Monday, April 29, 2019

What the Most Productive People Know About Email

As summer approaches, many new graduates will begin their careers in a variety of organizations, full of hope and determination about changing the world.

The more seasoned workers sort of smirk at this enthusiasm, knowing it won't take long to break their spirits. In fact, there is one thing guaranteed to bring down these hopeful young people: email.

Hundreds of emails will begin to clog these young worker's lives -- they might be surprised how often that "ding!" signals a new missive. While they may have gotten emails in college or in their training programs, it's nothing compared to the deluge that will hit them once they become full-time workers.

Hence, the smirk by other workers. They know that the young worker's hope and determination to change the world will soon crater as they struggle to keep up with their inbox.

But all is not lost. There is a way for these young workers -- and their smirking colleagues -- to be more productive in the face of the email onslaught. In fact, the most successful people have shown they all have several things in common, including the ability to skillfully handle their messages.

Data from Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours," finds that the most productive people not only manage their emails by using email filters, they answer critical emails immediately and identify those emails that need to be dealt with but need more time to read (such as those that come with long attachments).

For young workers -- and their colleagues -- the message is clear: Deal with your email effectively if you want to be more productive. Find a system that works for you and you're more likely to have a career that is drive by you instead of your inbox.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Research Shows Why Young Workers Need to Take More Risks

As the world's economy begins to slow, there is more talk that a recession is around the corner and economists predict it will hit in 2020.

If you're a young worker, this news could impact you more than any other age group. That's because when a recession hits, it can affect young employees for a lifetime.

A new study by the University of Hong Kong and the University of Michigan finds that those age 21-25 experience an unemployment rate twice as fast as those age 25-54 when a recession hits. The reason: when times are good, companies are more likely to take a chance on an unseasoned worker. When times are bad, they turn to their proven superstars.

Researchers say that young workers who want to protect their future earning potential may need to take more risks earlier in their careers. In industries where risk is greater, so is the reward.

Monday, April 22, 2019

4 Ways to Handle Distracting Coworkers

We all spend a lot of time at work, and some days it feels like a family get-together gone horribly wrong.

You're tired of hearing about your colleague's bratty daughter. You don't want to be pulled into any more conversations about "Game of Thrones." You don't want to have 10-minute debate about the best font for email.

But unlike bad family times where you can go to your bedroom and slam the door -- or at least get in your car and drive away -- you're stuck at work. You have to show up and do your job if you want to get paid (they're real sticklers about this).

So, how do you avoid some of the distractions that drive you mad?

Here's some things to try:

  • Turn your back. If possible, turn your work station so that your back is to the noisiest, most distracting colleagues. Better yet, put on headphones if the company allows it, and avoid making eye contact with anyone who passes by or sits near you. You'll become totally absorbed in your work -- or at least look like you're totally absorbed -- and it will be much more obvious if someone interrupts you. If they don't get the hint and stop interrupting you, say something like, "Oh, can I finish this thing first? I'm really on a roll and don't want to lose my train of thought." Or simply say, "I'm on a deadline with this and can't fall further behind. Can we catch up when I take a break?"
  • Be uninteresting. One of the reasons that a colleague stops to chat at your desk is because you're too nice to turn away from them, or feel it necessary to respond to a query about a new game or some other inane topic. If you've got a colleague who doesn't seem to "get" that you're busy, then don't make eye contact. Respond with "hmmmm" to comments or reply "I don't know" or "I haven't thought about it" when you're asked a question. Your dullness will send the person to someone else who is more interesting.
  • Follow up. Are you one of those people who says you'll call someone back -- and then doesn't do it? If you tell someone you'll reach out when you take a break -- and then use that break to check out Instagram instead -- then that person will call you again later. So, instead of talking to someone while you are free, you've pushed them into interrupting you again later.
  • Be respectful.  If you want people to honor your request to talk later, then you must do the same for them. When someone is obviously in the zone and diligently working, can your interruption wait? Or, can you possibly find the information on your own or wait until you have several questions that can be asked at one time? You will get more respect for your time if you show the same to others.

This is an update from an earlier post.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

7 Signs You're a Workaholic

For most workers, the days of clocking out at 5 p.m. and never thinking of work again until the next morning when we clocked in at 9 a.m. are over.

Texts and emails keep us tethered to the job, not to mention the "quick phone call" to the office when we're supposed to be on vacation.

All of these can be annoying and disheartening, but many of us are trying to limit "screen time" after we leave the workplace and even dare not to respond to emails while on vacation.

But what about those folks who don't seem to mind the 24/7 work demands? Who seem to be unable to leave work behind, no matter what? Who are threatening personal relationships because they can't stop working?

Often, the term "workaholic" is thrown around in an admiring or even amusing way. But the reality is, being a workaholic is dangerous to your health, your relationships and even your career.

Researchers from the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen have identified specific symptoms that are characteristic of workaholics:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guiltanxiety, helplessness and/or depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
If you think you may be a workaholic, then it's time to become more aware of what you're doing and try to make changes. If you can't figure out a way to do that on your own, enlist the help of family or friends to help you disengage -- or seek help from a therapist.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Why This 83-Year-Old Career Advice Still Makes Sense

I've written before about how important it is to get along with others at work. You don't have to be besties, with your co-workers, but you do need to know what motivates them, what discourages them and how you can best help one another. To think you can go it alone at work and succeed is delusional.

In addition, more companies are keeping an eye on whether you can get along with other people. If you can, then they are more comfortable promoting you. If not, they may believe that you don't really have the willingness -- or the necessary emotional intelligence -- to be given bigger opportunities.

That's why I want to re-visit some great advice by Dale Carnegie, author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Carnegie wrote this book in 1936, and I believe it really stands the test of time. (I've given this book to many high school or college graduates.)

Here is some great advice from Carnegie on how to make people like you:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people. "You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you." The only way to make quality, lasting friendships is to learn to be genuinely interested in them and their interests.
  2. Smile. Happiness does not depend on outside circumstances, but rather on inward attitudes. Smiles are free to give and have an amazing ability to make others feel wonderful. Smile in everything that you do.
  3. Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. "The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together." People love their names so much that they will often donate large amounts of money just to have a building named after themselves. We can make people feel extremely valued and important by remembering their name.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. The easiest way to become a good conversationalist is to become a good listener. To be a good listener, we must actually care about what people have to say. Many times people don't want an entertaining conversation partner; they just want someone who will listen to them.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interest. The royal road to a person's heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most. If we talk to people about what they are interested in, they will feel valued and value us in return.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. The golden rule is to treat other people how we would like to be treated. We love to feel important and so does everyone else. People will talk to us for hours if we allow them to talk about themselves. If we can make people feel important in a sincere and appreciative way, then we will win all the friends we could ever dream of.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

5 Steps to Take When You Don't Know What Your Boss Wants

Some people believe a micromanaging boss is the worst thing ever, but I'd have to say that a boss who doesn't communicate what he or she wants is also pretty bad.

This is the boss who can't exactly tell you what he wants. Half the time you don't really know what he's talking about and when he says, "So, everything OK?" you want to respond: "No! Everything is not OK! I have no idea what you really want!"

Instead -- because you don't want to lose your job -- you say: "Sure! Everything's fine!"

The problem here is that you and your boss have gotten into a bad communications rut. He's not telling you what he wants, and you're not asking for what you need.

It's time to change this dysfunctional dynamic:

1. Ask to meet with the boss. Set up a time when you can talk to your boss uninterrupted to clarify some objectives.

2. Choose priorities. Clarify with your boss your top three priorities.

3. Determine resources. Ask the boss if there are additional resources to help you complete these priorities. Are there outside partners you can consult? Do you need to work with someone in another department? Do you have access to necessary data?

4. Set a schedule. Are you in alignment with the boss on the schedule, including preliminary reports, a presentation or a final report to him or to clients? What benchmarks will the boss be looking for along the way?

5. Answer "what if" issues. How much leeway do you have if anything starts to get off track, such as available resources or the schedule? Does he want to be informed of any roadblocks, or are you given the green light to handle them?

Once you've gone through these issues, you and your boss should have a much clearer understanding of your objectives and projected outcomes. This should be standard with all your assignments -- if you can't answer these key questions, then meet with the boss. He'll soon discover that your proactive approach brings about the best results.

Monday, April 8, 2019

4 Things Employees Need From Any Boss

What happens when a worker doesn't trust the boss?

They consider quitting, finds a new survey. At a time when employers are pulling out all the stops to find talent in a tight job market, this should be of great concern. Not only do these employees have one foot out the door in their minds, it probably won't take much to lure them away if they believe they'll have better career opportunities elsewhere.

Further, the survey finds that a quarter of all young workers doubt whether their contributions are valued -- and that should be another area of great concern according to researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review. 

What research finds is that when employers fail to win over the minds -- and hearts -- of workers, they risk the best and brightest walking out the door. It's not enough to pay workers, because although that matters a great deal, workers want to know that they matter and what they do matters.

Richard E. Clark and Bror Saxberg, writing in HBR, provide insight on the top reasons employees get turned off -- and how bosses can rejuvenate them. None of them seem too difficult, but boy, do bosses get them wrong a lot. Here goes:

1. People think differently. Just look on Twitter on any given day, and you may have a vigorous debate about why Neapolitan ice cream should be outlawed. So it stands to reason that what you care about as a boss is not what an employee cares about when it comes to the job. You have to talk to individual employees to truly understand what they care about in life (helping others,sustainability, education) and connect that to the job they do. "You know, Sharon," says the boss, "I know that you care a lot about Third World issues. Did you know this company is making parts that are used in Third World countries to assemble drinkable water systems? So, every time you help to ensure our inventory is accurate, it helps us make sure those parts get there on time and without additional costs."

2. They need support. Does a garden grow without water or the proper soil? Do children get through school without teachers or parents helping them? So, why would an employee believe he will be successful if new tasks or skills are thrown at him without any guidance or instruction? Bosses need to challenge workers, but not at the expense of their self-esteem. They need to provide support to workers learning new skills or procedures, so that they gain confidence and succeed. If they feel they can't succeed, what's the point in trying? Employees who feel such a sense of defeat will certainly not feel motivated to put their best into the company.

3. They need to be heard. Everyone gets stressed, and sometimes that stress erupts in anger or results in depression. Such situations are not healthy for the worker or the workplace. Always be available to take an employee to a quiet place to listen to their frustrations or concerns, which often result from feeling they are not understood. Once they feel they are being heard, the boss can offer some strategies to build more positive outcomes, and that can re-engage the worker.

4. Sometimes they need help. Even the most qualified workers can run into roadblocks -- problems they believe they can't solve. That's when a boss can step in and see that an employee's own doubts are leading to procrastination or blaming others for the problem. Just talking it through can help. Once an employee begins to explore solutions with a supportive boss, then the roadblocks don't seem insurmountable.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

3 Ways to Get Your Team to Trust You

If you've finally worked your way up the ladder and are now in a management positions, congratulations. Now let me offer this advice: You've still got a lot of work to do.

While you may have proven yourself to be a valuable team member, earning your cred as a manager is a whole different ballgame. Instead of being judged on your output, you're going to be judged on your output and the output of your team.

One of the smartest things you can do as a manager is to assess whether you're really being clear on what you want from your team. I'm not talking about: "We all need to pull together" or "There's no 'I' in team."

I'm talking about the day-to-day communications you have with team members, such as directing them on their daily duties or future projects. While many of them may not need a lot of directions, others will need more input from you -- and that's crucial when it comes to setting the tone of your leadership.

Here's some things to keep in mind when directing a team:

1. They are not mind readers. Maybe you think an employee should know that when a client is unhappy that she should not be ignored. But have you made that clear? Have you said, "Brian, when Marisa calls and she's frustrated that a shipment is late, listen to her and determine what she needs from us to make it right."

2. Give them the why. Your team is much more likely to remember your feedback if you explain why it's important to the organization. "Marisa is a key client and her business is growing with her sales doubling in the last quarter. Her success is important to us being able to grow, too. We don't want to lose her trust or she could go to a competitor."

3. Listen.  You may be swamped with work of your own, but brushing off an employee with a question will come back to haunt you. Just taking a minute to listen could save you many headaches later. "Marisa says they're changing their software. Does that mean I should do something different?" says a team member. The heads up about a software change could be significant -- does your team need to meet with IT to figure out new software? Will you be able to offer the same level of service to this client? Will Marisa see you as a dinosaur if you don't change your software?

This all may sound very time consuming and your stress may grow in the beginning. But once you've shown your team that you trust them, they will trust you. That's the kind of bond that will deliver the best results for your career and for the organization.

Monday, April 1, 2019

3 Ways to Deal with Snarky Co-Workers

We've all had those jobs where every day is fun, even if we don't really like the job or the work. The reason: The people are nice. Really nice. Like if you have a flat tire at work they stop what they're doing and fix your flat and make sure you get home kind of nice.

Then there are the jobs where the co-workers are snarky, rude and wouldn't hold the door for you if your life depended on it, never mind that you're trying to balance a laptop, coffee, a file folder and your coat. If you happen to drop any of it? They'll still let the door slam in your face.

These are exaggerations (or maybe not) but you get the drift. It can be really, really hard to go to a place that is populated by people you don't like because they're just lousy human beings.

The question becomes: How do you survive such a work environment?

1. Don't get sucked in. Just like social media can suck you into negative commentary and ugly rhetoric, so can your colleagues. Many of them may actually be nice people, but they've just gotten in the the bad habit of being snarky. When you show you're not going to be lured down that road, then they may change their tune and become more positive and nice people when they are around you.

2. Distract. Anyone who has toddlers knows that the surest way to avoid an ugly meltdown is to distract the child. "Look! Did you see that unicorn go by?" you say, immediately distracting a child bent on a temper tantrum to look for the unicorn. While you can't do that with a complaining or nasty colleague, you can look for ways to distract: "Did you see they're putting in a new restaurant across the street? Have you heard anything about it?" Or, you can try, "Wait, you have to see this carpool karaoke from last night's show -- it's going to blow you away!" Always have a little something ready to go for when a colleague starts down a negative path -- it can be fairly easy to distract some people.

3. Be blunt. If you just can't get someone to leave you alone -- and they just want to make you listen to all their snark -- then you may have to be crystal clear about your boundaries. "You know, I have a lot to get done, and this conversation isn't going to help me do that. So, I'm just going to get back to work."

What are some ways you've found effective to deal with unpleasant colleagues?