The Ugly Truth About Time Management

 

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Photo by Badhon Ebrahim on Unsplash

Let’s talk turkey about time management.

It’s a sticky workplace problem to tackle, primarily because it requires being brutally honest with ourselves to get a real grip on the issue. Yes, we all go through periods when work feels “out of control”.

However, there are strategies that might have prevented the lion’s share of that stress.

Where time management is concerned — it seems that we can turn out to be our own worst enemies.

Here are a few (not so pleasant) points to consider.

1. It’s Your Problem
The bottom line? No one else is going to value your time if you don’t. You have to teach others (and yourself) through words and actions, that your time is valuable. That may sound as if I’m characterizing all your of coworkers and clients as disrespectful. It’s not that. They simply have their own work lives to worry about and you need to worry about yours. If you feel someone is taking advantage, be honest and let them know you’ve spent as much time as you possibly can to help them. Point them in the right direction for more guidance. Be polite but firm. You’ll find that after you go through this once or twice, the process will become easier.

2. Cut the Cord
Here’s the thing. A time-management problem is usually not a time issue — it is a task issue. Specifically, you are not sorting through your work life and deciding which tasks really matter. This is like keeping old shoes in your closet that you really don’t wear, but continue to take up valuable space. Sometimes you have to give useless tasks the old “heave-ho.” Do you compile a report that nobody utilizes? Attend a weekly meeting that isn’t beneficial or necessary? Write the eulogy and cut the cord. It’s up to you. Choose or lose.

3. Playing Favorites is a Must
You hate prioritizing. Of course you do! Everyone does. But the number one priority to respect is your own calendar. Just remember that multitasking doesn’t work. Focusing on a single task, without interruption is critical. If you need a release valve in your schedule for tasks that pop up, set up time each Friday (or any plan that works) to connect the dots and tie up loose ends that develop during the week. Tell people politely, “My schedule is tight at the moment, but I’ll have time to explore that on Friday.” During this designated “catch-up time” you can consider ad-hoc requests and communicate responses.

4. Admit It — You’re a Control Freak
I know this excuse: “I don’t like to delegate.” But if you are a manager (or aspire to be one), the fact is that if you don’t learn how to delegate confidently, you will have trouble moving forward. Why? Because you won’t have the time to become a real leader. Chances are, you don’t trust other people to do the job as you would do it. I know. I’ve heard that excuse as well. But a surefire way to build resentment is to show your staff that you don’t trust them. You have to give up a little control and “mine” some time for the bigger picture.

5. Excuses Won’t Work
If you have a scheduling snafu, remember to ‘fess up as soon as you realize there is a problem. Recently I waited for a scheduled appointment with a specialist. After an hour, a nurse came out to ask if anyone was waiting for Dr “X.” After identifying myself, she let me know it would be at least another hour to see the doctor and asked if I would like to reschedule. They explained that the reason for the delay was that there were late additions to the schedule…but apparently they were on the books before I walked in the door. They didn’t bother to call or text me and give me the option not to wait.

If you are running behind or forget a commitment, take ownership as soon as you realize there is a problem. You’ll have a better chance of salvaging the relationship.

Time is a valuable commodity.

Use it wisely — and you’ll fuel your career.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

This post was originally published on Career Oxygen blog at Talent Zoo.

Monday, Monday: Why Doing What You Love Can Make Tomorrow Better

Monday Blues

Do you spend Sundays ruminating about how you’d like to avoid Mondays? According to Gallup, that transition won’t be nearly as traumatic if you report feeling engaged with your work. We are all recognizing the power of employee engagement in organizations today – and it seems this construct is likely related to a host of other relevant variables, including your mood.

Gallup measured the progression of specific emotions during the course of  our work week – with survey participants reporting their attitudes on a variety of topics including feelings of happiness, anger and stress. Not surprisingly, those who identified as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” reported more negative responses, which subtly evolved during the course of a work week.  The data held some fascinating findings.

Some examples:

  • Happiness. There is an obvious difference in experiences of reported “happiness” – where those with lower levels of engagement, were less likely to report it. (For some reason this discrepancy peaked on Tuesdays for those identified as “actively disengaged”.)
  • Smiling and laughing. You guessed it! Those that reported feeling engaged at work, also reported smiling and laughing more. Just over 65% of “actively disengaged” respondents reported smiling and laughing “a lot” (on Tuesday), as compared to 90.7% of those reporting themselves as “engaged”.
  • Stress. Although all respondents were more likely to report higher levels of stress on Monday, as compared to Sunday, those reporting lower levels of engagement seem to be more susceptible. (Reported stress dipped a bit on Fridays, for all respondents.)
  • Anger. Those who reported feeling disengaged, were more likely to report feelings of anger. On Tuesdays, for example, more than one-quarter of those defined as “actively disengaged” reported experiences of anger the previous day, in comparison to 9.2% of those identified as “engaged”.

Engagement is continuing to emerge as a key workplace challenge in the evolution of work  – and more focus on this area will certainly follow. What helps you feel engaged at work? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

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The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication

mr-spacely

I never knew exactly what George Jetson did for a living – but what I did know was that his boss, Mr. Spacely, could communicate with him from just about anywhere. This didn’t seem like such a good thing – at least how it was portrayed at that time. But I am slowly changing my view. In our world, the tools may be different, but the theme remains. Mobile communication was inevitable, and it is permeating our workplace. It is up to us to weigh in, manage the weaknesses and maximize its potential.Mr. Spacely may have abused his technological privileges, by brow beating his employee with counter-productive exchanges, but mobile doesn’t have to be a “dirty” word in the workplace. Many seem worried that the “human side” of work will suffer greatly, and that the quality of our work lives will plummet. I am not quite that concerned.

Finding Balance
With any innovation, there is an adjustment period while people struggle to integrate the product or process into everyday life. Integrating mobile effectively with work may be particularly challenging because of the possibility of intrusion – it is an obvious downside. Of course, we should be concerned about the inherent downfalls of a technologically jammed life.

There has been continued sentiment to “contain” the boundaries of work – in an effort to improve the overall “quality” of our lives. However, containing work may have never been a viable goal. (Although the parameters of those boundaries and the definition of “quality” will vary by the individual.) I can’t seem to confine my thoughts concerning work to my desk, and I’m not sure that I would want to. We are bound to think about our work and its challenges outside of the office – when we are commuting, eating dinner or watching a movie. That is not a bad thing – but how we utilize mobile to capture how we function as thinking people productively, is key. Simply because technology will allow our work lives to expand – does not necessarily dictate that it  becomes a 24/7 operation.

We have to manage technology – and not the other way around. It is an opportunity and not a sentence.

We are learning that to excel, organizational cultures must emphasize openness and collaboration, and if technology contributes to that cause, it’s a win-win situation. Helping employees become more effective through mobile should be a priority – but this is not a race – it is a process. Mobile could tax us further and contribute to our downfall, but there are situations where mobile just makes a lot of sense. It’s already in our pockets. So why not try.

A natural fit: Idea management & collaboration
Developers are challenged with the task of determining what really translates into mobile and what simply doesn’t work. Mobile doesn’t seem to be suited to duplicate a PC desktop – however, with certain workplace challenges the advantages are there. As explained by Benjamin Robbins, Principal at Palador, “If there is one aspect that a mobile device should greatly excel at over a PC, it is collaboration”. Robbins is really putting this notion to the test. He has made the committment to use only his mobile device, and the adaptations which he creates for an entire year. (Read about his journey here). The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Not only does he want to explore what can be done with a mobile device – but what can’t be done effectively, as well.

As he explained, there is a natural fit between mobile and functions of work such as brainstorming. With mobile this is an anytime proposition, so you don’t have to be at your desk to create. The idea that you can share notes and ideas with colleagues, across time zones and brick & mortar walls is key. Robbins explains that, “Discovering what aspects of mobile that can enhance virtual learning is key.” He goes on to explain that we could view mobile as a workplace classroom without boundaries. “There are endless possibilities for idea sharing and the visualization of those ideas with mobile.”

Picking up the communication slack
Some mobile communication tools are born out of a strong need in the workplace. LUA, for example, the brain child of Michael DeFranco and his team, has an organic feel both in its inception and implementation. A recent graduate of the TechStar start-up accelerator program, DeFranco explained to me that LUA developed because of a gap in the communications market. Designed for fast paced, field-driven environments, LUA provides communication capabilities to industries that in a former life, were primarily walkie – talkie driven. (How can we forget the communication nightmare of first responders to the 9/11 catastrophe?)

Other industries such as film production, sales organizations and construction, where quickly disseminating evolving information can also spell success or failure can utilize mobile to become more effective. With the ability to upload and distribute documents, initiate instant conference calls, and sync team communication between desktop computers and mobile devices – LUA fulfills a long list of field communication needs. Even freelancers can also be enabled to access the network temporarily – a must for quickly changing workforces.

Facilitating virtual team effectiveness
The potential of mobile to facilitate teaming is evident – and those who teach virtual teaming techniques see great potential. As explained by Illysa Izenberg, of Strategy and Training Partners, LLC, “Technology enhances team communication when the warmest and most connective and inclusive tools are utilized (such as video-conferencing, online whiteboards, and shared intranet sites).These tools focus on people communicating openly yet respectfully to discuss concerns, share documents and personal information on intranet “walls” to collaboratively resolve challenges.”

Creative platforms such as Jostle, which help teams communicate and excel, also seem to be a natural for an extension into mobile. Jostle which emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teaming in more traditional work environments, is in the process of adapting its capabilities to both iPads and smart phones. With strong visuals to help employees map out their work lives and learn about other team members, the platform helps to build engagement.

The emphasis remains on the people side of the equation, as helping people connect should remain a mobile goal. As explained by Brad Palmer, “Collaboration happens in real-time. With mobile, teamwork becomes much more dynamic and responsive, greatly enhancing the engaging experience of working alongside each other to get work done.” Moreover, Jostle allows the inclusion of employees that don’t have work email addresses or desk phone numbers with its mobile form, an advantage to many organizations.

As time goes on we will undoubtedly see more progress in the adaptation of mobile into daily work life. It will be interesting to see where it takes us in the next few years. At that time we’ll have to pause – and teach Mr. Spacely a few things.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. She teaches workplace effectiveness strategies to employees and businesses. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Yep. Your Physical Work Space Still Matters

Empty Office Chair and Desk

Once in a while I “run into” reality TV while channel surfing. There seems to be a series about every topic imaginable — from pitching a new product to remodeling your bathroom. To be expected, I am drawn to shows which include a coach that whips a home or business into shape. Most of these coaches are of the “no-nonsense” variety

I’m all for obliterating a bit of denial and the clutter that accompanies it. Sometimes moving through the “muck” it is the only way forward.

The psychology of your workspace

Work spaces are an interesting topic to consider. I find they often reflect problems brewing on a deeper level. I’ve seen all sorts of work spaces — messy environments, dark conference rooms and walls without a single picture or plaque. The environment always seems to speak to me about its resident:  I’m unsettled. I’m depressed. I’m not committed to being here. I want out.

Last week I happened upon a show called “The Amandas” (I am assuming a word play on the movie “Heathers”, although these girls are not nearly as scary). The real “Amanda” is a clutter and organizational maven of tremendous proportions. She’s tough, driven and really knows how to purge unwanted stuff and the attached emotional baggage. When her team is finished, the business or home is in perfect order and the benefits seems to go much further than the outward presentation. There is gratitude and relief, as the process of altering the physical space seems to allow the individuals to move forward and become more effective.

So, does your space say — “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?” — if so, some changes are in order.

Why it matters

As much as we’d like to think that skills are the only factor contributing to becoming successful and serving customers, the fact remains that where we work contributes to how we work.

Here are just a few reasons to pay attention to the physical space where you work:

  • You need to be effectiveas form follows function. If you don’t have a workspace that functions properly ,you will most likely become less productive. If you find yourself clearing off a space to work – or your team has to stand during morning briefings (because you have no area that allows all of you to sit and gather) you have a problem.
  • Your surroundings can be a source of inspiration. Living and working in a well designed space can help ideas flow. Qualities such as color, lighting, sound, office configuration and furniture all come into play. If your office is so dark it depresses you, that’s a problem. If you have a set up with closed cubicles and collaboration is key, that’s a problem as well. You get the idea.
  • You need to project a positive image for your customers. Your physical space is a reflection of how you see yourself, and your business. The style, form and function of your space, all contribute to your image. If you work in a creative industry (advertising, design, etc.) your workspace is even more important — as it is a reflection of what you can achieve for your customers.

It seems that becoming more effective, can possibly start on the surface and trickle down to the other aspects of your work life. When you really think about it – sometimes rearranging the furniture is much more than it seems.

More on the topic here:

Greatly Improve Your Physical Workspace with Small Changes, Lifehacker.
Physical Workspace Considerations, Steelcase.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach located in East Lansing, Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Coworking

MP900433182The evolution of work has continued a fascinating process whereby the structure of work changes to meet the state of the external world. In a previous post, I have discussed the development of permalancers and slashers. These groups have grown significantly in recent years, partially in response to the ongoing challenges of economy and the job market. To work is to live — and the structure of that work has had to flex with the times. For many, working independently (or even remotely) has become the best and most viable option.

Freelancers have become a force in today’s world of work. (In the US alone, there are over 40 million independent workers.) Moreover, with less physical real estate an increasing number of employees work remotely while still affiliated with an organization than ever before. With the emergence of this larger “solo” presence, more and more of us are looking for innovative methods to stay productive while on our own. But, we are challenged to do so without the added social benefit of coworkers or colleagues by our side. The problems solo workers face can run deep — and the accompanying symptoms often fester undetected.

We are social beings after all, and loneliness can be a formidable challenge. As a psychologist, the thought of millions sitting alone in front of a computer monitor, challenges much of what I have learned about meaningful work. We are designed for interaction and collaboration — and to many freelancers this state of  “aloneness” can become untenable. Studies show that perceived loneliness can lead to multiple problems, including sleep disturbances and the inability to fight disease. People need people. Certainly as individuals, we may have a unique level of contact that works for us. However, most people benefit from some level of human interaction in their work life. We may not always require coworkers to help us become productive every day, but to have the option is often preferable.

For others the basic notion of working at home is the issue, where the myriad of distractions can break concentration, provide ample opportunities for procrastination and limit productivity. To make matters worse, these distractions are always present and available in a home setting. As a result, many find that a location specifically designated for work is the best option – increasing the opportunity for both focus and effectiveness.

Enter coworking

Coworking is a brilliant option. Personally, I find the founding principles of the movement inspiring. The tenets, which include openness, collaboration and a sense of community, are workplace attributes which individuals working on their own are  challenged to replicate within a home office. Of  key note, is that coworking is the product of evolution, and not a momentary blip. As described by Anna Thomas, former Chief Happiness Officer at Loosecubes, “People talk about coworking as a hot trend, which inherently implies that it’s not sustainable. In fact, shared workspaces provide the opportunity for one to create a more sustainable (and potentially fulfilling) work lifestyle.”

Indeed, this movement has fulfilled real needs within the work life realm. As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York, “The coworking environment offers a sense of community and camaraderie, shared beyond industry specific backgrounds.” Moreover, to some the experience can be described as a “Cheers” of office spaces – a place to call their own, connect and combat that feeling of “office homelessness”.

What you gain

Coworking spaces provide the basics, as well as some of the social-emotional benefits of an office community. Office essentials such as access to conference rooms, copy/fax capabilities and locked storage are often provided. But, other perks such as sponsored events like hackathons, pop-up shops for entrepreneurs and networking events really seem to make these spaces feel like home.

A developing segment of co-working spaces, such as Chicago’s  Enerspace, have cleverly combined other components that support or enhance work life. The brain child of University of Chicago’s Booth School alum Jamie Russo, Enerspace addresses key heath and wellness initiatives that might affect work life. With scheduled classes in meditation, an on-site fitness studio and a full-service kitchen – heath, wellness and work, combine in one unique space.

Old problems could still emerge

Of course, some of the problems you experienced when working at home, could still occur in another workspace. (Who could forget the classic TedX talk about offices?) As with any work environment, distractions do exist and problems such as interruptions, could still befall your time in a coworking space. Specific personal productivity issues, not impacted by a work space, must be addressed as well. For example, if you had a tendency to procrastinate at home, you may see the same issue reemerge. Be sure to utilize the tactics and routines that help you remain focused and on track.

I encourage you to visit the Coworking Wiki page for more information about coworking. Also consult sites such as LiquidSpace and OpenDesks, to help you book that space.

One last note: If you find that perfect place — be sure to share your good fortune with others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Poor Review? Four Ideas to Get Back on Track

Experiencing a poor performance review can be an unnerving experience – but you can find a way to move forward. Try to control your negative feelings and concentrate on a plan for the future. Give yourself some time to mourn the event, but then make the commitment to look ahead.

Get a complete view of your performance

Gaining a well-rounded view of who you are as a performer is the first step – and information is power. If your organization doesn’t use a 360 degree appraisal format, obtain additional information on your own. If you have a peer you can trust, ask for their honest perception on how you are doing and access your “invisible resume”. (For those who have a role similar to yours, also inquire about the strategies they utilize to attack the tasks you find challenging). Also consider gathering feedback from those who depend on you on a daily basis, as they can also offer a unique vantage point concerning your performance.  Are you meeting their expectations? Find out. (You can read more about that here).

Put your own plan in motion

Don’t be a passive bystander if you feel that your job may be in trouble.  Set up a follow-up session with your supervisor to discuss specific performance improvement strategies. Be your own training and development advocate and do your homework on programs that might help your performance. Bring along any information you have collected to the session. If you have a good candidate, discuss an individual who could serve as your mentor going forward. (Read more about mentoring here).

Set up a feedback system that works

While meeting with your supervisor discuss regular performance feedback. We know that feedback which occurs once a year is simply inadequate. But, you can’t always put the blame on your supervisor. If you need more feedback, ask for it. Negotiate with your supervisor to receive enough feedback for your needs and design a feedback plan which is mutually acceptable. Build more feedback into your work life (some pointers here) and set up a “personal feedback program” which gathers performance information from various sources on a regular basis.

Stay relevant

Become knowledgeable as to how organizational goals might impact your job in the future. For example, learn about planned changes in service or product lines and how your role might support those endeavors.  Stay on track and obtain company  information that will not only help you stay on track personally, but make a positive organizational impact as well.

We all hit plateaus in our careers – but what we make of those obstacles is what really defines our work lives.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

When It’s Your Job to Present Bad News

fear4Many of us deal with numbers for a living — and this role poses unique challenges. As a corporate researcher, I’ve had the responsibility of analyzing customer/employee opinions and developing meaningful explanations. Sometimes, I would crunch a data set that would put me in quite a stressful predicament — as an explanation did not exist that would make the results more palatable. My heart would actually begin to race, as I saw the initial tabulations. There were big problems to address —  and I dreaded that I would be the one to initially deliver the news.

Strategy is key
Psychology can play a major role in these situations. Personally, it wasn’t the actual numbers that unnerved me — it was the uncomfortable “push back” that I anticipated when presenting the findings. I realized that someone in the audience would likely want to “kill, question, or at least injure the messenger” (which just happened to be me). I was fully aware, that the fallout from the data could hit like a hailstorm, if I didn’t properly map out a communication path.

Prepare for panic mode
Unfavorable numbers can throw any group into emotional chaos — so be prepared to lead the group to a safer ground. When presenting unfavorable results, many can quickly become very uncomfortable. (Often, you can almost feel the tension building in the room).  Key here, is keeping the group calm and and building on the information presented.  “I let my audience know that a rear view mirror is small for a reason.” says Marianne Rose Hines, Senior VP of Sales at Byram Heath. “Your windshield is larger, as it is a view of what lies ahead. If you focus too much upon the rear view, you can actually put the organization in jeopardy.”

Numbers are a snapshot in time as to where you stand. But, the information is only as helpful as the strategy that follows. Encourage your group to focus on what can be done to positively impact the future — as panic can quickly become a large reservoir of wasted energy.

Here are a few other techniques to consider:

  • Craft your opening statements carefully. Prepare your audience for what is to come. This includes helping them put the results in perspective and take a balanced view of the implications.
  • Engage you audience. Avoid a developing “you” vs. “them” scenario — and reinforce your role as role as communicator. Remind the audience often, that you are playing on the same team.
  • Don’t sugar coat results. Be direct and attempt to stay on message. The numbers are simply the numbers —and  staying true to them is the first step in improving future outcomes.
  • Remind the audience that information is power. What we do not know can hurt us. Information on our radar — is information that can be acted upon. Point out that what the group doesn’t know, can become increasingly problematical as time goes on.
  • Keep the group forward focused. Crying over spilled milk never, ever helps — so attempt to get beyond the initial shock and move into “strategy mode”. Always attempt to keep the group moving forward. If someone becomes “stuck” in negative mode, try to re-direct their efforts.
  • Present solution “starters”. Provide information to help the group begin to solve the issues. Guide the group to the areas that can be impacted.

Finally, always offer to meet privately with members of the group to take a closer look at their specific situation. Many may require  time to process the data and weigh the implications. This gesture is often appreciated, and can lead to an open discussion of  potential solutions.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You also can connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.