Meetings don’t suck  — you do!

10 strategies for changing the meeting culture


Meetings have an image problem. Ask around and I think you’ll find that almost no one likes them. 

The general perception is that meetings tend to start late, run long, and lack direction; that meetings are usually unnecessary, often purposeless, and generally lack outcomes. 

Study after study has found that on average, meetings are run poorly, are unproductive, and are so unbearable that workers all over the world experience a phenomenon known as meeting-dread. Evidence even suggests that 90% of executives daydream in meetings on a regular basis.

But here’s the problem…, and your opportunity. 

Meetings can only ever be as good as you make them. They are but a reflection of how you run them, how you attend them, and how you participate in them. 

Meetings don’t actually suck! You do. Judging by the data, we all do. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Done right, meetings have the potential to drive and transform any project. Done right, meetings can actually make you more productive and not less. And, since any given meeting’s ability to reach its potential is really up to you, you have the power to change the meeting culture and make the transition from meetings that suck to meetings that are highly productive and even enjoyable.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist

Transforming the meeting culture in your company is simple, but it is challenging at the same time. It’s simple in that it only requires a few key changes. It’s challenging in that all cultural change is hard. 

Depending on your role, you may not have a lot of influence on how meetings are run across your company. But you do have control over how you schedule and run your meetings, and you get to decide how you participate in the meetings you attend.

There are a number of changes you can implement today that can make a really big difference. Check out these 10 simple strategies for better meetings, and for changing the meeting culture where you work.

1. Avoid unnecessary meetings

“When meetings are the norm — the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem — they no longer work.” 

Jason Fried

Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: is a meeting really necessary? 

Meetings are a major distraction in the workplace. Rather than scheduling a large gathering, maybe you can have a few quick one-on-ones. Maybe you can send an email update or a weekly newsletter. Maybe you can ask your team for a written report instead of a verbal update. Maybe you can communicate your message in any other way. 

Avoiding unnecessary meetings is the first step to building a new and more productive meeting culture.

2. Think hard about who needs to be in the room

“For every additional meeting participant over seven, the likelihood of making a sound decision goes down by 10 percent.” 

Michael Mankins

Getting the right mix of people at your meetings can be tricky, but effective meetings require the right people and the right number of people at the table, virtual or otherwise. 

When you have too many people in the room, the time it takes to make a decision tends to increase and the quality of any given decision tends to reduce. When you don’t have enough people in the room, it can be hard to make a decision at all. And, when a key stakeholder is missing from the room, there’s a high likelihood that you might completely miss something really important.

One way to get this right is to first really consider what you want your meeting to achieve and then make a list of the people you need to be present in the room to achieve that outcome. This approach is, in contrast, to simply inviting everyone without thinking at all, which is fairly common in most workplaces.

Another strategy is to ensure every person you intend on inviting will either a) get value out of attending your meeting or b) bring value to your meeting. This approach is in contrast to the norm, in which meeting creators generally only think about what value they themselves can get out of their meeting.

If the people you’re intending on inviting won’t help you achieve your outcome, or won’t get or add value to your meeting, leave them off the invite list and give them an update, preferably written, later if they need it.

If you ensure that only the right people are in the room, your meetings will be more engaging and achieve more.

3. Always use an agenda

“I’ve found that without an agenda guiding the discussion, it’s also common for attendees to ramble, or engage in simultaneous side-conversations — all outcomes detrimental to taking your company to the next level.” 

Cameron Herold

There are a plethora of benefits to having a meeting agenda. An agenda keeps the meeting on track, helps others to prepare, encourages participation, and ensures the most relevant and important topics are discussed.

Your agenda should include the purpose of the meeting or outcome you’re hoping to achieve, a start time, a finish time, a list of topics for discussion, and a time limit for each topic. Include this agenda in the meeting invite, or send it out as early as possible before the meeting. 

The people you work with want to spend their time on things that matter, so sending them an agenda will allow them to prepare in advance and use their time in your meeting as productively as possible. Seeing an agenda in advance will also give people the opportunity to decide for themselves if they need to be in the room, and opt-out if they want to.

During the meeting, it’s the job of your Chairperson to ensure your meeting keeps to the agenda. More on that in №5.

4. Start on time, no matter what!

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” 

Lik Hock Yap Ivan

All meetings need to start on time, even if you’re still waiting for some attendees to arrive or call-in, and even if the latecomer is the boss. 

Not only will starting on time help you get through all the items on your agenda, but it’s also a sign of respect to the people who made the effort to be on time. Don’t waste their time. It’s precious. 

Starting without the latecomers will be a shock for people at first, particularly if a number of people are still to arrive. But, latecomers will quickly learn to be on time in the future, and those who are typically always on time will appreciate you for valuing their time and attention.

5. Every meeting needs a chairperson

“If then it’s not that the things you pursue or avoid are coming at you, but rather that you in a sense are seeking them out, at least try to keep your judgment of them steady, and they too will remain calm and you won’t be seen chasing after or fleeing from them.” 

Marcus Aurelius

Meetings, if done right, will require moderation. Meetings should include sharing opinions and making decisions, both of which can take the meeting off-track if not monitored. As such, you’ll need a steady, impartial hand to correct course, connect dots, and ensure decisions are made and outcomes achieved. 

A chairperson’s job is to keep people on-topic and on time, so make sure whoever is sitting in that seat has the confidence to wrangle the group into line, to close out agenda items in the interest of time, and to ask for a prompt decision to be made.

6. If it’s not on the agenda, don’t discuss it

“An effective meeting is like Burning Man: there are no spectators — only participants!”

Sarah Goff-Dupont

You want to finish your meeting on time, right? Well, this one hack will give you the best chance of achieving that end.

The exception to this rule is that topics that are not on the agenda can only be discussed if:

  • There is a majority-agreement that the topic is important enough to be added to the agenda for immediate discussion; and 
  • That an existing agenda item gets dropped to make time for it.

Make sure to keep a list of off-agenda topics to be discussed either off-line or at future meetings and make sure you follow up.

7. Kick people out of your meetings

“Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”

Greg McKeown

Not everyone needs to be in the room for the entire meeting. Give people the option to stay or leave once the topic that concerns them has been discussed or if no other topics on the agenda will bring them value.

With advanced notice of the agenda, and with the organizer’s blessing, some people may even be able to arrive at the meeting only in time for the agenda item that concerns them and leave straight after.

Allowing people to come for the agenda items that concern them and leave when they’re no longer able to receive or add value will result in meetings that are intensely focussed on high-value topics and decisions and will give your meeting participants the chance to maximize their own productivity. Win-win.

8. Don’t keep minutes, create actions

“The faster we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and zero in on the best solution.”

Tim Brown

Unless your meeting has some type of compliance built into it, like for example a meeting of the board of directors or a meeting of senior executives that requires a formal record-of-conversation, forget about keeping minutes. No one needs a play-by-play of what was said and by whom and few people read them anyway. 

Instead, keep and distribute a list of action items. For each action item, include a deadline and allocate a single meeting attendee who is accountable for the task’s completion and who will report back to the group on their progress.

9. Travel light

“Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.”

Cal Newport

Technology can enhance or hinder a meeting’s effectiveness. Your laptop and a platform like Zoom or Whereby may be essential for your next virtual team meeting, but that extra window you have open so you can respond to email during the meeting is not. Just like at any other time during your working day, distraction comes at a high cost.

Responding to email or even just reading messages on your mobile phone during a meeting can cause major issues in your team. One study found that when you use your mobile phone during a meeting, most people around you will find it annoying or even disrespectful. Technology distractions slow meetings down and reduce engagement by participants.

Keeping people focused on the task or agenda item at hand is key to facilitating a productive meeting that finishes on time. And, using the opportunity to really engage with one another is likely to pay dividends down the road. 

Really think about what tech is necessary for your meeting to be effective. It’s unlikely that you can hold meetings that are completely tech-free, but you should try to keep them as digitally-minimalist as possible.

10. Finish on time, no matter what

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

Harvey MacKay

One of the biggest complaints about meetings is that they run late. And since most of us are regularly booked in back-to-back (to-back-to-back)meetings, meetings that run late are a big cause of people arriving at meetings late. It’s a vicious cycle that compounds throughout the day.

When it’s time to wrap it up, please just wrap it up. If you didn’t get through everything you needed to, learn from it. Maybe you had too many agenda items. Maybe your chair could have done a better job facilitating and keeping things on track. Maybe you just needed a longer meeting. Either way, learn your lessons and do it better next time.

Every one of us has a limited amount of time in our day and lots of important work to do, so do whatever you need to do to finish on time. 


Meetings don’t have to suck. If they do, it’s only a reflection of how they’re scheduled, how they’re run, and how people participate in them.

All the steps above are geared toward getting you and your team in and out of your meetings on time while achieving what you set out to achieve. Try to incorporate these principles into your meetings and over time you and your team will be more effective, more productive, and make better decisions.

Meetings may even become something you look forward to.


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6 Steps For Better Staff Engagement Surveys

Without a doubt, getting company culture right is critical for achieving your business goals. In fact, along side strategy, research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests culture is the primary lever for organisational success.

“A recent global study of engagement from the ADP Research Institute found that if employees consider themselves part of a team (or even better, part of more than one team), they are twice as likely to feel engaged in their work.”

HBR

To get your culture right, you need to understand your people as best you can and the most effective way to understand your team is through regular staff engagement. There are plenty of ways to engage with your staff, but one of the most effective in terms of resources and outcome, is staff engagement surveys. They’re cost effective, provide staff with a platform to have their say, and provide leaders with real insights that can support better decision making.

These 6 steps will help you conduct staff engagement surveys that facilitate constructive dialogue and improve company culture and productivity.

1. Focus on teams

One-size-fits-all, whole-of-organisation surveys have their place, but they’re also clunky and can fail to give a true indication of the state of your staff’s engagement with their job and your organisation.

Evidence suggests that a staff member’s immediate team and line-manager have a big impact on how they feel about their job. So, tailoring surveys to suit the needs of individual teams gives leaders more honest insights into the workings of their team, and focus their energy on what really matters.

2. Be consultative

Involve staff in the design of your survey to generate buy-in and higher participation rates. When you ask staff to be part of the survey’s creation, you also gain insights into what your staff want to tell you their team, their job and their manager.

3. Make them regular

Once a year surveys just don’t cut it anymore. Conduct your staff engagement surveys no less than twice per year. In my opinion, conducting a staff engagement survey once every quarter is best-practice, especially if you are a large organisation.

Shifts in culture and in the general business environment happen quickly and often in today’s business landscape, so conducting surveys any less than twice per year can result in stale, unusable data over time.

4. Make them easy

Make sure your surveys are easy to access and not too long. Conduct the survey online and make it accessible through a link you can send around via email and that is available on your intranet or online learning management system.

The survey should take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete. Any longer and staff will lose interest and answer questions without proper consideration. At the end of the day, you want your staff being productive not spending half their day filling out a survey.

When the survey is ready for staff to complete, set and communicate a deadline along with regular reminders so staff don’t forget to participate.

5. Be transparent

Share survey data with everyone in the organisation as soon as possible. There are a number of ways you can do this. Try a combination of the following: an agenda item at team meetings; a whole-of-team email; a whole-of-organization email; an address from the CEO; post results on your intranet or online learning management system; all of the above.

Include in your communications a high level plan and timetable for taking action on survey results.

6. Take action

Don’t expect the data from your surveys to always tell you how awesome it is to work at your company. No company is perfect and even the best places to work in the world invest in maintaining and improving their culture. Good staff engagement is a continuous program of improvement.

Get to work as soon as possible. Create project teams to plan and drive the change process. Open project teams up for volunteers from all teams who want to make a positive contribution to the company. Ensure senior leadership champions your change agenda.


A great company culture is the sum of a lot of different, interconnected activities and efforts. Knowing how engaged your staff are with their job and how they feel about working for your company is the first step toward creating a company culture that drives productivity and success.

Sharing is caring, so please let us know your tips for conducting staff engagement activities?


This piece was originally written and then adapted for Fridge Magazine in 2015.

12 reasons you might consider leaving your job for a new challenge

  1. There’s nothing left to learn.
  2. There are no opportunities to contribute on projects that you care about.
  3. You can’t let your unique abilities loose.
  4. The majority of your day is spent performing tasks that serve no greater purpose.
  5. Your efforts go unrecognised despite doing your best to promote yourself, your work, your project in a humble and professional way.
  6. Your boss speaks poorly of you to their bosses and others to cover up their own under performance.
  7. The culture is toxic.
  8. There is no chance for career development ie. more responsibility, acting up, secondment, promotion, leading important projects etc.
  9. The organization sees leadership as being about titles and positions, instead of values and behaviors.
  10. Monday mornings are the worst.
  11. You’re not getting paid enough to make ends meet.
  12. You can’t not start a business or grow your side hustle.

This article was originally published on Startup Grind.

What kind of work should you do first thing in the morning?

“Your most important work, your highest-value work is the work that is most important to your team’s mission.”

There’s a lot said among productivity pundits about the power of doing our most meaningful or most high-value work first thing in the morning.

The theory being, and it’s backed by research, that we have the most cognitive potential first thing in the morning, compared to later in the day.

Sounds great. It’s backed by research. Let’s do it.

But, what is high-value work?

For some there’s the idea of eating the frog or, doing the toughest, most uncomfortable tasks first, to get them out of the way.

For others, high value work means diving into projects that require high levels of focus, concentration or a state of flow.

These two ideas dominate the productivity landscape.

But, work that is of high-value depends on your role. Most in the productivity scene would say that email or meetings for example, are not high-value activities.

And, they’d say that these are exactly the type of tasks that one should avoid first thing in the morning. If possible, I certainly do.

But…

As a manager or leader, your highest-value work could very well be attending to email, facilitating communication, or rounding up the team for a check-in.

Your most important work, your highest-value work is the work that is most important to your team’s mission.

So, do your most important work first. Your job is to figure out what that is and don’t worry so much about the literature. Just worry about what’s best for your team.


If you liked this article, you’ll probably like The Monthly Review. A curated monthly email with links to articles, stories and resources that help you lead, collaborate and solve interesting problems.

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How to make project planning simpler and more effective

Planning is guessing. ‬

But…

‪Being reactive costs 3 times more than planning.‬

As a leader, what do you do? The answer is in the middle.

Set high-level goals and lay a path for how you’re going to get there.‬

You can’t know exactly what it will take to achieve what you want.‬

And, what you want might change based on what you learn by walking down the path to your goal.

So, don’t bother with detail. Just start and be flexible.


Did you enjoy this article? Was it helpful? If so, you’ll probably like The Monthly Review. It’s a curated email newsletter that I send out once per month with the best articles, stories and resources from around the web that help you to be a better leader. It’s free, there’s no spam and no bullshit. Just click here to sign up.


 

Let’s get rid of COB deadlines

If you work in an office it’s likely you’re familiar with the ‘COB’ deadline.

‘COB’ being the acronym for ‘Close Of Business’ or the old 5pm knock-off time.

“…get that report to me by COB Tuesday” or “I need that submitted by COB Friday” you’ll hear people say.

But here’s the thing. What is someone going to do with a document, report or submission that’s received at the end of the day?

The answer – probably nothing. At least not until maybe lunchtime the next business day.

Today’s workplaces are (or at least should be) characterised by people working flexible hours in flexible locations. In this kind of environment, if we’re being practical, when you tell two different people to ‘get it in by COB’, one person might send their work before 5pm, but by definition the other may send it at 11pm.

Our work cycles are no longer 9-5. The COB deadline no longer reflects the nature of the work we do in a modern office context. In essence, the COB deadline is becoming obsolete.

So what do we do? I have two suggestions.

First, try setting the deadline relative to the timelines in the project you’re working on, rather than some arbitrary end of day timeline.

Second, set deadlines for lunch time or 12pm the day after you’re thinking about setting the COB deadline. Since you’re not likely to look at what’s submitted until the next day anyway, let’s give our colleagues a) the freedom to end their work day on time if their paper isn’t quite finished and b) the chance to ‘overnight-test’ their work to ensure they’re submitting something they can be proud of.

The last thing I’d say is, when setting deadlines, let’s prioritise what our people need to do their best work, rather than prioritising what we as managers need to get our own work done. At the end of the day, this is the essence of leadership.



(Image credit: rawpixel on Unsplash)

My 5 favorite videos from 2017: bitcoin, life’s journey, stoicism, procrastination & how we learn

Used in the right way, Youtube can be an amazing source of learning and personal development. The world changed a lot in 2017, and so did I.

Here’s what influenced me.


Ever wonder how bitcoin (and other crypto currencies) actually work? – 3 Blue 1 Brown


Life is not a journey – Alan Watts


The philosophy of stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci


Inside the mind of a master procrastinator – Time Urban


Why we only learn when we repeat – Alain de Botton



 

The best articles from 2017 (as shared in The Monthly Review)

2017 was a big year. Now that 2018 is well under way, here’s a recap of 2017’s best articles from around the web, as shared by The Monthly Review.
Enjoy!

Productivity

Monday. It’s the day we all love to dread. Garfield famously hates Mondays, and if you want to have some fun with Urban Dictionary definitions, Monday is either “the biggest waste of exactly one-seventh of your life” or “the reason Sundays suck.”
Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment. So if you’re aware that your mind is wandering, you’re halfway to a successful mindfulness practice.
“How can we strike a balance and dedicate time, attention and energy to that one special project that needs our focus?”
“Music has a way of permeating through empty corners and filling up environments with substance. It can help you relax, make you well up in tears, or feel alive.”
“Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most accomplished people the world has ever known. He was not just brilliant, but prolific as well. Anyone who looked at him would probably assume that he was an unusually focused and disciplined man. Except that wasn’t the case. He spent around fifteen years developing the ideas for The Last Supper while he worked on a variety of other projects. He was criticised for being a dabbler…”
“Ah, to-do lists. The bane of our existence, the source of our stress and occasionally the symbol of our triumph. OK, I’m being a little dramatic–but those of us who’ve abided by this method of task-organisation have probably felt that sinking feeling when we realise we’ve barely made a dent in our list, and it’s the end of the work day.”
“The weight many people feel from all their excess possessions is similar to the overwhelm most people feel at work, too. Without quite realising how it got this bad, our days are bursting at the seams with emails, meetings, reports, and interruptions, leaving us tired at the end of the day and wondering what we actually accomplished.”
No, this has nothing to do with tomatoes.
I’ve put together these bullet points on personal productivity to celebrate my birthday. That’s why the number is so odd.
This technique is simple, effective and I feel is one of the key reasons why I get so much done.

Leadership

If an employee at your organization walked out with a brand-new laptop every day, you’d have him arrested, or at least fired… But when an employee demoralizes the entire team by undermining a project, or when a team member checks out and doesn’t pull his weight, or when a bully causes future stars to quit the organization — too often, we shrug and point out that this person has tenure, or vocational skills or isn’t so bad.
“…empower your teams. Trust your individual leaders. But don’t think that’s all there is to management and leadership.”
“Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult.”
We were like cogs in a machine and that’s all that organisations expected of us.
What’s our goal? What’s our strategy for achieving that goal? What’s our step-by-step plan?

 Management

“The reason I lead with an open door is it is imperative to my success. If I don’t hear from every employee or the one’s that have something to say, then I don’t have a pulse on the way my company works. Whether it’s positive or negative, I need to know.”
“We’ve all been in situations in which we couldn’t wait for a slow-moving or overly cautious employee to take action. But at the other extreme, some employees have such a deep need to get things resolved that they move too quickly, or too intensely, and make a mess.”
“A happy worker is 12 percent more productive than the average employee and 22 percent more productive than the unhappy ones. Additionally, disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses up to $450 billion per year in lost productivity. The leader who fails to take these figures seriously places the longevity of their business at grave risk.”

Career

If this sounds like you, it’s time to start making moves.
Rewarding professional relationships are critical to your career and need to be nurtured as authentically as ties to friends and family. If you find yourself floating around solo on your jobs journey, there’s a good chance you may be doing it wrong.
“…seven of our top productivity tips to give you a head start on your next work move.”
“There isn’t a straightforward answer, but relevancy plays a big part.”
“4 tips for building a career support system.”
“Science shows that swapping more substantive conversations for the same old vacuous small talk can help you be much happier. Which is why I’m always on the lookout for better ice breakers that the usual ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Did you catch the game on Saturday?”

 Health & Wellbeing

“Hi. My name is Tyler, and I have mental health issues.” That’s a scary statement to hear/read, and believe me, it’s even more scary to say/write. How would you react if someone you didn’t know well said it to you?
Clinicians have long known that there is a strong link between sleep, sunlight and mood. Problems sleeping are often a warning sign or a cause of impending depression, and can make people with bipolar disorder manic.
“Hi. My name is Tyler, and I have mental health issues.”
“I sometimes write about how a good start to your day often leads to having a good day in general. A social, an energetic or a productive start sets the context for your day. But on some days you may not get a good start for some reason. Maybe you slept badly. Or the maybe grey skies and cold summer rain is dragging your energy down.”
…it’s safe to say that the old adage “Pressure creates diamonds” could use some qualifications.
Less than 1% of people are living according to the principles/science described herein.

 Startup

User-friendly apps that have made our life a whole lot easier at The Happy Startup School, and will also help you find team flow.

Design

Good design principles can be learned and exercised by anyone. This guide will give you a basic knowledge of practical design tips you can apply today (and impress your design friends).

Creativity

“A five-step guide for how to build and develop a compelling narrative, that can be adapted to your preferred storytelling medium.”
“Checking social media, watching Netflix, or just zoning out doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It means that you’re human.”
“If there’s one piece of advice that I could offer any aspiring creative, it’s this. Develop a habit of consistently doing something. It doesn’t matter what it is, how small or how big it is.”

Interesting Stuff

“If a particular book sounds interesting to you, click on the full book summary and you can browse all of my notes on it.”
“These inspiring leaders are shaping the future of business in creative ways.”
“This guide will give you a basic knowledge of practical design tips you can apply today (and impress your design friends).”
We spent almost 15 years being brainwashed on how to be students. And we’re still paying the price.
You’re just getting started as a writer. Or you’ve been doing it your whole life. But you’ve never published a book. And you want to; you need to. You’re just not quite sure how to begin. What would it actually take?
You’ve probably heard time and time again that starting a blog for your business is necessary.
How to Use this Revolutionary Psychological Tactic to Your Own Advantage.


 

Why you need to keep your work space clean and organised

People tend to focus too much on what app they can use to boost their productivity, when often it’s their physical environment that’s holding them back.

150129165925-desk-infographic-2-780x439

Studies have shown that the average worker loses about an hour a day to disorganisation. Consider for a moment what that means in productivity terms.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you work 5 days per week and get paid $30 an hour (even if you’re a freelancer being paid by the contract you should still calculate what you’re making per hour worked to maximize your productivity).

Losing that hour a day to disorganisation, costs you 5 working hours every week, (that’s more that half a day’s work) 10 hours a fortnight (getting that back could earn you a long-weekend twice per month) and 260 hours per year.

 

“If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.”

 

If you work from home for someone else, that’s time you could be spending with your family, working out, tending to your garden, going out with friends or reading your favorite book.

If you work from home as a freelancer, that lost hour per day is costing you $150 per week, $300 per fortnight or $7,800 per year. If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.

If those figures don’t make you want to get better organised, I don’t know what will. Try these tips for optimising your workspace for maximum productivity.

Change your frame of mind

Think of your workspace as a command centre. There’s a reason institutions like the military, police or fire departments enforce strict organisational practices. It’s because when the shit hits the fan, they need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Imagine being called to put out a fire, only to find that you still haven’t rolled up your hose and don’t know where your helmet is. If you’re an aspiring high performer, you also need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

De-clutter

Over time, our offices and desks get so full of useless, non-essential garbage it’s not funny. Cull it all and get rid of everything you don’t need. Be ruthless. Old documents — file them or chuck them. Too many pens — keep a few on your desk and put the rest in your drawer or a cupboard.

Also, take some time to organise your cords and cables. Use velcro cable-ties to bunch cords together and pick a spot on your desk (preferably on your dominant hand side – more on that later) to keep devices on charge and on-hand.

Create systems

When I was a younger man, I would use the single bucket technique for organising my affairs. You know the one. Ok, I’ll explain. Take income tax for example.

Receipts and pay-slips came in, I put them all in a single, unmarked shoe-box along with any and everything else (including non-tax related stuff) I thought might be important enough to hold on to, and when 30 June came around, I would spend hours sorting receipts, throwing half of them away because they were useless and usually finding a bunch of important documents missing. What and waste of time.

A few years ago I came to my senses and started trying different processes and systems that actually helped me organise my affairs in a way that saved time, saved effort and which led to better outcomes.

If you haven’t’ read it already, David Allen’s Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is a great starting point for creating systems that will help you do a better job of managing your affairs (turns out I was on the right track though. He too uses a bucket system, just with more buckets. My friend Paul Minors has written a great book summary, download it free here).

Set up your space

A work space that’s set up in the right way helps to reduce your risk of injury, save you time and energy and make you more productive. Try these tips for setting up your workspace:

  • Get your monitor and keyboard into comfortable positions. Offices often have workspace assessors who make recommendations about how to set up your desk to reduce the risk of injury. While that’s reason enough, knowing how to set up a safe workspace will also enhance your productivity. Do some research on workspace setup and consider getting someone in to set you up properly. Your back, eyes and whichever wrist you use to control your mouse will thank you later
  • To reduce clutter, only keep on your desk the office supplies that you use on a daily basis. Keep supplies you use weekly in your desk drawer and all others in a cupboard.
  • Keep regularly used stationery and your devices on your dominant-hand side of your desk to reduce reaching across your body. Sounds small but it will save you time and energy.
  • Keep your desk clear but be sure to include anything you need to facilitate the operation of your systems ie. in-trays and file holders (don’t go too minimalist). Avoid keeping too many personal trinkets on your desk – they’re just a distraction and you’re already at home so there’s no need to be reminded about how cute your cat is.

Use a clear-desk policy

It’s common for employees in government departments and some big companies to have to ensure that all desks are clear and clean before they go home. You should do the same in your home office. With a clear desk, you’ll be able to focus on work when it’s work time and forget about work when it’s not.

It will be a pain in your proverbial at first, but once you’ve been practicing a clear-desk policy for a couple of weeks it should only take you 5 minutes in the morning and evening to pull out and put away what ever it is you’re working on at the time. If it helps you to save an hour a day, it’s a winning investment of your time.

Schedule cleanups

Even after changing your mindset, de-cluttering, putting systems in place and setting up your desk properly, you’re still going to get a build up of unnecessary papers and things laying around. Schedule a workspace clean up in your calendar once a month or so to keep your desk in tip-top shape.


This post is an excerpt from my article – “How to be more motivated, creative and productive than ever before: a short guide to working from home” – click here to read the whole article.



 

It’s better to initiate

I recently listened to Seth Godin’s Tribes on audio book. It is… amazing! I’m going to listen again, and again, and probably again. I think that you should too.

What sits with me after having listened this first time are his ideas about how we, as leaders, should take action. Most people, he says, react. Some people respond. Others, a smaller few, initiate.

The difference between them is stark, particularly with regard to our intent and the outcomes we can achieve.

This is what I took away.

To react is to allow something to happen and then act without proper thought or consideration of what can or should be achieved, and done defensively and out of fear.

To respond is to allow something to happen and then act with consideration of the environment and what one hopes to achieve, and is done in self-interest.

To initiate however, trumps both, because it’s about taking action to make something happen, rather than allowing something to happen and then taking action, and is done out of generosity.

The difference between initiating and responding is the difference between a leader and all the others.

All the others respond to things that happen to them. Leaders do things that others respond to.

Which will you be? A leader? Or, just one of the others?