Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

 

Consider this familiar scenario: you have an important document to write (a presentation, memo, budget report, grant application, annual report, fill in the blank…), but you can’t seem to focus. Instead of immersing yourself in the task at hand, you become sidetracked by any number of distractions on your computer. There’s the email you have to send right this second and the company social media updates you’ve been meaning to do and the spreadsheet that’s been on your to-do list all week… and suddenly, your writing is forgotten.

If this has ever happened to you, you are not alone. A recent post on Lifehacker , a productivity blog, addressed this common problem and asked readers to submit their favorite writing tool that helps with ignoring distractions and increasing personal effectiveness. Here were the criteria:

The application in question can be on any platform, portable or not, even web-based, so long as it meets one principle requirement: it serves to block out visual and/or audio distractions and help you focus just on writing

The results  highlight several different applications that shut out visual and audio noise and allow you to focus solely on the words you are typing. These tools have great potential for increasing personal effectiveness for busy (and often distracted) working people. And the top three winners are…

• Q10  was the first place winner with 33 percent of the vote. Q10 is a free, full-screen text editor that runs on Windows-based computers. It has a simple interface but also offers a host of useful features:
o Word, page and character counts that are updated as you type
o Formatting options, including font colors, line spacing and paragraph formatting
o Spell check and autocorrect
o Plain text format that can be opened by any text editor or word processor
o Fun typewriter sounds (taken from French movie “Amélie”)

• Ommwriter  took second place with 23 percent of the vote. It was designed to be “an internal tool to help transport us away from the humdrum noise; allowing us to be at one with ourselves and our ideas” and it offers a purposely simple, almost meditative writing experience for Mac users. Some of its features include:
o Font formatting (with a larger text option for visually challenged users)
o Screen colors and soothing ambient and keyboard sounds
o File formats to save documents as .pdf or .rtf

• FocusWriter  held third place with 15 percent of the vote. It is a full-screen word processor that is compatible with Windows, Mac and open source systems. FocusWriter offers:
o Counts for words, paragraphs, pages and characters (updated as you type)
o Customizable fonts, colors and background images
o Daily goals based on word count or time spent typing
o Spell checking

Do you use an application or have any useful tips for distraction-free writing? Share your suggestions for personal effectiveness in the comments below.

Learn more about EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness  course.

Posted by & filed under Work Life Balance.

 

For many working people, the holidays are anything but relaxing. The months of November and December often feel like a mad rush to complete the same amount of work in a much shorter timeframe, not to mention the addition of family commitments, travel plans and money concerns.

 

It is important to discover the right equilibrium between productivity and relaxation within your organization during the holidays. As a manager, it’s up to you to set the right example for the season; follow these tips to find the ideal work-life balance for your workplace and talent development exercises.

 

1. Plan ahead.

Work with your team to schedule which days the office will be closed and which days people are taking off for vacation. If you have clients or suppliers you work closely with, find out their holiday schedules as well. Write all of the dates on the master office wall calendar or online calendar, and anticipate any conflicts in advance.

 

For example, if the office manager is going to be out of town for two weeks, you may need to book a replacement through a temporary staffing agency. If you know you want to take some vacation days at the end of December, you may need to delegate some of your responsibilities in preparation for your absence. By planning ahead, you will minimize last-minute stressful scheduling situations.

 

2. Recognize the importance of time off.  

Everyone needs some vacation for rest and relaxation, and spending quality time with family and friends is a priority for many people during the holidays. Respect others’ work-life balance, and limit work emails and phone calls to absolute emergencies. On that note, try to leave work at work and enjoy your own vacation time as well. Recognize that most of the business world is also celebrating with family, and most tasks can wait until after the holiday.

 

3. Get into the spirit.

Find ways to show your appreciation for the hard work your team has done in the last year. This may be in the form of the annual holiday cocktail party, a staff luncheon, an extra day off or a low-cost “Secret Santa” gift exchange. You have all earned some time to socialize, relax and rest up for the upcoming year.

 

How do you find your work-life balance during the holidays?

 

Learn more about EDSI’s team building resources  that can benefit your organization.

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

 

When you work closely with a team of people every day, there are bound to be occasional disagreements. It can be frustrating when you don’t see eye to eye with a co-worker, but you can keep a small argument from escalating into a serious conflict by communicating clearly.

 

Improve your communication skills by keeping these simple steps in mind, and you will strengthen your work relationships.

 

1. Pay attention to your voice.

Do you have a tendency to raise your voice when you get upset? Do you sometimes adopt a sarcastic tone when you argue? Take an honest look at these habits, and think about how they may affect the person you are talking to. Catch yourself when you start to yell or use a negative tone of voice. Try to speak in a calm, even voice; when you find yourself getting upset, pause to collect yourself and then continue more slowly.  

 

2. Focus on mutual understanding.

If you are intent on proving you are right and winning the argument, you aren’t going to make any progress in solving the problem. Practice active listening, one of the most important communication skills, instead of just thinking of what you are going to say next. Ask questions to clarify what the other person is saying, and try to see the problem from his or her perspective. Setting a good example by listening attentively will make the other person more willing to listen to you. If you disagree, express your opinion respectfully and without personal attacks.

 

3. Don’t get sidetracked.

Sometimes while discussing one problem, you may bring up past conflicts or related issues to prove your point. Resist the temptation to do this; it is rarely productive and can often exacerbate the current problem. Focus on the issue at hand and avoid unnecessary distractions.

 

4. Take responsibility.

If you are at fault in a situation, admit that you were wrong and take ownership of the mistake. If you both can be honest about your mistakes and apologize, it is much easier to work toward a solution.

 

5. Take a breather.

If a disagreement is getting too heated and you are in danger of losing your temper, take a break. Go grab a cup of coffee or take a quick walk around the block, then come back to the discussion when you’ve cooled down.

 

5. Search for a compromise.

Instead of fighting to get your way, consider alternative solutions that might work for both of you. Be creative and try to find a compromise that will give you both what is most important to you.

 

What communication skills are the most challenging for you? How are you working to improve them?

 

Take the DISCself online personality test  to find out more about your communication style.

 

Posted by & filed under Assessment.

Traditionally, employees received performance assessments only from their direct managers, creating a linear and straightforward feedback method. Many organizations are now adopting a different approach, 360-degree feedback, which gathers evaluations of an individual from multiple sources: supervisors, peers, subordinates and customers, for a circular approach. Often there is also a self-assessment portion of the process as well.

This system is usually anonymous and a combination of questions on a rating scale as well as written responses. One person is in charge of compiling and communicating the results to the employee being evaluated.

Pros of 360-Degree Feedback

Proponents of the process say it is a valuable performance enhancement and employee development tool.

  • Participants receive a much broader perspective than they would from hearing observations from their direct supervisors. Sometimes fellow team members or subordinates have important information that is not apparent to managers, and this information can help those receiving feedback with increasing personal effectiveness.
  • Organizations are also able to evaluate their talent pool, identify training or management gaps and assess if they are living up to their values and goals.
  • It can help teams strengthen their rapport and work more efficiently together.

Cons of 360-Degree Feedback

This evaluation system must be carefully planned, monitored and implemented for it to be well-received and successful.

  • If it is not thoughtfully executed, it can result in severe backlash from employees, including emotions such as fear, anger, resentment and frustration. This type of feedback must be part of a well-defined performance management system.
  • It can focus too heavily on weaknesses instead of emphasizing strengths, which can leave employees discouraged.
  • It can be expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive to implement.

360-degree feedback is an innovative way of evaluating performance within an organization, but it is not necessarily the right fit for every workplace. Have you tried this process in your organization? What were the pros and cons?

Learn more about EDSI’s Communicating to Manage Performance course.

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

 

There was an interesting blog post on The 99 %  about a surprisingly simple productivity tool: an everyday stack of Post-Its.

 

The author, Mark McGuiness, a coach for artists and creative professionals, struggled for a long time with managing his many daily priorities and commitments. No matter how hard he tried to cross items off his to-do list, his list always seemed to be longer at the end of the day than at the beginning.

 

His personal effectiveness increased when he started employing a very straightforward strategy: he fits his to-do list for today and today only on a single 3”x3” Post-It. Everything else that isn’t urgent and important goes on the list for tomorrow.

 

One of my most valuable productivity tools is a stack of Post-It notes. Not the smallest size, but the 3″ x 3″ squares. The top Post-It contains my to-do list for today, and today only. Because my day is a limited size, I figure it makes sense to limit the size of my to-do list. If I can’t fit the day’s tasks on the Post-It, I’m not likely to fit them into the day.

 

 

 

Though we all have our own methods for staying organized and managing projects, Mark’s Post-It approach is an excellent reminder that we need to be realistic about time management. Many of us are guilty of trying to fit a month’s worth of tasks into a single day, then becoming frustrated and discouraged when we fail to do the impossible. It is easy to get overwhelmed by a mile-long to-do list, so it is actually more productive to create a shorter, more reasonable daily agenda.

 

Whether you adopt Mark’s Post-It method, use an online project management system or keep a to-do list on your smart phone, keep these tips in mind to increase your personal effectiveness and accomplish more in a day:

 

1. Be realistic.  

Before you add something to today’s task list, consider how much time it will take, how urgent it is and if you are actually going to get to it. If you know it’s due in two weeks and you won’t have time to look at it until Thursday, put it on the backburner and don’t add it to today’s list out of guilt.

 

2. Prioritize.

Create some sort of ranking system for your to-do list items, arranging them based on importance and urgency. Highlight top priorities and tackle those first instead of procrastinating with less immediate items.

 

3. Be flexible.

Even with the best planning, there will always be days where you need to add urgent items to your agenda and remove others. Shift priorities as necessary, and avoid overscheduling yourself when possible.

 

How do you keep your daily to-do list? How do you keep it manageable and productive?  Do your employee development courses offer organizing tips?

 

For more on productivity, check out EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness  course.

 

 

 

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

 

No matter what industry you are in, chances are you have a few meetings in your schedule. Budget meetings, marketing meetings, brainstorming meetings, fundraising meetings— the list goes on. We have all had to sit through bad meetings—the tedious, unproductive, seemingly endless ones—and thought, “There has to be a better way to do this.”

 

There is a better way.

 

Put an end to long, scattered conversations and institute rules for more efficient and effective meetings. Sometimes it is necessary to meet as a team to discuss a specific purpose, and with these guidelines you can make the most of your time.

 

5 Guidelines for Effective Meetings

1. Pick one organizer and facilitator.

Having too many cooks in the kitchen can slow you down. If you are the meeting facilitator, you are in charge of scheduling the time, drawing up a final agenda and inviting participants to the meeting. You will also act as an active facilitator during the meeting, ensuring that the team stays focused on the agenda at hand and stays within specified time limits.

 

2. Draw up an agenda and stick to it like glue. 

Nothing is worse than a meeting about new product ideas that becomes an off-track conversation about the office holiday party. As the facilitator, determine the purpose of the meeting and keep it as specific as possible. Email all participants a point-by-point agenda with time limits for each topic. Once the final agenda is sent out, try to avoid make any changes or additions.

 

During the meeting, it is your job to keep everyone focused on the purpose you outlined and bring participants back from any tangents. Be polite but firm when the conversation goes off topic, and ban or limit distractions such as cell phones and laptops.

 

3. Keep time.

Effective meetings have time constraints and are not allowed to run over. If you schedule an hour-long meeting, be sure that it lasts only one hour. Be respectful of your colleagues’ time, and give each item on the agenda exactly the number of minutes specified from the beginning. Remind team members when their time is running out on each topic.

 

4. Foster a culture of respect.  

Interrupting colleagues, playing the blame game and other disrespectful actions waste time and hurt productivity. Set a general set of “rules of play” for all meetings and call out those who violate them. Focus on using “I” statements (“I need to have an updated budget to move forward on this project” vs. “You haven’t given me a budget yet, which is why this isn’t done yet”) and letting one person speak at a time.

 

5. End with next steps.

Follow-through is the most important part of effective meetings, and it is sadly often neglected. Talking and brainstorming are fine, but action is far more valuable. At the end of the conversation, have each person say what his or her next steps will be and when they will be completed. Each task should have one owner who is responsible for seeing it to completion. If there are any unclaimed action steps, assign them now and clear up any confusion.

 

How do you increase productivity in meetings within your organization? Share your tips in the comments section.

 

Learn more about EDSI’s Leading with Credibility course.

 

Posted by & filed under Employee Development.

Plenty of organizations pride themselves on having a collaborative work environment, promoting the values of cooperation and teamwork, but how many truly live up to their reputation? For every workplace that genuinely strives to build a foundation of mentoring and knowledge-sharing, there are others that directly or indirectly encourage competitive, even cutthroat, behavior in employees.

 

A small amount of healthy or friendly competition can have its place in the office, inspiring employees to work hard for a goal, but competitiveness among co-workers can easily get out of control and overshadow the best interests of individuals and the organization as a whole.

 

“When [competition] goes too far, the manager has neglected his or her team-building responsibilities,” said teamwork and management expert Holly Green in an MSN.com article .

 

Supporting collaboration is a beneficial long-term strategy. It minimizes jealousy among colleagues, encourages the exchange of helpful information and puts the needs of the organization above anything else.  Collaboration methodologies should be part management training courses.

 

Steps to a More Collaborative Work Environment

Hire the right people.

If you want to emphasize cooperation in your organization, make this value a high priority when you are in the hiring process. Ask questions about an applicant’s experience with cooperative teams, mentoring programs and conflict management. Avoid an applicant who seems overly competitive, individualistic or selfish (with an “every man for himself” attitude).

 

  • Support mentoring.

A strong mentoring culture  within your organization demonstrates how much you care about employee development, continuous learning opportunities and collaboration.

 

  • Share information.

Create a collaborative work environment where everyone is expected to share best practices, knowledge and new ideas because this practice benefits the whole organization (and thus, it benefits individuals). Information hoarding hurts productivity and often wastes time and money. Find an information-sharing system that works for your team, whether that is a wiki, a whiteboard or a weekly meeting.

 

  • Stay consistent with rewards and recognition.

Evaluate how your organization rewards individual and team performance. Does it single out individuals for recognition, while neglecting group collaboration? Ensure that your actions reflect the values you are trying to foster in your employees.

 

How do you encourage a collaborative work environment in your organization?

 

Learn more in EDSI’s Roles and Responsibilities on Teams  course. 

 

 

Posted by & filed under Assessment.

The employee culture of an organization can be difficult to pinpoint or define. It is made up of the attitudes, values, experiences, beliefs and behaviors shared by a group of people, and it varies dramatically from office to office.

 

Organizational culture is usually not written into a company manual or put into words in staff meetings, but it forms an unwritten set of social norms to which employees adhere. Build an employee culture focusing on high engagement and reap the benefits of a staff that is happy, productive and effective.  This can be weaved into employee development courses.

 

 

What Forms Employee Culture?

 

People

The personalities and interactions of people in your organization have the most significant influence on culture. As a leader within your organization, how you communicate and behave has a powerful effect on the attitudes and engagement of your employees. If managers frequently hold closed-door meetings and implement policies without seeking employee input, a suspicious or negative employee culture may begin to develop. On the other hand, if managers focus on mentoring team members and encouraging leadership development, a culture of engagement has the opportunity to form instead. Also consider how employees are recognized or rewarded for a job well done. A little appreciation can go a long way.

 

Values

Organizations with a strong set of core values are able to translate these tenets into action more easily. Learn how to identify and demonstrate your organizational values .

 

Environment

Evaluate the physical working environment of your organization, from the lighting and the decorations to seating arrangements and meeting space. Is it comfortable, welcoming, professional, severe, unfriendly or sloppy? Are there visible symbols of the organization’s values or accomplishments (for example, framed news articles, awards or photos of employees)? Are employees allowed to add small personal touches to their workspaces? Survey your staff about what they like and dislike about their working environment, and take their feedback into account. Making small changes can improve employee culture and engagement.

 

Decision Making

How leaders make decisions, both large and small, is very influential on organizational culture. Is it a strict top-down implementation of new ideas? Is employee input taken into account before or after making decisions? Take a close look at how decision making may have an effect on your employees’ engagement. If it is damaging to the employee culture, examine ways you can improve the decision-making process.

 

Learn more about EDSI’s Team Building  course.

Posted by & filed under Generational.

 

The face of the workplace is constantly evolving as one generation begins to retire and another moves up to take its place. In 2010, an office may have a mix of baby boomers (and older), Generation X-ers and Generation Y-ers all working together. Differences in education, upbringing, social norms and values may create a generation gap that leads to misunderstandings or conflicts at times, but a variety of perspectives can actually benefit and strengthen an organization.

Learn how to bridge the generation gap and build a new standard for professionalism in the workplace.

1. Look past stereotypes.

It can be easy to paint an entire age group with the same brush—all baby boomers are rigid workaholics, all 20-somethings are slackers who lack discipline, etc. Don’t give in to the temptation to generalize your colleagues and employees based on age. Take the time to get to know them as individuals, and learn what makes them each tick (the DISCself online personality test  can give you remarkable insights into strengths and weaknesses). The Gen X-er on your team may have an aptitude for organized project management, and the baby boomer might surprise you with his ability to implement organizational changes.

2. Find common ground.

Instead of griping about the Gen Y’s lack of professionalism in the workplace or the older generation’s strict adherence to “the way we’ve always done things,” work to find shared principles and values. Talk about what results you want to achieve within your organization, whether that is excellent customer service or cutting-edge technology. You may discover differences in the approach taken by different age groups, but focus on the goals and you will probably find many similarities as well. Compromise on the smaller differences, and work toward common objectives.

3. Learn from each other.

One of the greatest benefits of working with several generations of people is the opportunity to learn from each other’s life experiences. A seasoned veteran in your field probably has a wealth of knowledge to share with younger employees and may make an excellent mentor. An employee fresh out of college probably has some innovative ideas to contribute to the discussion as well. Be open to everyone’s ideas and experiences, and take advantage of the chance to learn no matter what your age.

4. Listen to each other.

Sometimes it is necessary to meet people halfway on issues that are important to them. For example, if older colleagues see a more formal dress code as an indicator of professionalism in the workplace, stick to a business attire policy with casual Fridays. And if other team members put a strong emphasis on a work-life balance, be respectful of everyone’s time by not expecting people to work on weekends or holidays.

 

Learn more about professionalism in the workplace with the Professional Presence in a Casual World  course.

Posted by & filed under Assessment.

 

Many organizations are expanding beyond the traditional office format to include telecommuting in some capacity. In a 2008 WorldatWork study , 42 percent of U.S. employers responded that they allowed staff to work remotely during that year. In another survey, 67 percent of respondents said their organization experienced greater worker productivity as a result of allowing full-time or part-time telecommuting.

Allowing employees to work from home occasionally or regularly can be cost-effective and flexible, but managing a remote team  can also come with challenges and miscommunications. Avoid these pitfalls by following these telecommuting tips to keep your team happy and productive.

1. Be Aware of Time Zones

When working with a virtual team, you may have to juggle different time zones and work schedules according to where everyone is located. For example, if you have employees in both San Francisco and Miami who all work 9 to 5, their schedules will vary by three hours. Use online tools to remind yourself what time it is in each employee’s city: the Google world clocks gadget  allows you to add several different time zone clocks to your iGoogle home page.

For staff meetings and other calls requiring participation from employees in different places, try to find a time that is convenient for all parties. Be respectful of everyone’s time (for example, don’t schedule a call that is at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. if possible).

2. Define Ways to Communicate

One of the most important telecommuting tips to keep in mind is to specify how your team should communicate in different situations. Learn how each employee prefers to stay in touch, and tailor your approach when possible. Discuss the following points with your staff to avoid conflict:

  • When is it appropriate to call someone’s cell phone or send an instant message instead of sending an email?
  • Should you hold business communications over the weekend except in urgent situations?
  • Are there certain times that are off-limits for phone calls?
  • Are there collaboration tools, such as project management programs or discussion forums, that can cut back on sending and receiving too many emails?

Communication skills training becomes even more important for employee development in the 21st century.

3. Focus on Deliverables

Flexibility is one of the primary benefits of working remotely. Employees and managers alike can find their own work-life balance as long as they meet deadlines and maintain high-quality work. Recognize that your employees may not be in front of their computers every second of the eight-hour work day, and trust them to get their work done while having a little flexibility to accommodate family and other personal responsibilities. Put a strong emphasis on completing projects, submitting deliverables and meeting concrete goals, and empower your staff to work independently.

Do you have any management telecommuting tips? What are your dos and don’ts?

 

Learn more about performance management resources  at EDSI.