How to become the “go-to” person for important projects

We were once limited by our existing skill set. We were locked into our speciality. If you were trained in preparing budget reports, you prepared budget reports. If you were really good at writing copy, you wrote copy. If you were a project manager, you managed projects.

There was very little room to move outside of our sphere of knowledge and skill. We were like cogs in a machine and that’s all that organisations expected of us.

But, things have changed. Organisations now need and expect people to be flexible and have a broader range of skills. Those who are able to contribute in diverse ways to important projects are valued more than anyone else.

This is great news for you and I because we now have more opportunities to make a meaningful contribution that helps our organisation grow, helps us get ahead and allows us to do interesting work outside of our existing skill set.

So how do we become the type of person who can do almost anything when in reality, we are in fact limited in many ways by our existing skill set? Answering that question could be the topic of an entire book, but just quickly, here’s one strategy.

Almost anything you need to know can be learned quickly online and Google is your secret weapon. You can learn the basics of almost anything with a Google search and some time spent reading, studying diagrams, listening to audio and watching video.

This is not to pay any disrespect to people who are actually experts. It’s just to say that a lack of access to specialised skills need no longer hold back a project in the short term; and that thanks to technology and the plethora of free resources online, we now have the opportunity to contribute in bigger and more exciting ways than before.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say your boss asks you to develop a draft communications plan for a project you’re working on, but you’ve never done one before. Maybe you’ve never even seen a communications plan.

No problem. You don’t have to be an exert to put together a good quality communications plan. You just need to Google it.

Search terms: communications plan; how to develop a communications plan; communications plan template.

Spend a couple of hours reading articles, looking at images, listening to audio and watching YouTube videos and then download and adapt the best template you can find. Now you know enough to get started and have the tools to develop a draft communications plan.

You can take this approach with almost anything: project plan, risk assessment, staff engagement survey, consumer insight research, lead indicators for an impact framework – these are all examples of tasks I’ve been asked to do at different times in my career that I had no idea how to do in the moment, but instead of saying “no, I don’t know how”, I said “sure, let me look into it”.

Finally, and this is really important, don’t pretend you’re an expert. Be confident in your ability to figure things out, but don’t say yes to things that are clearly way above your head and don’t submit something that is of poor quality. Poor quality work is a career killer.

I’ve always felt like I could take on any task, but I would always ensure my boss knew that whatever I was handing them was my first attempt and that it should be treated as a starting point. Managing expectations is key.

If she thought it was good work, great! If she thought it needed more work or required a specialist to take it further, great! Either way I contributed, solved a problem for my boss in the short term, got the ball rolling and showed the people I work with that I am someone who is talented and can be trusted to get shit done. At the end of the day, this is what managers really want: people who can get shit done!

You and I are no longer held back by our existing skill set, and the more we dive in and do the work despite our limitations, the more valuable we are to almost any project in almost any organisation.



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Stop Being So Inclusive

Management has experienced a strong shift in recent decades toward empowering individuals and teams to lead and problem solve. Like any important change, there’s a danger of going too far.

Don’t get me wrong. As a manager I do all I can to empower my people to lead and problem solve. But, there also comes a time when as managers, we need to make a decision, make a call, develop the plan, and at times, even go against the collective wisdom of the team.

The new management paradigm can be used as an excuse by indecisive managers to rely too heavily on their team, and even blame them when things don’t turn out as planned.

Please, empower your teams. Trust your individual leaders. But don’t think that’s all there is to management and leadership. It’s also your job to protect your team and make decisions that are in everyone’s best interests.



 

3 Epic Time Management Techniques for New Freelancers

Freelancing is a tough business. Don’t get me wrong, escaping restrictive office hours and horrible bosses and embracing the creative freedom that comes with doing what you love and are truly good at makes it all worthwhile. But, at the end of the day, it’s still work and tough work at that.

As a freelancer you have to be an all-rounder. Marketing, business planning, accounting, sales, networking and then after all that, there’s the actual work of creating and delivering the product or service that brings in revenue. With these pressures and competing priorities, good time management is essential.

Here are my top 3 most epic time management techniques for new freelancers. And since you don’t have the time to sit back with a cuppa and read an essay on the subject, I’ll keep them brief.

Good luck and go get’m!

1. Find your rhythm

You’ve probably read the books and articles online about the ‘8 most important things you must do before 8am’ or how the early bird gets the worm so you must wake up at 5am everyday or your projects will fail. All bad advice, at least for some, possibly most.

The time in the day that you’re most productive will depend on your biology and lifestyle, not someone else’s prescription. Some people are early birds and others are night owls. As a freelancer you’re not obliged to work when people tell you to, so experiment with working during different times of the day and night and find a rhythm that’s most productive for you personally.

2. Schedule everything

Your to-do list and your calendar are your biggest allies in the battle against time.

Start by adopting a system for note-taking and to-do lists. I use Asana for project and task management online and the Bullet Journal system in my trusty Moleskine for being organised moment to moment.

Once your tasks are listed and laid out front of you, prioritise what’s most important, estimate how long each task or batch of tasks will take to complete and schedule them in your calendar. Now, you’ll know where you should be, what you should be working on and how long it will take at any given time throughout your day.

Be sure to keep some time aside through your day for ad-hoc jobs that pop up.

3. Batch your work into pomodoros

The pomodoro is a technique used to complete focused work or batched tasks during specific blocks of time. There are a few different iterations of the technique, but I do it like this.

Know what you want to achieve, set your timer for 23 minutes and go. When the alarm goes off set your timer again for 7 minutes and take a break. Repeat this cycle 3 times and on the third take a 20-30 minute break. Repeat throughout your day.

*   *   *

Time management is an essential skill for successful freelancers. Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough hours in a day, come back to these techniques and, remember, as H. Jackson Brown Jr, Author of the New York Times best selling “Life’s Little Instruction Book” said:

“…You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” 

 



Please, procrastinate.

I’ve struggled with procrastination my whole life. At least that’s what I tell myself now. That’s what people say about me now. “Oh Ryan, you’re such a procrastinator.” But, when I was young, I was called lazy. I even referred to myself as lazy.

I recently had a realisation that I think all so-called ‘procrastinators’ should have. One that has changed the way I look at my work and the way I do it, my behaviours and my output. As it turns out, I’m not a procrastinator, I’m just intuitively smarter and more productive than non-procrastinators. Let me explain.

In 1955 The Economist published an article written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson about his experience and observations of the British public service.

These observations included that the public service had a tendency to grow, year on year, not in response to there being more and more work to be done, but because of the availability to resources to grow it.

He also noted that bureaucrats liked to create non-essential work for one another and expand their teams so they would be in the company of more allies than enemies. But I digress.

Parkinson’s observations have come to be known as Parkinson’s Law, which over time and within the productivity realm looks and sounds like this:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Essentially, this means that demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is never true. No matter which way you look at it or say it, this law gives incredible power to procrastinators.

Are we procrastinators lazy? Or, as I now like to believe, do we just intuitively know that our efforts to complete a task well before its deadline will be in vain? That my efforts will be much greater and the time spent on a task will be much longer if I start a task now, than if I start later. And, that no matter when I start, the task will inevitably get done, but that by starting it later I’m doing it more efficiently.

So, I encourage you. Please, procrastinate. At least just sometimes. If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.



Success doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it: apathy will get you nowhere and kissing ass will only take you so far.

To be successful at something you need to be awesome at it first. If you’re not awesome at what you do, someday you will be found out, probably humiliated and likely hit a ceiling that will put a halt on your career.

There is some good news, though. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, it’s not too late. You can still become awesome and if you’ve already hit that ceiling I mentioned you’re in luck again because it’s breakable.

Here’s where to start:

  • Stop looking for the silver bullet: the journey to success starts at the bottom of a staircase, not an escalator. It’s not called climbing the corporate ladder for nothing. There is no magic potion for success. Insert as many (misquoted) clichés here as you like, bottom line is you need to start working harder!
  • Know what you want: it’s cool to be all like ‘I let my moral compass be my guide in a career that makes a difference’ but you still need goals. There is no career without them. Stop being a floater. Write down your goals and get at them!
  • Know your business, organisation and your job inside out: research your ass off until you’re an expert and you know all you can about your industry/sector!
  • Seek out and grab with two hands every learning opportunity you can: create your own personal and professional development plan. Show your boss if she’s interested and supportive. Make it happen even if work doesn’t support you!
  • Become T-shaped: if you’re a generalist, become an expert at something; if you’re an expert at something, start learning about everything else!
  • Surround yourself with people who are successful: success breeds success!
  • Don’t make your career your only measure of success: your personal life, health, fitness, hobbies and intellectual pursuits are important and achieving outside of work will make you better at work. Don’t just aim for a successful career, aim for a successful and happy life!

Without hard work and being great at what you do, a successful career will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

When you’re old and looking back on your life, what do you want to see? A loser who looked for the cheap, easy way to the top and didn’t reach their potential; or a winner who worked their ass off to achieve what they were destined to?



How to make a dent and have a successful career in the new era of work

The days of ‘cog-in-the-machine’ employment is coming to an end. As the information economy grows and develops, people who can do more than shift a lever or press a button on a production line are more important than ever.

But, what is it exactly that we need people, in this new era of work, to do? And, how can we create a culture and environment that facilitates and supports their work and produces the results today’s businesses need?

I won’t bore you with a long winded, wanky, geo-politico-eco-historical exploration of the needs of modern businesses. If you’re reading this I’m sure you already have some ideas.

I will instead state, quite simply, this:

We need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems.

I’ll say that again. Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. And, herein lies our dilemma.

The way we run organisations and the way we manage people does not support or create the right environment for this type of person, let alone a whole team of them, to operate with the autonomy or freedom required to be effective.

So what can you do? How can you become the type of person we need to work and manage in a modern organisation?

Start here:

Do something you enjoy

You are likely to spend more time working throughout your lifetime than doing any other activity. You may as well spend it doing something you’re good at and love doing.

Universities and colleges offer more degrees than at any other time. Online courses are easily accessible and many are free or cheap. There’s no reason to settle for a career doing something boring or that you feel indifferent about.

There are also more opportunities than at any time in our history to start your own business and be successful. Don’t limit yourself to the rat race. A credit card with a few hundred dollors and a good idea is all you need to start an independent business with a good chance of being successful if you do it right.

Work toward something you care about

There is plenty of evidence that shows that when we are alienated from the outcomes of our work, we become unhappy. There is also plenty of research that shows that when we work towards a high level goal in an area we care about, we become happier. I’ll let you do the math.

Lead from behind

You will work for morons, idiots, know-it-alls, know-nothings and lazy jerks for the majority of your career. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let them kill your spirit. Your boss will micro-manage, get in the way and just generally slow progress on a regular basis. Your job is to convince them that they have more to gain by leaving you alone to do your work.

Create and support the right environment

If you’re a manager: hire the right people with the right skills, set the goals and the strategy, support them, give them the time and materials they need and then, get out of the way.

*   *   *

Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. Be that person. Be that type of leader. Don’t settle for a generic, uninspired career. You’ll be happier and more successful for it.



Why you should always be planning your next holiday

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In the early pages of their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz share a turning point in the trajectory of their business working with world class athletes.

After years of helping athletes perform consistently at a high level under competitive pressure, Jim and Tony were invited by a number of organisations (including hospital emergency wards and the FBI) to help improve staff performance and engagement. It was while working with these organisations that they discovered, and I quote:

“The performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athlete…”

Wow, right? The reason, they say, is that athletes spend the majority of their time in either training or active recovery and only a short amount of time actually performing.

The everyday worker on the other hand spends very little time training and even less in active recovery, yet are expected to perform at a consistently high level 8-12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week.

These expectations put a lot of stress on the mind and the body and, as numerous studies now show, have a negative impact on productivity, quality of work produced and overall work engagement. Worst of all, our addiction to overworking is rapidly degrading our physical and mental health.

It’s easy to feel like we can’t take a break from the things we’re working on or from the place where we work. The excuses are many and easy to find. We already don’t have enough hours in a day.

The work is too important or the project won’t progress without us. The office will fall apart and the world will end if we’re not around to fix every problem. We all like to believe we’re indispensable. As though the office and the people in it just can’t live without us.

Life gets easier when we realise that we’re kidding ourselves. No one is indispensable and we’re doing ourselves and the cause or project we’re working on a disservice by working through burnout. Just think about every job you’ve quit and moved on from. The project, the team, the organisation you left behind are doing just fine without you.

This isn’t to say that you’re not valuable or making an important contribution. After all, you wouldn’t still be employed if you didn’t. But, so can so many others. And, don’t take this personally, but you’re not the only one who can manage a crisis, progress your project or deal with clients and stakeholders.

You’re not the only one who has something to contribute. Who can add value.

The longer you put off having a break, the closer to burnout you get, the less value you add to the cause or project you’re working on and the sicker you become. You, your mind and your body are not designed to withstand the long hours and six day weeks you’re working. You need active recovery to stay healthy and perform at your best.

Taking a break is not a sign of weakness. It’s a matter of self-awareness and it will make you stronger. It’s not just important, it’s essential. Especially if you want to build a strong, enduring career and a happy, healthy life.

So, here’s what I want you to do:

1. Take breaks throughout your workday. 

10-15 minutes here and there can make a huge difference. Go for a walk, make a cup of tea, read the news (in an actual newspaper, not online). Do whatever it takes for you to let go and recover from the intense focus you’ve just given to whatever task you’ve been working on.

To help me take more breaks, I’ve been experimenting with the pomodoro technique. Learn more here.

2. Go on a holiday at least once a year.

And I’m not talking about going back to your home town to visit family. I’m talking about an actual holiday. Get out of the city. Go overseas. Go to the beach, a concert or on a cruise. Scuba-dive, bungie jump or sit for days in a shack in the country side reading great books.

Give yourself the gift of a break from your everyday life. Get away from it all, even for just a week. You’ll be better for it.

3. Always be in holiday planning mode.

Even if you only take one vacation a year, know when it will be, where you will go, who you’ll be with and what you will do. Knowing you’ve got some reprieve coming can help you push through mental blocks and minor crises of motivation.

In the lead up to your vacation, organise your work affairs so that you can forget about work as much as possible. If you can help it, don’t take work with you and don’t check emails.

4. If you’re a manager, make sure your team members are getting the breaks they need.

Encourage them to step away from their desk several times per day. Let them go home early once a month and don’t dock their pay. Actively encourage them to take holidays.

While they’re on holidays do not, under any circumstances call them. Reassure them that everything will be taken care of while they’re away. Not because you don’t need them, but because you need them to be at their best.

Working through burnout serves no one

Especially not ourselves. At the end of the day, we can only give as much as we have. Once that’s depleted our contribution loses its value. Take breaks throughout the day. Plan and go on holidays. Make sure your team are well rested.