadsheet or PowerPoint template to each team member to fill out with a couple of bullet points on the status of their work. The team members can email the slide back and the manager has the input needed for their project report. I see project coordinators do this a lot and never need a meeting to collect status.

You can also suggest technology to eliminate the need for more meetings. Collaboration software such as Confluence can be used for each team member to update a page with new information or work that has been done. Anyone who needs to know can subscribe to the page and receive notifications when it has been updated. Then people can ‘Pull’ updates instead of being ‘Pushed’ the updates which can be a much more efficient process for anything that’s not an emergency that immediately needs to be known by everyone.

The I Done This blog has an excellent article on having fewer meetings (http://blog.idonethis.com/fewer-meetings/).

What if they really don’t want to listen?

If your manager really won’t listen to anything you suggest and just wants to keep having meetings, it’s probably a deeper issue and you’d need to understand what motivates this manager to behave this way.

If you’ve understood the motivation and subtle suggestions still don’t have the desired effect, try your suggestions when other people send meeting requests – ask them to add the purpose or an agenda, ask them if you can be excused, or shorten the time for the meeting. Perhaps your manager will fall in line if others in the organisation want to try more efficient ways of working, with fewer meetings.

What if it’s not just your manager?

Imagine if it’s not just your manager but others in the company as well. You’ve also got a new Scrum Master who insists on 4 hour planning sessions for the sprint and 15 minute stand-ups that turn into 1.5 hour discussions every morning. Combined with the meeting loving manager you directly report to, and you’ve got no time for anything else but meetings!

This is where it’s become the culture of your workplace and just like any cultural workplace change, it’s going to be a very tough process and take a lot of effort to improve this.

Changing your workplace culture

The number one thing is to make sure that what you’re doing aligns to your organisation’s goals and benefits your organisation’s customers. Understand what drives the business and frame your communications in that context.

Lead by example – think of how you affect other peoples’ time before you book meetings, send emails, reply to all on emails or take up people’s time with needless gossip. Once you build a reputation for efficiency and getting things done then you can slowly bring in a suggestion for improvement.

Start with one suggestion and keep mentioning the benefits of trying this one change. Try to bring this idea to a decision maker high enough in the organisation to put it into practice. Maybe your organisation has an ideas portal or a town hall where you can make the suggestion.

If you can get one suggestion implemented that removes a re-occurring meeting that many people complain about, people will see the benefits of this and it’ll become a snowball that builds more and more momentum. Eventually you’ll have changed the culture of the workplace by making it more efficient and improving team morale.

How do you avoid too many meetings at work?

positive-attitudeOne thing I’ve learned from interactions with senior executives is that they always have very positive attitudes. One week away from an IT system release, 50 open high severity issues, loose ends not tidied up, signoff from the business not obtained, quality doesn’t look that great, but the IT leaders are optimists. In the face of all this, they still maintain the calm and positive attitude that everything is working out. Why?!

Your attitude is contagious

If the IT executive goes into a status meeting with business stakeholders with a negative attitude about how bad the quality of the system is, the business stakeholders could easily spiral into a panic. The business stakeholders then take this back to their departments and escalate to their managers. Soon other senior executives are hearing about how bad the project is going. At that point the CIO will start getting blamed and this is not good for the IT executive, the reputation of their team or ultimately for the company and its customers either.

Your attitude affects the attitudes of those around you in the same direction.

This is why people in leadership positions always maintain an aura of limitless optimism. Because they know how their attitude and behaviour will affect others and a positive attitude is always going to have better results.

There are always positive alternatives to move forward

For our IT executive facing a tight deadline with a troubled project and a room full of business stakeholders with expectations of delivery, imagine what a difference a positive attitude makes. The executive says:

The team’s been working very hard and we are looking good for the release next weekend. All the high severity issues will be resolved by X and we’ll have business signoff on Y. Training and comms have been occurring over the past weeks so the business is ready. Feature Z will be delivered in a patch two weeks later and we’ve got this alternative procedure to help till then.

So here not everything can be fixed in time however a change could be delivered in a patch release. Still keeping the stakeholders happy, an alternative process could be put in place, some minor or less often used capabilities could be deferred to a phase 2 with a roadmap in place to achieve them in 3 months’ time.

The result is that yes, the quality of the system may not be flawless however the business stakeholders are not panicked. They haven’t caused alarm in their departments. The CIO is not getting blamed by other executives. And the company’s customers are benefiting from the release still going live.

As a CEO who would you rather have work with you? As an employee who would you rather work for?

You’d rather have a person with a positive attitude working for you and leading your teams than someone who is going to cause panic and reduce the moral of other people in the company, making the company as a whole less productive. As an employee your job is more enjoyable working for someone who is always optimistic than working for someone who shows a negative attitude.

At a macro level, what about the culture of the whole company?

With leaders exhibiting a negative attitude, the team descends into gossip and finger pointing. Attempting to blame others and spending their time covering themselves from blame rather than working towards the team’s goals in the most efficient way.

When the company has leaders who are always optimistic and exhibiting a positive attitude, these attitudes will be picked up by all employees in the company. The employees will feel energised to work and want to strive to achieve things. Where this occurs all across the company, the culture becomes positive and influences staff interactions with customers and also attracts more positive talent to come and work with the company.

Cultivating your positive attitude

So it’s clear why a positive attitude and optimistic outlook is so important for the progress of your career into leadership positions.

Recognising and choosing your attitude

Our greatest freedom is our freedom to choose our attitude – Viktor E. Frankl

You want to be able to recognise what your attitude is at any given moment and how it’s affecting others. When you’re conscious of this and develop this ability you can exercise your freedom to choose your attitude at work.

Positive self-talk

There’s an excellent article at Peter Stark’s Blog that includes 10 ideas to help you exhibit a positive attitude.

One of these is to choose positive self-talk. You can slowly train yourself to think more and more positively through journaling. E.g. if you keep a journal and every morning write down one positive thing or an optimistic thing about the future. Having this in your mind as you go to work will set you off on the right foot and the regular journaling will keep switching your mind to a positive frame of reference for the day ahead.

So take these two actions every day to cultivate a positive attitude at work

  1. When you go into each interaction be aware of your attitude and how it may affect others
  2. Practice your positive self-talk to put your mind in the right frame of reference

There are more great ideas in these articles:

How do you maintain a positive attitude at work?

less-is-moreBrief succinct communication can be much more effective than lengthy explanations and will increase your productivity in the workplace. Emails will have dramatically greater response rates and shorter turnaround times, and when you’re communicating face to face senior stakeholders and executives will listen and understand your message.

A simple example used in this article, Brevity is beautiful, will give you a sudden realisation: Which is easier to understand, z is equal to three times x plus two times y, or z = 3x + 2y?

How to write brief emails

First write out your email and stop before sending it. Critically review the email by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Is the subject specific and meaningful?
  2. If the reader only reads the first sentence, did I get the most important question/action across?
  3. Is the whole email longer than 6 sentences?
  4. Does the email contain more than 1 idea? More than 1 question?
  5. Are there any superfluous words or phrases that can be shortened without losing clarity?

For each question you answered yes to, re-word, cut out or otherwise change the email.

This process means you spend some time revising the email before sending, however it achieves significant results:

  • It shows you respect the reader’s time (their most precious and limited resource)
  • Your reader can easily interpret the message and determine the action required of them and when they need to do it
  • With one idea/question, there’s very little chance the reader will miss something which means less of a need for subsequent back and forth emails
  • Your reader is much less likely to be thinking “ah! it’s too long and hard to understand, I’ll leave it for later” and then completely forget about it resulting in you having to follow up again
  • Useful subject line means the reader can determine their action without opening it and even integrate with a task manager

Remember: the larger or more senior the audience, the more time you should spend crafting your email.

What about face-to-face communication?

If you’re dealing with senior stakeholders take a leaf from this article on Working with Executives.

Understand what drives your business and frame your communications in that context. Anticipate what they’ll be asking you about or think about what you need from them and prepare. Just writing down some bullet points will help you structure what you want to say so that you can get across exactly what you want without taking up much of their time (or yours – remember your time is as valuable as theirs).

Help – even with my brief emails I’m being ignored!

Call them on the phone. Emails can be ignored easily. Even instant messaging can be ignored for hours.

However once your stakeholder hears that ring from their desk phone… that cannot be ignored. They’ll pick up immediately and you save 2 days of waiting for their reply to an email, or 2 hours waiting for them to reply to your instant message.

Even if they weren’t at their desk, once they get back from lunch they’ll see that flashing red light indicating a voicemail is waiting and they won’t be able to stop from checking the voicemail and hopefully also returning your call.

How do you make your communications brief and relevant?

80_635_400_brevity_clarity_main

valueAfter writing up my plan for the day the night before and starting on the work when I get to the office in the morning, I think it’s all going well. I get onto my most important task and start powering through it. Soon it’s 11.30am, almost midday and I’m ¾ through it. During this time I’ve been reminded of a few things by colleagues who have dependencies on me and I realise… I’ve just spent all that time, and the highest energy time of the day as well, working on something nobody cares about!

The things my bosses and customers really care about haven’t been done. Instead, some extremely low value work got done!

For example in one role I spent a lot of time collectively writing meeting minutes. One meeting minutes document for every meeting I hosted. I host a lot of meetings each week in my role and keeping these records for the project took a lot of time…. And nobody ever looked at them afterwards. I thought I was doing a good job taking care of project governance with minutes, actions register and RAID register. The actions register was very useful however the minutes… close to zero value in this organisation, while things people did care about were not being done efficiently.

I was wasting a lot of time working on useless things.

I learned that there are two key factors to avoiding this situation and ensuring that I use my most precious resources – time and energy – to generate the most value.

  1. There will always be more to do than there is time to do it
  2. Think like a general manager

More to do than time to do it

As you become more senior, the number of people wanting to see you will grow and grow. At some point there will be so many emails and people queuing up outside your door that it won’t be physically possible to reply or speak to them all.

Similarly there will be more work and more distractions as we’re likely to become even more overloaded with information than we are today.

You might think that’s easy to deal with – prioritise! However prioritising is just listing everything in order and you’re still aiming to complete everything on the list, resulting in effort on extremely low value tasks – what we’re trying to avoid.

You need to actively throw away or delete tasks that are very low value. This ensures you aren’t ever wasting your effort on these tasks and there’s no chance of putting them above others.

Think like a General Manager

To quote from this article from Azzarello Group says:

  1. Understand what drives the business
  2. Put your work and communications in that context
  3. This gives you a tremendous advantage. Don’t miss this.

So if you’re working towards the larger goals and strategy of your business then that’s always going to add value and you’ll be viewed as having leadership qualities.

This article from Good cautions about sunk costs – Quarterbacks are taught to forget the play that just failed and focus on the best decision right now. This means if you have made a bad decision to start doing a task in a certain way, don’t think you need to continue doing it that way.

If there’s a better, more efficient way of doing something then just start the next iteration the new way and see if it works.

When you’re writing your to-do list for tomorrow, do this

Apply the above two factors to your plan for the day. After you’ve written out the tasks you plan to do tomorrow just read over them quickly, thinking:

  1. Does this relate to what drives the business?
  2. Would a customer value this?
  3. Can it be done more efficiently without making much difference to the value produced?
  4. Is it mandatory for some other reason?

If the answer is no to these questions, consider just removing the task all together and not doing it. If it’s only a medium value task and you can do it more efficiently without losing much value then just do it the more efficient way – once. Then the momentum will let you continue doing it the more efficient way.

Solving the meeting minutes problem

The meeting minutes were extremely low value however sometimes helpful for people not to forget decisions made and not to have to keep discussing the same questions later again. So I made it much more efficient by using the Outlook integration with OneNote, right click the meeting, and click OneNote, type up the notes during or immediately after the meeting in 5-10 minutes. Thinking of it as ‘Washing your bowl’ or clearing to neutral.

I resisted doing this previously because when saving as word doc from OneNote the formatting doesn’t look good at all and some things are missing from the template after you create the page via Outlook. However none of that was important – close to zero value and certainly did not contribute to driving the business or creating value for the customer. I could get the small value of the minutes from the much more efficient way of producing them. The next step I’ll take is to not write them at all unless I’m planning on sending to somebody afterwards or for regular working groups.

How do you make sure you’re working on the right things?