5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Do you ever leave work wondering what the hell you just accomplished in the last 8 hours? Between non-stop emails, phone calls, drive-by interruptions and meetings, our days feel wasted. And that’s a problem, since most of us want to walk away from work with the feeling we have actually completed something or at least made some mere progress from the day before.

Here are some things that I have found that improve my productivity and ultimately reduce my stress level at work. The trick for me, though, is that I have to mindfully and consistently practice them.

  1. At the beginning of each workday, I print my day’s calendar from Outlook. Most of my day is paperless, but printing this and keeping it within eyesight all day keeps me on track. As things are completed, I highlight them or put a checkmark next to them. At the end of the day, this becomes my visual reminder that I have accomplished something(s).
  2. As voicemails come in, or small requests are made from my customers, I jot these down on my printed day calendar so that I don’t forget about them. Periodically, i review these items for priority and time-commitment and ultimately decide if I can squeeze them into my day or if they have to move to another day’s schedule or task list. A lot of my stress comes from the fear of forgetting something, so having one place and one place only that my “reminders” are written reduces both the chance that I will forget something and eases the mental effort of constantly trying to remember all of the little things.
  3. I actually schedule email review and projects on my Outlook calendar. For example, from 9-10am and 3-4pm daily I open Outlook, review email, prioritize it, get the easy ones out of the way and figure out what to do with the big ones. By carving out time to review email, I’m setting a limit to how much time I dedicate to it and am giving myself permission to shut it down so that I can begin work on something more meaningful to my job. By scheduling time to work on projects, I’m also giving myself permission to tell others that I can’t meet or do not have time for their impromptu sit-down sessions.
  4. Setting boundaries and expectations for my time and efforts- this may be the hardest to do but pays off in dividends. When I receive a meeting request, before I accept, I require an agenda or a reason why the meeting is necessary from the meeting organizer. If the agenda is something that seems like it can be accomplished in a phone call or email, I decline the meeting with a reason why. I decline meetings that conflict with my task or project schedule or do not require my attendance. Since HR should be accessible, I do not like shutting my door. If an employee has a important matter to talk about, I will, of course, invite them in to talk. However, sometimes an open door policy works against you. In those moments, set boundaries with those people by asking if their question, or visit, requires an immediate response and if not, ask if you can schedule 10-15 minutes another time that is mutually convenient.
  5. Get up and walk around. This accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gets you away from your computer, gets you up and walking, gets the blood flowing, the brain can take a break and you can reset your eyes. Two,  if your peers see you up around the office, they can take these moments to ask you the little questions that they would have otherwise clogged up your email with yet another message.

Why We Can’t Disconnect.

France recently passed a Right to Disconnect bill providing employees the right to ignore work emails after hours without repercussions. Some have applauded the bill saying that it gives workers their personal lives back. Still others are skeptical that the law will really abolish a behavior that has become so conditioned in workers across the world.

Though benevolent in its motivation, the law won’t be successful. And even if it’s somehow successful in France, its D.O.A. in the United States. That’s because this law doesn’t address the real causes that lead to our inability to disconnect.

Only super humans set healthy boundaries. By many accounts, the current U.S. populace is one of the most debt-ridden, addicted, medicated and obese in history. This says a lot about our ability to say “no” and set healthy limits and boundaries for ourselves. That same underlying inability to set boundaries in our relationships with food, money, drugs and alcohol also prevents us from setting healthy boundaries with our work life.  If we can access work from our mobile device or laptop, we will answer that work email or take that work call.

The normal 8-5 factory of office job is no longer as the world has transitioned from the Traditional Economy to the Knowledge-Based economy. The boundaries that were once defined for us- punching a time clock  and using our hands to make a widget on a factory line- are the way of the dinosaur, extinct. Because most work can be done anytime and anywhere, individuals must rely on themselves to set their own boundaries. Which, as mentioned above, we aren’t good at.

We have been conditioned to be connected. Humans fear disconnection. In Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brené Brown writes “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” Constant connection to work means knowing the latest and greatest, it means coming to work on Monday with no surprises, it means being one step ahead of your colleagues and in many workplaces being connected all of the time is recognized as an admirable trait worthy of public praise and maybe even some additional compensation. Why, with all of this positive reinforcement, would we not want to be connected?

 

 

How To Ask For More Money. Part II.

In a previous post, I laid out initial steps you should take to ask for a raise in How To Ask For More Money, Part I.

Without further ado, here are the final steps to being flush with cash.

How About Your Performance? 

Third, you need to do some self-reflection and be really honest with yourself. This can be the most difficult step. If you are going to ask your manager for a salary review with the end goal to increase your salary, you had better know for certain if you are a valued employee doing valuable work. You had better be able to answer the question that a manager won’t ask but will be thinking, “what have you done for me lately?” if you want your company to show you the money. If you don’t already have copies, ask your manager or HR for your performance reviews. Look over them, have you progressively improved year over year? Have you met your goals? Have you earned additional designations? Have you increased your skill set? Put yourself in your manager’s shoes, if you had several grand each year to award to an employee at your discretion, who gets it? The employee who meets expectations year-over-year but never challenges themselves and loves the comfort zone or the employee who exceeds expectations by sticking their neck out to lead a highly visible project and eagerly pursues developmental opportunities? Then the hard part, you have to consider the value of your position to the organization. If you work for the R&D department in a tech firm, your position is likely highly valued. If you are the clerical assistant in an engineering firm, your position is not that highly valued. If any one can replace you in your position with minimal training and the same work gets done and at the same level, you do not hold a valuable position. All jobs are not created equal.

Sizing Up Your Manager

After reconnaissance and self-reflection, now it’s time to size up your manager and your relationship with him or her. Is your relationship more formal or informal? How long have you been working for him or her? Is your manager a front-line supervisor or senior manager? Is your manager hands-on in his or her employee’s professional development? Does he or she freely give recognition? Does your manager really understand what you are doing? Not just your job description but what you are doing. The answers to all of these questions are going to guide how you approach your manager, how you request a salary review and increase and how much and what type of ammunition you need to build your case. Use your emotional intelligence to get into your manager’s shoes.

The Salary Discussion

Now that you have properly done your research and are ready to ask for a raise, schedule time with your manager and let them know ahead of time that you want to discuss your compensation. Be prepared for the meeting, bring your talking points and all of the data you have gathered. Once you have presented your request and argument, your manager may straight up say no or tell you they need to get back to you. You need to be prepared for either of those answers and anything in between. Whatever the outcome, let your manager know you appreciate their time in listening to you and considering your request. If you do not get a raise, leave the door open to have further discussion with your manager by asking what you can do to be considered for one in the future. If you do receive an increase, be thankful for what you get and continue to work your ass off.

Good luck to you and may the odds be ever in your favor. 

How To Ask For More Money. Part I.

Feeling overworked and underpaid? Join the crowd. In a March 2016 article from Fortune, only a little more than 1/3rd of Americans feel they are paid fairly. As an HR Representative counseling employees, I often hear a multitude of reasons why people are unhappy to some degree with their salary. From the perception to being “on-call” all of the time, to doing more than what their manager realizes to just plain feeling undervalued, employees are starting to wonder how to take steps to ask for more money.

Before you barge into your manager’s office demanding more money with little to know argument to back up your request, which never works out well for anyone, I strongly urge you to do the following.

Do your recon.

First, you need to do a little reconnaissance. Schedule a meeting with your Human Resources department and tell them you want to discuss your compensation. You need to find out if the company has a compensation philosophy,  does the organization tend to pay above market, do they pay to meet market averages or do they lag the market? A lot of companies right now are opting to pay median salaries, giving raises each year that just beat cost-of-living inflation, while awarding performance with discretionary bonuses. This is a less riskier option for companies than awarding high salaries in a ever-changing economy that can render a business obsolete in 6 months. Ask HR how the company recognizes performance. You also have to consider how your company is doing overall and where your company is in its life-cycle. If your company is in start-up or decline mode, they likely do not have the capital to be throwing around on employee raises. As the old saying goes, you can’t get blood out of a turnip. Other questions that are helpful to ask are if your company assigns salary ranges to each position and where your position lies on a career track (junior, mid-level, senior-level). Also ask your friendly HR professional for his or her recommendation on how to approach a salary review or request inside of your organization. Any HR practitioner worth their salt, will be able to give you an honest response. If your HR rep is squeamish about your questions, that may be a red flag that your company has an old-school mentality around compensation transparency which still isn’t all that unusual to encounter these days. Yet, it’s good to know this about your company.

External Research.

Next, you also need to do some external market research. You need to hit the internet and find out what data is available on salary ranges for your position, think payscale.com, glassdoor.com and onetonline.org. But heed caution here and build in a margin of error. These websites usually cite self-reported data and individuals usually inflate their salaries when asked. Additionally, these sites do not take into account certain nuances that make an apples-t0-apples comparison very difficult- different geographical regions, international versus regional organizations, successful versus declining companies, and booming industries versus dying industries. You may also want to reach out to recruiters in your area or network and ask them what they see is the going rate for your position. But, proceed with caution for the same reasons stated above. Also, don’t forget the monetary value of your benefits. The company probably pays for a portion of your health insurance and matches your 401(k), even though this isn’t money deposited in the bank every 2 weeks, doesn’t mean it isn’t compensation. You need to figure out the value of your benefits as part of your total compensation to understand what you are truly being paid to do your job. Now, with this information, you can create an acceptable range of what you think your position is worth.

 

 

Once you have done all of this stuff, you are ready to put your plan into play. Tune in on Thursday for How To Ask For More Money, Part II.

 

Common Mistakes Managers Make on Performance Reviews

It is a rare phenomenon in HR to see a performance evaluation from a manager that even meets our expectations let alone exceeds them. Here are a sampling of a few common mistakes I see on the regular:

  1. The manager uses the annual performance review to rake an employee over the coals for his or her entire prior year’s performance. It is NOT okay to use the annual performance review to tell the employee they’ve sucked all year. As a manager, why would you endure that? Think of all of the lost productivity and pissed off coworkers. If you wait a year to tell someone they’ve not performed to your expectations, guess what, it’s not their fault, its yours for not having the spine to confront it sooner.
  2. Failure to clearly communicate expectations and objectives of the position. Granted, this discussion should be happening within the first week of a new hire’s onboarding with the company and should also be reiterated during ongoing performance discussions. This exact thing is the reason you see employee’s rating themselves as exceeds expectations, while the manager is left scratching his head wondering how the hell his employee could lack such self-awareness. In the absence of this information, an employee will always default to what they believe are the expectations and objectives and perform accordingly. Duh.
  3. Failure to keep any documentation from the review period to look back to. And thus rely on memory. An HR professional can always tell by a manager’s vague and sweeping statements in a performance review that he or she has no fucking clue what his or her employee accomplished all year. You know what also gets forgotten when only memory is relied upon? An employees’ weaknesses, fails,  and areas of opportunity. Fast forward to 3 months later when Mr. Manager is in HR’s office  complaining about his employee’s performance issues. HR pulls the performance review and lo and behold nothing has been indicated on the evaluation, but Mr. Manager insists this has been happening for months or years. Sorry, Mr. Manager, your documentation does not back up your accusation. Discipline and termination are going to be pretty difficult to justify.
  4. Never awarding an employee anything other than a “Meets Expectations” although his of her performance clearly goes above and beyond. This is a great way to actively disengage your employee, reduce his or her productivity and send your employee to the next job offer that is extended. If your employee is killin’ it at work- give them the props they deserve. An “Exceeds Expectations” should never be elusive but it should be reserved for the rare but deserving “A”-game employees.

But to the HR folk who see the above on a routine basis, I would ask what they are doing in their respective organizations to fix it. Rampant crap reviews are more indicative of poor training and unclear managerial expectations than they are any single manager’s fault. HR- get your shit together, and start whipping those managers into performance review ninjas.

31 Not-So-Random Acts of Workplace Kindness

We could all use some kindness. Especially after the tumultuous U.S. election. And in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, try to practice a little kindness and empathy towards yourself and others.

Starting today, tomorrow, Thanksgiving or whenever, just start with these little suggestions around the office:

Day 1: When having a conversation with someone at work, look them in the eyes and listen. Put down your mobile device and really listen to what they are saying. This is called active listening and is unfortunately becoming a long-lost art.

Day 2: If you know a coworker who is struggling with something in their lives, let them know that while you may not understand what he or she is going through, that you will be there to listen to them if they want.

Day 3: Write a thank-you note to a colleague, describing what they did to help you and give it to them.

Day 4: Give someone at the office a genuine compliment.

Day 5: Clean up a mess in the break room or around that office that you did not make.

Day 6: Hold the door or elevator for someone.

Day 7: Smile at the people you see around the office today.

Day 8: Ask someone how you can help them today.

Day 9: Introduce yourself to someone new.

Day 10: Tell a coworker to have a good day.

Day 11: Bring a peer a coffee, a water, a soda or whatever their drink of choice is.

Day 12: Thank someone for making a difference.

Day 13: Write a friendly message on a Post-It and stick it somewhere for everyone to see.

Day 14: Tell someone all of the reasons you like them.

Day 15: Acknowledge the excellent service you received by writing a note to that person’s manager.

Day 16: Bring in food or snacks to your office or to your department.

Day 17: Say “Good Morning” to someone in the elevator or someone in the building.

Day 18: Sometimes we need to get away from the office for a short amount of time to re-set. If you see a peer struggling, take them to a nearby coffee shop for a break.

Day 19: Humor is healing. Tell someone a joke or send them a funny meme.

Day 20: If a coworker leaves something on the printer, bring it to them.

Day 21: Say “please” and “thank you” and mean it!

Day 22: Once you have read your monthly magazine subscription, leave it in the break room for someone else to enjoy.

Day 23: Take a coworker out for lunch.

Day 24: Pass along a great book you have finished reading to a peer at work.

Day 25: Take a walk around the office and just say “hi” to people. Bonus: get some steps in.

Day 26: Pick up a piece of litter you see in the hallway or common space.

Day 27: Interject when you hear gossip with a kind remark.

Day 28: Give someone their work time back and cancel a meeting.

Day 29: Lend your expertise to someone who needs it, whether in the moment or as a mentor.

Day 30: Respond timely even if you say to the other person that you received their email and give a deadline for your response. People like to know they aren’t being ignored.

Day 31: Don’t leave someone hanging. If you are not down with their idea, say so. Be honest.

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Five Tips for New Managers

Congratulations on your promotion to manager! You’ve earned this!

new-supervisor

But now what? If you are like most managers you have inherited a team of direct reports and have received zero instruction on what to do. Funny how when it comes to the most important asset of any company, its employees, companies fail each and every time to set our managers up for success. I think it is only the minority of companies who can boast of some awesome management training program.

Here are 5 Tips for setting yourself up as an outstanding manager of people:

  1. If you are a new manager, perhaps just recently promoted and now find yourself managing your peers this puts you in a tough spot. First thing, unfriend and dis-connect from your direct reports on social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The dynamics of your relationship have now changed. Believe me, you do not want to be privy to your team’s evening and weekend exploits. Knowing what your team members do “on the outside” will make it more difficult for you to manage and develop your staff members based on his or her performance, skills and abilities. You are only human,  and we are inherently biased to some degree and stuff you see on social media will impact your decision-making abilities. But don’t ignore those friendships either or pretend like you are too good now to take your team members to lunch and have some personal one-on-one time. An honest discussion between you and your direct report about how you both see the relationship changing will go a long way maintaining strong ties that also respect the manager-employee relationship.
  2. Do your homework. If HR or the Departmental Director does not provide you information on your employees, gather it and begin to create your own management files. As a new manager, you need to know your employee’s names, titles, previous supervisors, salary history and general job history with the company. Get their resume and any behavioral assessments that were completed. Obtain all available performance reviews and read them thoroughly, note any trends. If your employee has written performance goals or a training plan, know them forwards and backwards. Finally, speak with the former supervisors and/or HR to get a better understanding of the employee’s career history with the company. Your employees’ may be the technical subject matter experts of the department, but you need to be the subject matter of your team members.
  3. Build a relationship with your employee on DAY 1. Take your employees out for one-on-ones in a social setting with less pressure, such as lunch or coffee. Start a casual conversation, don’t jump in with questions like “So, where do you see yourself in a year from now?”, start with small talk. Get to know your employee, ask about their college experience, how they got into their industry or occupational field. Be careful not to ask questions that are considered discriminatory in nature. However, if your employee offers the information that’s okay. Actively listen by asking further questions that build upon their answers. In this way, you and your employee are creating the story of how your relationship started. You want that story to be a happy one.
  4. Create a plan for continuous feedback and communication with each of your team members. Most companies have the dusty “open-door” policy in their handbooks, usually for compliance reasons. As a manager, you have to  make yourself accessible to your employees when they need you, not when it’s convenient for you. That’s what you signed up for when you decided to become a manager. Start by greeting everyone in the morning with a warm hello and how are you. It’s these small but powerful actions that can make the difference between a talented employee who keeps something bottled up and decides to leave when they feel no one is listening or decides that all they need to do is come talk to you and work it out.
  5. Figure out what your management style is and communicate it. Your style will likely be determined in some part by the people you are managing, their career levels and what they do for a living. Also, relieve yourself now of the belief that you have to treat everyone the same. Managing fairly means determining each situation on a case-by-case basis. Managing consistently does not mean managing each person the exact same way. Do you want to be the manager who manages not only what your people do but how they do it? Are you comfortable delegating authority off the bat or do you need the employee to earn your trust first? Do you intend to give your employees lots of rope and to rein them back in when they start to get too close to the cliff? Or, are they on a short leash? Will you implement active development plans for all of your staff? Do you expect them to have goals and to achieve them? Whatever you decide, show your hand to your team members so they understand expectations from the jump.