Multi-tasking can be a dangerous productivity trap. Really! But it doesn’t have to be. Check out these posts about multi-tasking — I’ve included plenty of tips for improvement.
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July 27th, 2011
Building a high-functioning team takes courage, commitment, tenacity and a willingness to work with one another. In order to improve teamwork, it’s important to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then review to see if it worked or fell short of success.
Teamwork Challenge Tip #7: Sweeten the Deal
Today so many of us are multi-tasking with emails, running from meeting-to-meeting and working towards strict deadlines on the tasks we are responsible for that we sometimes forget to lift our heads from our computers and support someone else’s task. Similarly, we are sometimes quick to judge our team members if they’ve missed a deadline that impacts getting one of our own tasks to completion.
Teamwork is all about collaboration. Collaboration involves ongoing support.
This week’s challenge is something outrageously different. Find a co-worker and support one of their efforts. Peak around the threshold of their office door or hang over their workstation panel and ask the simple question “Is there any task on your plate that I can help you with today?”
What kind of response did you get? Was the task easy or hard? Was it a task you knew they were responsible for or did it surprise you? What task would you give a co-worker if they asked you the same question?
Remember to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then analyze the results. Let us know if this week’s teamwork challenge tip made a positive or negative impact on the effectiveness of your team.
Teamwork Challenge Tip #8 involves leaving your assumptions at the door.
November 03rd, 2010
Multi-tasking executives are constantly trying to find new methods for email time management. With statistics like the following, it’s easy to see why:
“A 2008 survey at Intel showed employees receive 350 emails per week on average; at Morgan Stanley, employees get 625 new messages per week. Executives’ incoming email volume was much higher. In some cases, workers spent 20 hours a week just dealing with email.” (Gina Trapani, “Work Smart: Conquering Your Email Inbox”)
Working with teams, I often hear firsthand the stress that email overload places on productivity. Most often, this is a sign that “team email norms” have not been articulated, agreed upon–or worse–are not being implemented.
If your team is overwhelmed with a tsunami of emails, it’s time to get a grip. Improve email time management in your organization by creating personal and team email norms:
Step 1: Schedule a Meeting to Create Team Email Norms
With post-it notes and a flip-chart, brainstorm ideas on how to increase email management effectiveness. Ideas could include:
- Agreements regarding email responses
(see my email management post, “Don’t Throw Your Junk on My Desk”)
- How to use TO:, CC: and BCC
(see: “Email Noise? Create Team Email Norms“)
- Ways to write an effective subject line
Step 2: Prioritize 2-3 Email Management Norms
Once all ideas are spoken and posted, ask each individual to place a dot on their top two ideas. This allows each team member to vote, buy-in, and agree upon the need for email norms to be implemented. Take the two ideas with the most amount of dots and implement them as your new team email management norms.
Step 3: Implement a Two-Week Team Email Trial
It’s important to try out the email norms for a defined period of time and then review how effective the changes have been for team productivity. Schedule a second meeting to alter anything that’s not working and to recommit to norms that are working.
Once you’ve got your team email norms in place, consider your own personal email time management techniques. My recent post, The Secret to Email Productivity for Executives, outlines an email time management technique I practice myself.
Every now and then, I need a reminder to increase my ongoing commitment to managing my email. I’m a huge fan of Gina Trapani, who has the same theory on email management as I do. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear the same message from someone else. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch her most recent video posted on Fastcompany’s site, Conquering Your Email Inbox:
I hope these tips help you overcome your email management issues. How have you managed to get your email under control? If you’ve tried any of the above tips, how has it worked or not worked for you? We’d love to hear from you!
October 13th, 2009
CEOs & leaders try to create a workplace culture to match their brand identity. However, management of productivity and results can sometimes set employees into a flurry of activity which, in turn, can detract from the espoused cultural norms.
The brutal fact is that in some workplaces the real cultural norms are – if you want to take a break, you need to start smokin’!
I received an email in response to my “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most unproductive of them all” post. The commenter (let’s call her Suzy) had the courage to blow the whistle on the unspoken norms in her workplace.
Suzy said the culture did not support the idea of taking a break here and there, going for lunch or just taking 5 minutes to walk around the office. Instead, she described how she found an outlet for a break with one of her smokin’ co-workers. She realized that the smoker took regular smoke breaks throughout the day. So she decided to share an outdoor break with the smoker. It was almost as if the habit of smoking allowed people to take a pause. During these short breaks, Suzy could re-group, re-energize and return to her desk being more focused and productive. The smoker has now left the team.
Suzy no longer has a reason to take a break, not being a smoker.
After reading my blog, Suzy checked her assumptions about the unspoken workplace norms with a couple of her co-workers. They agreed. One gent sheepishly revealed he felt the need to hide if he wanted to take a break.
What are the brutal facts of the workplace culture within your company? Are you allowed to take little breaks so you can be more productive? If you can’t, is your culture contributing to people burning-out?
Do you, CEOs, leaders and executives, have the courage to question the brutal facts of your espoused (this is what we say we do) workplace culture vs. the real culture (this is what we actually do)? Do you think that your culture is burning people out? If you want to find out, ask people anonymously. If the answer is no – great!
If you find out that your company has a burn-out culture. Are you willing to make the necessary changes – promoting individual productivity and team sustainability ?
And finally, please don’t start smoking just to take a break.
October 01st, 2009
Right now you’re probably buried with work, right? Even so, you took a quick break to check out this post. But if you’re like most executives, you probably need more “time out” from your workload to recharge, build relationships and trust, and maintain maximum productivity.
Believe it or not, most executives are not nearly as productive as they could be. So if you have another 80 seconds right now, check out this video on the importance of increasing productivity and building trusting relationships by simply taking a time-out within each day.
- For 30 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. shut off all electronic devices. Unplug from the business imperative that you must always be in touch. Instead be in touch for energized pockets of time,
- Make personal contact with people. Have 5-minute check-ins. Walk around, say “hello”, “how is it going?”,
- Peak at the ‘paper’ in the reception area – get the scope on who is waiting for a meeting with one of your colleagues and why?
- Take a colleague for a coffee or lunch. You can re-energize, build relationships, solve business problems and have fun all at the same time!
What else do you do during the day to recharge and improve your productivity? Let me know.
September 22nd, 2009
Email is a great source of stress and frustration for business leaders and executives. It kills productivity, hinders results and decreases personal motivation. A minor shift in your email management process can produce a major productivity improvement.
Clients tell me on a regular basis, “I get 300 emails a day,” “I have 1200 emails in my inbox ,” “It’s hard to stay on-top of the ‘incoming’ – urghh.”
Checking email, reading email and answering email can take hours of time if you let it. But only if you let it.
I have the secret to email productivity – and it works!
Picture your mailbox at home. Mine is a black metal mailbox affixed to a stone wall. Now, visualize it completely jammed with letters, over-flowing with envelopes.
At home, we don’t treat our mailbox as a storage system. We do not keep letters there for nights upon nights, weekends…forever. No! Every day we remove the mail, sort it and do something with it – open, toss or save for later. That’s the same thing you need to do with your inbox.
Here’s the solution: treat your inbox like a mailbox, not a storage box.
- Create 4-5 folders to prioritize messages. I use ‘Urgent’, ‘Important but Not Urgent’, ‘Awaiting Reply’, ‘Read’, ‘Resources’.
- When mail arrives, SORT into appropriate file folders before doing anything else!
- Deal with the ‘urgent’ emails once your sorting is complete. I look at my urgent emails twice a day.
- Deal with the secondary folders on a regular basis - I check the ‘Important but Not Urgent’ emails every second day and dip into the other files once per week.
In order to make this work, you will have to catch yourself to SORT first and to ‘deal with’ second. On the days when you let this slide, you will quickly notice how your emails get out of hand.
Try it and see how it goes.
September 15th, 2009
One of the things I’ve noticed this past year, especially given our difficult economic environment, is that individuals on teams are hungry for results. In fact, they’re so hungry for those results that they’re grasping everywhere they can –anywhere, from corners of the business — to get a result. That desperation is taking their focus off the company’s core strategic objectives and increasing their tactical behaviors.
It’s chaotic, really. And when they’re faced with chaos, many team members tend to focus more on their own individual activities – what’s happening on their own computer –instead of focusing on their teams and team objectives. And that’s increasing the “silo” effect within organizations, which hampers productivity, innovation, growth, and more.
So how can you combat this silo effect? By creating “interdependence” goals in your teams. These goals are designed to stimulate teamwork, combat silos, and increase engagement. There are many forms these goals can take; here are a few to get you started.
One-Way Learning Goal
means that the team sets a goal for all members to understand a specific concept well enough to explain it to another team. For example an engineering applications group and engineering sales team must explain their methods, goals and challenges to one another.
Product or Process Goals
encourage teams to reach consensus on product or process issues such as dealing with customer complaints or the launch of a new product.
create shared rewards for team members. For example, in a training program for product knowledge or customer relations, learners receive an individual score AND a certain number of points if all group members score at or above a certain benchmark.
means that individuals each possess specific resources needed for the team as a whole to succeed. This can be arranged by giving specific resources to different individuals in the team.
occurs when specific roles are assigned to team members (for example, recorder or time keeper). The roles can rotate weekly to give all team members the experience.
Task Interdependence Goal
occurs when one group member must first complete his/her task before the next task can be completed. For instance, collecting customer feedback might be assigned to two team members while research on customer feedback is done by two other team members.
One way to ensure that productive interdependence occurs lies with the face-to-face communication interactions between working team members. If leaders and executives create a plan to embed the different types of interdependence goals into monthly and quarterly plans, teams will show improved productivity along with team culture and professional trust.
Are you experiencing the silo effect in your organization? If so, can you think of any opportunities for including am interdependence goal into your teams within the next 30 days? Please share your thoughts in the comment area, and good luck!
September 03rd, 2009
Managing workplace interruptions can be done effectively when leaders, managers and executives have the courage to assert themselves by articulating clear boundaries and communicating them to their co-workers. Clear boundaries establish personal and professional work parameters so that individuals can focus on priorities and get results.
Recently a client asked me how to manage multiple interruptions at work.
Sue, the Vice-President of Marketing & Communications spent the first 2 hours of her morning in a meeting, drinking coffee, and plenty of water (can you see where this is going?). When the meeting ended all she could think about was getting to the washroom. Opening the boardroom door, she noticed her direct report.
Without even a “Hi” or “How are you” the report chimed “Did you get my email?”
Sue looked at her and immediately responded – “Just a sec”.
She continued to race to the washroom door, all the while, sensing her direct report was still following directly behind. Approaching the washroom door, and getting closer to her own office – she hears her desktop phone ringing. Her mind floods with reminders of the chaos of emails she left behind prior to the meeting. As she reaches for the handle of the washroom door, she feels the vibration of her PDA…
Can you imagine the sense of overwhelm that Sue must be feeling? I can. Leaders, managers and executives are challenged with multi-tasking each day.
Sue could have been more effective by asserting herself:
- In the moment the direct report said – “Did you get my email?” Sue could have kicked into the depth of her self awareness – sensing the feeling of overwhelm and chaos to set a clear boundary.
Simple solution: “give me 20 minutes”, not 2 secs but 20 minutes.
Why does she need 20 minutes?
Because, it is not possible to be effective in the midst of overwhelm. As a leader, it is Sue’s responsibility to manage herself effectively so that she can guide her direct reports to increase productivity and ensure team results. Sue needed to give herself 20 minutes. Get back to her office, read the direct reports email, ‘land’ after her first meeting and get ready for the second.
Leaders, managers and executives need to become more aware of how they get knocked off course with multi-tasking and other workplace interruptions. Use the skill of setting clear personal and professional boundaries to be more productive.
Are you willing to share your lastest story of how multitasking has thrown you off track? Please enter your story in the comment section – let’s learn from one another.
August 27th, 2009
One of my absolute favourite books is The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. In it, they cite a study in which a group of women committed to do a breast self-exam for 30 days.
One group of women said where and when they were going to do the exam, and 100% of those women actually did it. Among those who didn’t say where and when, only 53% completed it.
We can apply this same concept to daily planning & priority-setting. By defining “where and when,” you greatly improve your probability of success. You’ll be much more aware of what those priorities are, and it will be easier to manage your time, eliminate non-urgent activities, and create the momentum you need.
If you and your team are trying to gain more control of your time, here are three steps to stay on track throughout the day.
- Plan (7 minutes): Each morning, decide your top 2 “must do’s” today and write them down
- Realign (60 seconds each hour): Set an alarm to ring every hour and ask yourself, “Did I spend my last 60 minutes on my priority?” If “yes,” congratulate yourself and keep on it. If “no,” refocus.
- Reflect (3 minutes at the end of the day): Evaluate your performance. What did you do well? What happened to distract you? And how can you improve tomorrow?
Remember, if you avoid setting priorities, your time will eroded away. The key is focus, and writing down your priorities can make a tremendous difference.
August 25th, 2009
Managing interruptions and staying on top of daily multi-tasking each day is critical to being effective in business today. When business leaders discipline themselves to set clear priorities and communicate “norms for engagement” with co-workers productivity and results soar while overwhelm begins to decrease.
I recently had to find a new doctor. After I filled in the initial visit paper work, the receptionist handed me a document titled “Doctor’s Rules and Regulations” (norms for engagement). It clearly outlined the Dr. had only 10 minutes for each appointment. It directed me to bring one issue to the table at each doctor’s appointment. If I had two issues, I needed to make sure that I presented both within the 10 minute parameter.
The document then illustrated a time calculation: if each patient was one minute late multiplied by 45 patients per day equals the last patient waits an additional 45 minutes. He had clearly identified his priorities and this was his effort to communicate them to me.
Although my experience with the doctor was a little harsh, I recognized that he was clearly outlining his norms of engagement in my best interest. Think about it — one day I might be that last patient myself.
If you want to be more effective and manage your interruptions with increased ease, it is really important to sit down at the beginning of the day to consider your priorities. Whether it takes 5 minutes or 20 minutes – it is probably the most important time in your day
- to get clear on what you need to do,
- to be responsible for performance and results, and
- to clearly articulate your own norms of engagement to the people with whom you work.
That’s exactly what the doctor had done. He had clearly outlined his expectations of how I would prepare for the meeting, his expectations of how I would bring issues to the table. With this he clearly articulated our ‘norms of engagement’.
Take some time to identify what your priorities are for the day and to communicate them. Articulate your priorities clearly to others to establish “norms for engagement”.
May 11th, 2009
Be smart — stop multi-tasking!
In this video, I talk about how multitasking is one of the costliest behaviors in business. Use your emotional intelligence to increase productivity and have an effective day.