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How to Get Your To-Do List Done When You’re Always in Meetings

Each morning, you emphatically write at the top of your to-do list, “Work on presentation!” Perhaps you even underline it a time or two for emphasis. But at the end of the day, your resolve has turned to dismay: yet again, you spent most of your time in meetings. And when you had a bit of time between them, you didn’t make any progress on your presentation.

So you keep waiting for the “perfect time” to sit down and knock out the whole project in one go. But meetings keep interfering and your presentation languishes on your to-do list, weighing heavily on your mind until you can’t escape it any longer. In a flurry of activity, you work day and night to get it done. You meet the deadline, but suffer in the process and dread the next time you need to finish another large task.

This cycle of knowing what your most important priority is, but feeling like meetings keep you from doing it, can be incredibly frustrating. But as a time management coach, I’ve seen that even if this way of working has been your life-long pattern, you can develop a more sustainable and less stressful approach to projects. Here are some tips on how to get project work done even when you need to start and stop for meetings.

First off, I want to challenge the idea that there’s a “perfect” time to move ahead on projects. A meeting-free day or even half-day may be your ideal, but you may never have this type of time. Waiting for a slice of project nirvana keeps you from getting started when you can. A better approach is to accept and work within the reality that meetings happen.

Next, to understand how to work on big projects in the smaller spaces between meeting, break the larger item into smaller parts. You can use your checklist as a guide for how to make incremental progress when you have a 30-minute break between meetings. For example, to prep for a presentation, you might write out:

  • Search for boss’s email about key points she wants covered
  • Look at notes from the last meeting
  • Talk to the building project manager
  • Think through the structure of the presentation
  • Write up the deck
  • Insert charts
  • Double check citations
  • Edit for typos and flow
  • Send to boss for approval
  • Schedule meeting to review the deck internally prior to the board meeting
  • Make edits
  • Write meeting agenda
  • Distribute deck and meeting agenda prior day

Even if you can just tick off one or two of these items at a time, you are still making progress. And when you come back to work on the presentation after some time away, you’ll know what you’ve accomplished and what’s next.

Another strategy is to protect some unbroken stretches of time in your schedule by putting in project time as a recurring event. For example, some of my coaching clients will block out an hour or two each morning for focused work. Some others have two, two-hour blocks of time in the afternoons each week marked as “busy.” Inserting in project time to give you at least an hour to get things done each day, preferably more, allows you to build some momentum day-by-day and week-by-week. It’s likely people will try to schedule meetings during those times, but when you can, hold firm to those boundaries.

Guarding time for projects as a recurring event starts to open up some room between meetings. But to really get project work done, you need to have pre-decided what you will do during those open times. If you don’t, the path of least resistance will lead to doing the first thing that comes to mind — like answering email.

You can approach making decisions about how to fill the project time in a few different ways. One strategy is to schedule in the projects as you receive them. For example, when a meeting is scheduled to present the latest data on your new building project to the board, you could immediately edit some of the project blocks of time in your calendar to designate the prep you will need to do. You may have two or three project work blocks marked for working on the PowerPoint presentation and then another project work block designated for practicing in front of your colleagues prior to the meeting. I use this scheduling strategy often — putting in time for writing articles, creating schedules for clients, etc., in my calendar as soon as I’m aware of the project and the deadline.

Another way to tackle project calendar blocks is to assess your priorities on a weekly basis. You can do this on your own, though in some work environments it makes more sense to do this planning as a team. Once your priorities are decided, put them into the open blocks of time in your schedule. This will give you a realistic picture about what will actually fit, and will give you advanced clarity on what you need to accomplish to avoid yet another week of little-to-no progress. Then, when you do sit down to do project work, refer to your checklist of smaller tasks. Accomplish those first, and then use the last five or 10 minutes before your next meeting to check email.

Also, be sure to save what you’ve completed and leave yourself a note of exactly where you stopped and what’s next. You can write any updates on your task list such as “left voicemail for building project manager, follow up if haven’t heard back by Friday.” And, of course, check off or delete items when you successfully complete them.

Although you may long for the perfection of a meeting-free day, you can still get project work done when you’re interrupted by meetings. Use these strategies to start making progress on your projects now.

 
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What to Do When a Work Friendship Becomes Emotionally Draining

Having a close friend at work can make you happier, more productive, and less likely to quit. But office friendships can have downsides, too. What should you do if you’ve gotten too emotionally involved? How do you make sure that your relationship doesn’t impinge on your ability to get your job done? What sort of psychological boundaries should you put up? And how do you establish them in a way that doesn’t hurt your colleague’s feelings?

What the Experts Say
Empathy is an important component of emotional intelligence and, thus, an asset in the workplace; it helps you connect with others in a meaningful way. But you don’t want to “let your emotions take over” and become so involved in a work friendship that it depletes your energy and productivity, says Susan David, author of Emotional Agility. Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the author of How to Be Happy at Work agrees. “It feels good to be needed but it can become a burden,” she says. “It goes way beyond empathy if you’re spending too much time helping someone figure out their problems or you get upset, worried, or maybe even scared about getting it right.” If you feel like you and your coworker have gotten in too deep, here’s what to do.

Watch for the signs
When you’re neglecting your work to tend to an office friend, it’s a sign that something needs to change. Other red flags include feeling like “you’re on an emotional roller coaster” or like “you’re more attached to the other person and their experiences than your own,” McKee says. To assess whether your relationship is a healthy one, ask yourself a few questions: Is the relationship bringing me closer to the growth I want in my career? Are we both putting in the same amount of effort? Do I feel comfortable expressing thoughts and feelings that differ from my friend’s? Can I see multiple sides to the problem the person is experiencing or just their own perspective? Unfortunately, says David, “there’s no clear line in the sand of what’s OK and what’s not.” But if you answer “no” to any of these questions, consider making changes.

Don’t blame the other person
If you conclude that the friendship isn’t serving you, it’s normal to get angry or annoyed. “There’s an instinct to blame the other person and think, ‘You drove me to this.’ But that’s a disempowering position to take,” says David. Instead, think about your own role in creating the unhealthy dynamic. McKee suggests reflecting on what initially drew you to the person. Was it their personality? A work challenge you faced together? A hobby you share? This will give you useful information to disentangle your current relationship and will help you avoid similar situations in the future.

Don’t cut them off entirely
In most cases, there’s no need to abruptly end the relationship. You don’t want to go “from being their best friend to refusing to having lunch with them because you’re at the end of your rope,” David says. “You might be shutting down an important connection.” McKee agrees: “People think to change an unhealthy dynamic, you need to break it. But you don’t have to. Slight shifts can actually move the relationship in the right direction without making anyone feel bad.”

Change the tone of the conversation
It’s tough to tell a friend that you want to spend less time with them. “Sometimes the relationship is healthy enough for you to be that direct, but it’s rare,” says McKee. “If they’re self-aware and capable of having a deeply reflective conversation, you can dip your toe in the water and attempt to have the conversation.” But, in most scenarios, your strategy should be to “gradually shift” the way you speak with your friend. For example, “try to pick communication channels that are leaner,” McKee says. “If you’re spending a lot of time together in person, replace those interactions with phone calls. If you’re spending more time on video or phone, replace that with a couple of emails.” You want to create some physical distance and “tone down the intensity” of your interactions,” says David. Whenever possible, “reemphasize your professional relationship” and talk about the importance of work.

Narrow the scope of your interactions
Decide where you want to draw the line. “Think about the problems your colleague shares with you and carve out one or two of them that you want to continue to help with,” says McKee.  Then “enable [the person] to take action” on the others. “Connect them with someone who can help, David says. She suggests saying something along the lines of, “I feel like we’ve been going in circles on this. You may benefit from seeing a coach.”

Hold strong
It will take time to find a new balance. Your friend might not let you go willingly. But don’t get sucked back in just because they push. If they ask you why you’re not available for lunch, McKee suggests saying something along the lines of: “I miss our conversations too. But you know what I’m up against at work. I’ve really got to focus.” Or use the opportunity to direct the person to the topic you want to discuss by saying, “Why don’t we get together and talk about X?” If they make it hard, remind yourself that the short-term unpleasantness of drawing boundaries is less costly than the long-term drain on your energy.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Watch out for signs that you’re putting too much time or energy into your friendship and that it’s hurting your productivity or performance
  • Shift how you interact so that you’re spending less time communicating with the person
  • Offer to connect them with someone who can help them with their problems

Don’t:

 
  • Place the blame on the other person; chances are you had a role in creating the unhealthy dynamic
  • Cut them off entirely — that’s often not feasible or pleasant
  • Give in if they try to pull you back in; you need to hold strong to the boundaries you’ve set

Case Study #1: Encourage your colleague to reach out to other people
Aliyah Jones* was on a team with her colleague Carlos* for just over two years when the large accounting firm they worked for went through a merger. “As you can imagine, the whole thing was disruptive to everyone’s life,” Aliyah says.

Carlos regularly griped to her about the extra work that had been created. And Aliyah empathized with him. “I definitely got in on the complaining,” she says. But once he realized that Aliyah was a sympathetic ear, he complained to her about other issues as well. He was moving apartments and then his sister was sick. “He had a lot going on,” she says. “But it got off-kilter.”

The amount of time they spent discussing his personal life was “way too high,” Aliyah says and their “work wasn’t getting done.” She knew she had to pull back. But just as she was mustering the courage to do so, Carlos was involved in a car accident that kept him out of work for several weeks. Aliyah found herself worrying about how much help he would need from her as a result. “I already felt like he had overdrawn on his bank account of how much I was willing to listen to him, but my natural human empathy required me to be there for him,” she explains.

When another colleague pulled Aliyah aside to tell her that she was “really concerned” about how much time she was spending on the phone with Carlos and suggested she set some limits on her generosity, she knew it was time to make a change.

So she asked herself, “How do we dial it back?” The next time Carlos called, she encouraged him to reach out to a non-work friend and talk to his parents. “With his consent, I [also] spoke to his manager about him needing to take some time off,” which shifted some of the responsibility from her to the organization.

To Aliyah’s surprise, Carlos didn’t push back. “It definitely helped to have him reaching out to other people.” When he eventually returned to the office, she also set new boundaries. She stopped picking up her phone every time he called and started sending email responses to his voicemails. If he stopped by her desk, she’d tell him she was busy trying to get work done and ask him to email her.

“I realized that his oversharing was about trying to make sure I was on his side, so now I just make sure he knows I am,” she says. “It’s a much more balanced relationship now. I think of him as stronger and he knows he can trust me.”

Case Study #2: Use the direct approach if you think it’ll work
Sophia Bland, the chief information officer of ResumeGo, a small business that offers career coaching and resume writing services, managed a close friend who she had known since college. Let’s call her Carol.

“I had to juggle our professional relationship and our friendship on a regular basis,” Sophia says. Sometimes this made it hard for Sophie to be objective. “There were instances where I let things slide for her that I didn’t let slide for the other employees that I managed.” For example, on a few occasions, she covered for Carol being late to work, delaying a morning group meeting without telling the rest of the team why.

In Sophia’s view, Carol would take advantage of this “special treatment” and offer excuses for missed deadlines. “She’d tell me that she had such-and-such thing come up at home, or that she was having relationship issues with her boyfriend. I gave into the excuses at first.”

But over time, Sophia saw that Carol’s behavior was affecting her coworkers. “This was when I knew I had to put an end to the nonsense.” Still, she wasn’t sure how to handle it. “I had to find a way to convey to her that she had to get her act together, while at the same time keeping our friendship intact.”

Sophia decided to take Carol out to dinner. “This gave me the opportunity to sit her down and really talk face-to-face about the issues.” She didn’t level accusations but she was direct. “I told her I empathized with the problems she was having in her life, but [explained] that it was unfair to [expect] the other team members to show up early and work harder because she’d been dropping the ball.”

It was a civil conversation, and Carol seemed to get the message because she changed her behavior. The two women worked together for several more months before Carol found another job. “We’re still friends,” Sophia says. “Even though we no longer work together, we still see each other often and are on good terms.”


Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict. She writes and speaks about workplace dynamics. Follow her on Twitter at @amyegallo.


 
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Are You Outsourcing Your Stress Management?

Are you stressed?

Given that the World Health Organisation has called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st Century” your answer could well be in the affirmative.

What do you do to manage down your stress? Asking clients yields: I go for a long weekend away to get my head straight; I numb out on Netflix; I go to gym and pound the treadmill; I go for a sail to take my mind off work; I drink red wine; I go for a massage; I go for a run / bike ride; I head for the spa; etc. And there are plenty of other new options coming up, for example: oxygen therapy / bars that provide relief from stress.

What’s common in the list above? They are all options that outsource your stress management.

There is a good chance you’ve never thought of it like this … but I urge you to do so. Why?

Because I think these activities are palliative.  Sure, you are less stressed once you’ve done any of them but – and this is my point – the same you then returns to the same environment which caused your stress in the first place. Are you going to get stressed again? You betcha.

(Just to clear something up before I continue. I’m not saying don’t do any of the above activities; just do them for the pure enjoyment of them. If you love sailing then go sailing and enjoy yourself fully rather than using some of the time to destress.)

True stress management is an inside job (insourcing) and this, I believe, is accomplished by adopting the latest neuroscience practices. I’ve done this myself and can attest to the quite dramatic change that has occurred in me. Neuroscience practices literally alter the brain for a better outcome.

For any new practice to be effective they have to become habits but once they do you can “armour up” your stress defences 24/7. In my research, and personal experience, you will: have greater confidence; become more influential; be more productive; have better relationships; obtain greater resilience; and become more self-aware. I have!

I’ve identified 24 practices to bring about the above. You don’t have to embrace all of them from the get-go and neither do you have to practice everything within them. Life is a marathon. The practices I’ve identified are:

If you would like to know more about why you should be insourcing your stress management, please contact me:

021-674-3820  |  083-414-5756  

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  |  www.PeterMoss.co.za

 

Peter Moss holds a Diploma in Practitioner Coaching. He is further qualified in The Hay Group’s Emotional & Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) and Gary Norton & Associates’ Emotional Maturity Inventory, both EQ/EI Assessment models and is a Certified Level 1 Qualified Strengths Deployment Inventory Facilitator from Personal Strengths South Africa (SDI is the cornerstone tool of Relationship Awareness Theory). Peter has extensive experience in executive and business coaching, across a variety of companies and industries.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-outsourcing-your-stress-management-peter-moss?published=t

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What to Do When Your Heart Isn’t in Your Work Anymore

In an ideal world, our work lives would be completely fulfilling, full of meaning, and intrinsically motivating. But what if they’re not?  What if you’re stuck in a job or a career that you once loved, but your heart isn’t in it anymore?

More people fit this profile than you’d think. According to a 2017 Gallup survey, only one-third of U.S. employees feel engaged at work; that is, only one of three workers brings a consistently high level of initiative, commitment, passion, and productivity to their job. That leaves the majority of employees less than satisfied with their work.

And truth be told, there could be any number of reasons for this sense of malaise. You might feel stuck doing the same thing over and over again. You might question the ultimate meaning of the work you’re doing. You might feel micromanaged or that company leaders don’t know or care about your learning and growth. Or maybe your own growth and development since starting your career has caused you to change your passions and priorities in life.

I see and hear examples of career malaise all the time — in my work teaching and training people in companies, in discussions following my corporate talks, and in conversations with my family and friends. Though the tendency among some of us in this situation is to simply grin and bear it, current scientific research suggests ways to reimagine — or reenvision — an uninspired professional existence.

Assess what you want out of your work — at this point in your life. Not everyone wants a high-powered career. In fact, according to research by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski, people tend to fall into one of three categories: Some see their work as a career; others see it as just a job; and still others see it as a calling. It’s this third category of people, perhaps unsurprisingly, who exhibit higher performance and a greater sense of satisfaction with their jobs. The key for you is to determine what you care about now — what drives you, what you’re passionate about, what truly motivates you — and build from there. It’s quite possible that what drove your career in your 20s is no longer appealing. Don’t force your 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old self into your 20-year-old sense of ambition. Even if you don’t find your true calling, you will at least increase the odds of finding a meaningful work experience.

See if parts of your job are “craft-able.” There has been considerable research on the idea of job crafting, where you tweak certain aspects of your job to gain a greater sense of meaning and satisfaction. Research by organizational behavior scholars Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski has shown that people can be quite imaginative and effective at reimagining the design of their job in personally meaningful ways.

For example, if you enjoy analysis but not sales, can you adjust your responsibilities in that direction? If you love interacting with others but feel lonely, can you find ways to partner more on projects? One participant from Berg, Dutton, and Wrzesniewski’s research redesigned her marketing job to include more event planning, even though it wasn’t originally part of her job. The reason was quite simple: She liked it and was good at it, and by doing so, she could add value to the company and to her own work experience at the same time.

Or, consider this activity: Imagine that you’re a job architect, and do a “before” and “after” sketch of your job responsibilities, with the “before” representing the uninspiring status quo and the “after” representing future possibilities. What novel tweaks can you make to redesign your job, even slightly? Sometimes even the smallest adjustments can lead to qualitatively meaningful changes in your work experience.

Ignite your passion outside of work.It might be a latent hobby you’ve told yourself you don’t have the time for, a personal project that isn’t related to your job or career, or a “side hustle”where you can experiment with innovative or entrepreneurial ideas on a smaller scale. Having an outlet for your passion outside of work can counterbalance the monotony of nine-to-five daily work. These inspirational endeavors can even have unintended positive spillover effects at work, giving you energy and inspiration to craft your job or reengage with parts of work you actually like.

If all else fails, make a change. Think about changing your career like you’d think about changing your house. When you originally bought your house, you had certain requirements. But since then, your priorities may have changed or maybe you have simply outgrown it. Do you move, renovate, or stay put? You can think the exact same way about your job and career. Have your priorities and needs changed? Can you tweak or “renovate” your job? Or do you need to move on?

Of course, if you choose to change your career, you’ll want to think it through and prepare yourself before jumping in with both feet. Network with people in professions you might be interested in, get your finances in order, and test out the new career (perhaps on the weekend or at night) before making the change. It can feel daunting to change everything so suddenly, but it’s important to consider the option if you’re truly feeling a deep sense of malaise at work.

The most important thing, though, if you’re finding your interest waning at work, is not to lose hope. You can find ways to ignite your passion again — or at least make slight changes so you won’t feel so hopeless. You’ll likely be surprised at how resilient and resourceful you are as you walk down the path of career renovation.

Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. His forthcoming book, Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence is to be published by Penguin Random House in January 2017. For more information visit andymolinsky.com and follow Andy on Twitter @andymolinsky.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/07/what-to-do-when-your-heart-isnt-in-your-work-anymore?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert&referral=00563&spMailingID=17628354&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1060720754&spReportId=MTA2MDcyMDc1NAS2

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