27 December 2007

Improving communication to allow for better decision-making

You probably know the feeling… Mr. Jones in the production department asks you whether or not you have read his email. In order to cover your bases you answer in the affirmative and are then floored by the follow-up question: “So what should we do?”

Chances are that you feel like this because the email read more like the abridged works of William Shakespeare than something on which you could (or could be bothered to) act. More likely than not, this is because Jones decided to commit one or more of the “Deadly Sins of Email” – at least they were deadly sins if he ever hoped to get a reply from you…

More likely than not the email:

  • Didn’t have an immediately clear and concise “Subject” heading
  • Long winded - full of extraneous information of no relevance to the key question(s) to which an answer was needed
  • Didn’t specify the question(s) he needed one or more answers to
  • Didn’t clarify the importance to his personal goals and to the corporate goals
  • Didn’t tell you when he needed an answer by
  • Included several subjects

How do you avoid this happening? First off, it is great if there is a company or departmental rule regarding issues that need to be answered and even if there isn’t you can improve the overall communication flow of the company by making it clear to people who rely on YOU for decision-making what you require in order to be able to help them.

Personally, I’ve always had, and have communicated the following 8 rules for decision-making to my peers and subordinates:

  1. Put the issue in the “Subject” heading
  2. Only include ONE ISSUE per email when a decision is required
  3. Make it clear in the opening two lines of your email that you need an answer to it – and when you need it by
  4. Keep it short – no longer than two pages if I were to print it out (if it’s longer you need to summarise it in less than two pages and then attach the rest of the information in a document)
  5. Tell me how it relates to your job and our company goals
  6. Outline the issue/problem
  7. Describe the different scenarios/solutions
  8. Recommend the route that you believe is best – and TELL ME WHY

Armed with this information, I can very quickly give people the answer they need from me. If the issue is so complex that it cannot be dealt with in this manner – then get the person to send an email outlining the issue AND requesting a meeting (within a specified time slot) and get them to be very specific, i.e. “I need 10 minutes of your time to discuss this a bit further”. If you have the background information and understand the general gist of the issue you’re not likely to turn down the request for a meeting that will last 10 minutes and will lead to a decision where all parties can move on to implementing the solution(s).

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26 December 2007

How to set personal goals to achieve a richer life

Most people are either completely goal-less or goal-obsessed. People without goals tend to drift through life without being completely happy – and not knowing why. Goal-obsessed people are the ones who tend to be stressed out at all times and they may (or may not) achieve material success, but are seldom happy. It is important to find a happy medium to achieve a sense of both happiness and balance in life.

Some people feel happy by just having a certain “direction” in their lives, but this can often lead to impulsive and reactionary behaviour in the (often vain) hope that it will someday lead to a greater sense of satisfaction. However, what often happens is that these people will wake up one day late in their lives and feel that they’ve missed out on all of the good things.

If you just focus on the goals alone, you will probably find that you’re the type of person who always find a new goal that has to drive you on and without a goal you feel restless and without a sense of purpose. No matter how many goals you achieve they will not make you any happier because “the grass is always greener” and you have to achieve the next milestone because you BELIEVE that will make you even happier. But you need to stop up and ask yourself: “When will I be TRULY HAPPY?” If you recognise this, then you’ll probably also be the type of person who never enjoys the journey or even celebrates a success by enjoying the here and now. This is what happens to goal-obsessed people.

Goal setting is about not just setting a general direction for your life, but about giving you some milestones of achievement that will give you satisfaction both on the journey AND once you reach them!

If we learn to set goals and work towards achieving them – whether they are material or immaterial – early in life, our lives will be more rewarding and substantial… but it is NEVER too late to begin!

Before setting your goals you need to understand what a goal really is.

A goal describes a situation (or state) that you would like to find yourself in. It is where YOU WANT TO BE after you have completed a number of tasks and activities.

In general management theory about goal setting it is commonly acknowledged that goals must be “SMART”, of which there are a number of variations:

S - specific, significant, stretching

M - measurable, meaningful, motivational

A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

But you can also distil it into four main criteria:

1. The goal must be CLEARLY DEFINED
The goal must describe a desired state or situation as clearly as possible. Wanting to “learn a language” is not a goal, whereas “be able to conduct a business meeting in French” is.

2. The goal must be REALISTIC
You have to be able to achieve your goal without drawing upon resources to which you not have access, i.e. you cannot do something that you know will take you 3 years of full-time dedication and application in 2 years while holding down a full-time job and raising a family.

3. The goal must be CHALLENGING
If it is something you can easily do with little dedication or application it is NOT a goal. You must see this as a challenge to which you must dedicate time and effort in order to overcome. Start by setting a goal that might seem slightly beyond what you believe you are capable of. It is important to ensure that there is a balance between the realism and the challenge, but you’ll find that if you put your mind to it you can DO MORE than you think.

4. The goal must be MEANINGFUL
It has to give you a sense of achievement to reach the goal and you must make the achieving of the goal a high priority.

What goals should I set?

It is important to understand that you can set goals both small and large. If you only set large goals you will likely find yourself becoming disillusioned along the way – and even big goals can often get broken down into smaller segments. To take the example of learning to conduct a negotiation in French you could break that down into several components: learning a vocabulary of X number of business terms and words; learning the cultural background of doing business in France and so on.

You can also set goals for different periods of time, e.g. a day; a week; a month; a year or; perhaps even, your life. This is what a lot of people do at the start of the New Year, but they lack the understanding of what is required to then break down that goal into its achievable components (something that will be covered in later articles).

You might think that this isn’t relevant to you because of your age, your current situation or some other explanation, but this is where you must realise that your age and experience play a very important role in terms of your life goals. Therefore, you should ensure that you re-align your life goals at least once a year.

Types of goals

We all have different types of goals, but in general they can be organised into the following categories:

  • Health and well-being
  • Education and skills
  • Work and career
  • Economy and material wealth
  • Relationships
  • Attitudes and values
  • Use of your time

Helping you achieve your goals

There are some very simple rules that you can follow in order to help you attain your goals. These rules will dramatically increase the likelihood of you achieving the goals that you have set:

  1. Record your goals (on your computer or on paper)
  2. Determine the tasks and activities that you need to complete in order to achieve them
  3. Set deadlines for the tasks and activities
  4. Expend your time AND your energy on the tasks and activities that you have defined

I hope that this has given you a bit of inspiration to start setting some goals and below you can find some links to more information about goal setting.


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Top tips on using email

I've decided to compile my top tips on handling emails in a short 4 slide PowerPoint presentation. There are tips in 3 main sections:

  • Reading and responding to emails
  • Sending emails
  • Archiving emails
I'm sure that you will find these tips helpful and if they can just give you a 10 minute productivity increase a day you will gain an extra working week per year to spend on the things that are most important in relation to achieving your personal and business goals.

If you've got any tips you think would be useful additions to this list, please send them to me or add a comment.

Download the presentation here.

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19 December 2007

Will sitting at your desk decrease productivity?

Research undertaken in the UK by HB Maynard concluded that getting people out of their chairs and away from their desks in order to communicate with colleagues can lift morale and boost flagging productivity.

This seems to be an issue in the highly technology enabled world where workers are generally unhealthier and more injury prone. 80% of respondents felt that they could improve productivity by being allowed to be more mobile (whether or not people, in reality, would move around more and improve their health is another matter entirely).

There also seems to be an issue about the generation gap with younger workers wanting (more) technology that is better suited to their working practices whereas older workers are complaining about having to work longer hours.

Head on over to Computer Weekly to read more about the survey.

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Handling emails

You would think that something seemingly simple like answering emails would not be a great source for increasing your productivity, but just think about the following:

  • How many times a day is your attention diverted away from what you’re doing because an email arrives?
  • How much time do you spend every day sorting and deleting junk emails?
  • How much time do you spend reading and answering emails every day?
  • Do you prioritise emails by importance or do you just try to get everything answered as quickly as possible?
  • How large a percentage of the emails you receive from colleagues, clients or business partners are relevant to your company’s, your personal objectives and/or job tasks?

Chances are that you will quickly realise that you are easily wasting away 2 – 3 hours every single day doing things that are completely irrelevant in terms of reaching your goals and aspirations. Does this mean that you’re only doing a 5 – 6 hour working day or does it mean that you end up spending 2 – 3 hours extra in the office in order to do your job? Does this, in turn, mean that you’re one of those stressed out individuals who never has time for his/her friends and family and are always tired because you’re working a 12 hour day? Why not start by dealing with the biggest time waster of all in your daily life… your email?

Over the next few months you will see a number of articles on how better to handle your emails in order to improve productivity, but here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  1. Allocate two or three short periods a day (e.g. 15 – 20 minutes each) to read and respond to email – and DON’T let it interrupt you for the rest of the day. Personally, I read my emails at the start of the working day, just after lunch and again as the last thing I do before leaving the office, which leads me onto rule no. 2.
  2. Always clear your inbox at the end of the day. A cluttered inbox is like a cluttered desk. It stresses you out and means that you feel behind before even leaving the office. This is a vicious circle that is to be avoided.
  3. Use “Folders” to organise your emails
  4. Set up rules for handling newsletters so that they automatically go into folders where you can then allocate time to read them on a daily or weekly basis.
  5. When scanning your emails quickly determine the IMPORTANCE and URGENCY of each email. If it’s important AND urgent, make sure you respond to it right away.

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