If only businesses put time and energy into training executives to maximize meeting time and make them as productive as possible! Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Meetings have a bad reputation, often deserved. Very little is accomplished and attendees often walk away annoyed (or even angry) that they wasted valuable time. They’re not the only ones who squandered their time and resources. Companies fare no better. It’s a financial and time drain to tie up people in a room for any length of time.
On the other hand, if handled correctly, meetings serve an important function and are often key to the success of a company. They are an ideal time to brainstorm and make collaborative decisions. And that’s not all – meetings provide a forum where strategies are formulated and decisions are made on how to achieve them. By setting goals and establishing the outcome ahead of time, a meeting can function at a high level and be productive. Meeting attendees will feel appreciated and the company benefits from the high level thinking and the creativity resulting from the meeting.
Would you like to know how to set up your next meeting for success? Here are several tips:
Invite the people who count. Meeting organizers tend to invite more people than necessary out of concern that they do not want to exclude anyone and hurt their feelings. But best practices advise otherwise — the fewer people, the better. Keep the meeting small, inviting only those who can help accomplish the meeting’s goals. Usually these are the key decision makers who will help ensure the success of the meeting. The one exception is when opinions are needed. Then, a larger group may be better. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)
Bring in the group that can accomplish the task. Once key decisions have been made, it makes sense to bring in a larger group to be introduced to the strategy. This can be as many as 25-40 participants. Once everyone is familiar with the assignment, the group can break into teams and execute the ideas.
Create an agenda. It sets the tone for the meeting. Meeting attendees are more likely to take the meeting seriously when they know the planning behind it. They also are more likely to be active participants. Suggestion: before the meeting, ask attendees for discussion points to make sure that their pertinent points are discussed and to gain their buy in.
Send the agenda and material you want read ahead of time and as early as possible. Be clear about location, date, time and objective of the meeting. Use specific verbs. For example, instead of discussing next year’s trade shows, make the agenda item measurable and specific such as: “choose three trade shows.” Do you want participants to read additional material before the meeting? Tell them so they will have a chance to prepare, thereby reducing wasted time during the meeting. If the meeting is short, skip the attachment and include the agenda in the email. Even if the documents are not thoroughly read, meeting attendees will probably scan the agenda while the email is open whereas they are less likely to click on an attachment.
Start the meeting on time. When a meeting starts late it is usually because attendees – often decision makers — are not on time. Now everyone’s schedule is thrown off.
Use the agenda as a roadmap to stay on track. Do not ignore it. Refer to it throughout the meeting, especially if someone brings up an item that is not on the agenda. When a meeting attendee goes off-topic, the person running the meeting needs to take charge of the situation immediately. Tip: Schedule the most important items first when meeting attendees tend to pay closer attention.
Allocate a specific amount of time to each agenda item. This will help keep the meeting moving and will prevent subjects from dragging on longer than they should. Does this mean you can never discuss something that is not on the agenda? No, but it is an opportunity to stop the discussion and refer to the purpose of the meeting. Ask if the topic should be discussed now or perhaps should be tabled for another time. With an agenda, it will be obvious where to pick up if the meeting does become side-tracked.
Before moving on to the next agenda item, make sure that the topic has been sufficiently covered. Ask if there are additional comments before closing out the subject. Attendees will feel that their thoughts are appreciated.
End the meeting on time. If not, meeting attendees will be very unhappy — now they have to scramble to recover lost time and get back on track to accomplish the tasks they set out to do that day. Nor does the company fare well. Just imagine the cost of bringing together several executives for an hour’s time!
Your meetings will be successful and productive (and attendees will be most appreciative) if you follow these suggestions: 1) invite key executives who will make decisions; 2) create a clear agenda with times allocated to each topic; 3) start the meeting on time; 4) stick to the topics and 5) end the meeting when you say you will.
Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, it is the perfect time to talk about goals which are top-of-mind for many of us. A new year and new goals go together. If you are a member of the 12% Club (people who actually stick to their resolutions), there is no need to read further. Congratulations on achieving your 2014 goals.
But for those of us who do not have goals or who did not reach them this past year, this post is for you. Why do so many of us not accomplish goals? There are a lot of reasons. Can you relate to a few of these?
Now that we know why a goal may not succeed, are you wondering if it’s worth bothering to create and pursue them in the upcoming year? The answer is yes and here are some of the reasons why.
Imagine a spectrum. On one end are long-term goals and at the other end are shorter-term goals. Both have merit. Becoming an industry leader in two years is a long-term goal while achieving 10% more in sales in three months is at the opposite end. Small and shorter goals are just as worthy as longer term goals and may be easier to make.
The secret for achieving any goal – long or short – is to list each task. (another word for a to-do.) Some goals consist of two tasks whiles others may have twenty or more. Even daunting goals with many tasks will feel more achievable. Once all of the tasks are listed (either on paper or electronically), we can prioritize them. As each task is completed, check it off. (A great feeling!) You can chip away at a goal this way, one task at a time. Or, think of it as one bite of the elephant at a time. If, at any point you are unsure what to do next, refer back to the goal and the list of tasks to help you prioritize. The decision will be a lot easier.
By tackling a goal one step at a time, you will be able to manage your time so you can reach any type of goal. When you plan your day, decide the three most important tasks that must be done. At least one of these tasks should be related to your goal. Eventually, these small, doable tasks will help you reach the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.
When we work on these tasks neuroscientists call this “goal pursuit” — the process of creating and going after the goal. It is the journey – accomplishing the small tasks — that counts. Without a commitment to the journey, the goal can be lost. How easy it is to become derailed along the way!
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience and well worth the hard work. Have you decided which goals you are going to pursue in 2015?
The next six weeks will be filled with parties, concerts and events. Some of them are obligatory — you may not want to attend your office party but must show up with a smile on your face. But you may be looking forward to your child’s concert at school and annual soirees with friends. Many people consider this period of time at work to be unproductive. Between late-night parties, holiday lunches and gift-swapping in the office, most are not focusing as intently on the business. In fact, many business people consider this period of time to be pretty unproductive.
Unless you do not plan on showing up between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is still work that needs attending to although, admittedly, your work load may be lighter. Your firm’s 2015 business plans have been completed and are ready for action starting in January. With fewer of your colleagues in the office, there are fewer meetings, fewer reports due and fewer tasks that require your immediate attention. Clients may be on vacation or spending less time in the office so they may be less demanding.
You have a choice. You can “float” through this period and pay minimal attention to work or decide that you’ll use this down time productively. There are a host of opportunities available. It is just a matter of deciding if you want to take this course of action. Why not? Think of the projects that you have put off because you have not had the time. This is your chance to get to them. Some of these projects can help you reach your goals. By starting them now, you will likely have fewer interruptions and a greater chance to complete them than during the year when more urgent tasks and to-dos come up and derail you.
What are examples of projects that you may want to tackle now? How about researching an area that may prove profitable for your company? How about exploring new ideas? You have a list but you never have time to explore them. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill that will improve your performance at work such as the task feature in Microsoft Outlook or how to use Evernote. It is frustrating not to know these features but, without the time to explore the tasks function or how to navigate Evernote, you have had to make do. Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for all year. Taking a class at a school or an on-line video tutorial from a company such as Lynda.com requires time, energy and focus … and now you have it!
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a perfect time to get organized. If your office is piled high with paper, why not go through the stacks and decide if you can live without some of them. Most likely the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Our clients often print out duplicates of documents because they can not find it on their desk (even though they know it’s there somewhere). Their first response is to reprint it. Ask yourself if you need it or would be able to get it again. Probably not although there are still a few documents that we need to hold onto. Often there are legal papers such as contracts. If another person in the company issued the document, then it’s likely that person will have the original copy. If you need to keep a document, decide where its home should be — on your desk (if you are actively working on it), in a filing cabinet, on your computer as an electronic file?
Once the paper clutter is reined in, it’s time to focus on the electronic clutter which may be more serious than the paper clutter. If files are scattered about without any rhyme or reason, take time now to figure out where each document belongs. Once the new year begins, this project will unlikely take precedence over urgent ones.
While you are organizing your office, there may be other things that you can do to improve its functionality. What tools might make it easier to stay organized — a whiteboard for mapping, wall files that can keep your folders handy, a second monitor? You might take a look around the office for ideas or browse the The Container Store or an office supply store. You could even ask your colleagues what organizing tools they like the best.
Have I convinced you yet to take advantage of this holiday time to do something different and still stay productive? Without having to spend all of your time on urgent, important projects, you can focus on other areas in your work and professional life that are also meaningful.
Drag and Drop
Of all of the amazing features in Outlook, Drag and Drop is among the very best. It is a very simple way to reduce email volume and a huge time saver for organizing information in your inbox. No longer do you need to scroll through a long email list to find the one that needs to have an answer right away. Some people drag and drop their email into folders but this feature can be used far more widely than that. In the training seminars I give I teach people how to move email from the inbox into the calendar, tasks, contacts and notes.
If you drag and drop the email onto the Calendar icon, the email subject will automatically be the subject of the appointment although you can easily change it. Note that the email will be in the body of the appointment for easy reference. Add a date, start and end time for the appointment and location (if desired) and save.
If you drag and drop the email onto the Contacts icon, just click save and you will have created a new contact.
If you drag and drop the email onto the Tasks icon, the subject will be the same as the email (although it can be changed). Fill in the start and due date. (You can also fill in the status and priority if desired). A reminder can also be added. The original email will be in the section below.
It’s that easy! Give it a try today.
Quick Steps (for 2010)
Introduced in 2010, this feature allows you to quickly manage any email by using shortcuts. You can do in one click what ordinarily might take several clicks. Each Quick Step can be customized and used on a daily basis. For example: you can move an email to a specific folder and mark it as read. Or you can forward an email. My favorite Quick Step is to reply and delete. With one click both steps are accomplished.
Below are handy Quick Steps actions that you may want to explore:
Here’s How To Create a Quick Step:
Now go and create new Quick Steps!
Everyone is late from time to time (even you and me), often for a reason that can not be helped. But that’s not who we are going to discuss today. We are going to talk about people who are chronically late — people who do not leave enough time to get someplace on time. Often they often arrive late for lunch, an appointment or an important event like a job interview or a wedding.
If someone is consistently late, it can be a problem for friends and family who feel like victims. It can even damage the relationship. We all know how it feels to be sitting and waiting for a friend who is always late. “Sorry”, she mumbles when she arrives, “but I had to write an important email before I left and, oh, the traffic was really bad.” Maybe she thinks these excuses are acceptable but they get old quickly. It is tempting to give my friend an earlier time so she’ll actually arrive on time.
A far more serious problem is the effect being late has on relationships at work. Unfortunately, chronic latecomers have a poor reputation. Colleagues resent it when their peers show up for meetings after they have started. They do not feel as if they can trust their colleague. Far worse, it can eventually limit career advancement. It’s that serious.
According to Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, most people don’t like being late but this behavior was often acquired a long time ago. Even when they try to be on time, it is extremely difficult to break lifelong habits.
What are some of the reasons that people are chronically late?
Interestingly, some people are not comfortable with the idea of being early. They do not know what to do with the “extra time” and are frustrated at not making “every minute count.” The thought of downtime with nothing to do is uncomfortable. The last thing they want to do is wait.
What is their idea of being on-time? In a perfect world, some latecomers aim to arrive exactly at the start time. People who tend not to be late view it quite differently. On-time for them is arriving 15 minutes early which eliminates the stress and gives them a chance to grab a cup of coffee, relax and even scout things.
Try these tips for being on time:
How quickly can you find an electronic file? Are your files scattered throughout the computer in any number of places such as the hard drive, documents, the cloud or portable storage? Electronic folders that are not filed in their right locations can be just as messy and cluttered as paper folders.
So much of what we do today is electronic that we need a plan to organize electronic files similar to the way we organize paper files. While many offices still rely on paper to some extent, we are gradually moving away from paper to storing documents electronically which is a compelling reason to set up a system to organize electronic file folders.
There are numerous benefits of an organized electronic filing system. Here are some of the reasons to act now and get your computer files in order:
If you share files with others, here are some advantages to having organized file folders:
Tips to organize your electronic filing system:
Many of us do not have clear, thought-out goals. That always comes as a surprise to us. When we ask people at our speaking seminars if they have written goals, maybe half of the group raises their hand. If we ask if they have unwritten goals, a few timid hands go up. These people are usually shy about volunteering this information because they themselves are wondering if their goals are less valuable because they are not written.
Why don’t we all have goals, written or not written? Most people think of goals as large and aspirational and beyond their reach. Here’s an example of a lofty goal — the type that people often think of when they say they have goals: “I will grow my company to become an industry leader in three years.” This goal is long-term, hard to reach, and substantive. Many people find this type of goal beyond their frame of reference. It may be. These types of goals are often created by teams of executives who spend days, even weeks, formulating them. We are often put off by this type of elaborate goal setting process and may decide that goals aren’t for me.
Instead of eliminating all goals, we are suggesting another way to view them. We are all capable of establishing and reaching goals. Admittedly, goals on the top end such as becoming an industry leader, overlap with aspirations – they’re far-reaching business goals. But, at the bottom end of the goal spectrum, they often overlap with to-do’s (they may feel like to-do’s but are not). When you walk into the office wanting to achieve three goals for the day, there are often several steps – to-do’s — needed to accomplish each goal. Even if they do not feel “important” enough, big enough or worthwhile enough, many of the things we do during the day fall under the goals category. Smaller, short-term goals can be just as worthy and important as larger, more esteemed goals and can get you where you want to go. Did you accomplish three goals before leaving the office today? Then you were productive. That’s a reason to celebrate.
When we discuss goals, we include aspirational goals with the ordinary goals we choose every day to get our work done. Goals are intensely personal and there are no rules or restrictions. People have their own goals and their own ways of reaching them whether they are short-term or long-term. Both types have merit and count.
Why do we need goals? They give us purpose and focus and help us plan. We function better knowing that we have met important goals we personally set. Small or large … it does not matter.
Goals help prioritize tasks. We are often asked by overwhelmed clients which tasks should be done first. It can be very confusing looking at a long list and wondering in what order they should be handled. This is when having goals is really helpful. Referring back to your goals will help you determine what tasks on your to-do list should be done first.
Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress. It allows us to break up a larger process into smaller, doable chunks that we know we are capable of handling. If our goal is to move from being a general accountant to an accountant specializing in forensics, there are a number of steps necessary to accomplish the goal, such as speaking to forensic accountants about their experiences (one step) and taking classes (another step). Once those two steps are complete, then we can move to the next action (as David Allen in Getting Things Done refers to it).
Goals require that we be specific vs. day dreaming or resorting to ‘someday maybe’. Just wanting a promotion at work or improving our skill sets will not happen without action. Goals turn a vision into a reality. By clarifying a goal, we understand exactly what it will take to reach it. We create criteria that will help move us farther along in our careers and achieve what we consider important. Many of us use S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely) when we first establish a goal. However, it is important to monitor the goal at all times, not just at the beginning. (Watch for tips in a future blog on how to stay focused throughout the life of the goal,)
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience. It takes effort, organization and focus to accomplish it. Relish the feeling that you did it. It will boost your self-confidence and prepare you for the next one. No matter what the challenge, even if it is harder, you know you are capable and up for it.
Is it really possible to achieve a balance between work and life? Are we capable of fitting it all in? The term Work-Life Balance became popular in the 1980’s when corporations did not offer much in the way of flexible options. Picture a seesaw with work loading down one side and everything else, a.k.a. life, on the other side.
Many people have come to the conclusion that work-life balance is a myth, especially living in our all-consuming tech world. Email, smart phones and tablets blur the lines between work and all else. The office and our clients can reach us anytime, anywhere. We find ourselves “on” 24/7. There is always a lot to do and too few hours in the day to get our to-dos done.
Cali Yost, author and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, has given work-life balance a new name, work-life fit. Balance implies that work and life are at opposite ends which we know is not true. Work-life fit is a proactive approach, giving people more flexibility than they realize. Work can be a variety of win-wins for workers and employers.
In her book Work + Life Yost points out that the key is to find the fit that’s right for you which will allow you to be in control. You get to spend time with the people who are most meaningful in your life and to decide how much time and energy you put into activities.
Below are 12 work-life fit tips that will help you focus on the activities that are most meaningful to you:
Does this happen to you?
Our meetings never start on time because people are always late. The rest of us sit and wait, checking email and thinking about what could be getting done if we were back at our desks. Or we start the meeting without the latecomers. Eventually they show up and want us to catch them up on the discussion. Help!
It is frustrating when fellow employees – colleagues, supervisors or subordinates — are late for meetings. Does it disrupt the meeting when someone walks in after the appointed time? You bet. For those of us who wait for the latecomers to arrive, or who start without them, we may wonder what’s going on in people’s heads when they are consistently tardy. No question about it – it is inconsiderate. We feel as if they are stealing our time and our colleagues’ time, too.
From their perspective:
Being chronically late for meetings is more common than you think (although is still not acceptable). I’m not talking about coming in late once in a while because that can (and does) happen to everyone. With an average of 11 million meetings a day in America*(yikes!), someone will be late. Often it is the CEO. CEOs were tardy 60% of the time according to a survey of chief executives by management consulting firm Proudfoot. What kind of message does that send to company employees? Being punctual for a meeting, from the CEO on down, sets the right tone. Meetings starting on time (or not) can be attributed to the leadership of the company. Sometimes it starts with one person, probably the one with the most seniority at the table, being consistently late for a meeting. Before you know it, it becomes the norm and now everyone is 5-10 minutes later. Since most professionals attend a total of 62 meetings monthly**, wasted time adds up quickly.
CEOs may be late for their own company meetings but, interestingly, are punctual when they meet customers or clients. In the Proudfoot survey which covered nine countries, only French executives were late to more meetings than U.S. executives (late 65% of the time vs. 60%). Japanese CEOs had the highest on-time rate (late 34% of the time).
Waiting 10-15 minutes for a meeting to begin can be very costly to a company. When you multiply salaries by the time wasted, it can be a very expensive proposition. And how about the cost to morale? Employees who make it their business to be on time end up spending precious minutes waiting for others so the meeting can finally begin.
At a large company based in Atlanta, meetings are the culture of the company. The day is driven by meetings – starting early in the morning and steadily continuing throughout the day. All day long people move from one meeting to the next. If a meeting starts late, everyone’s schedule is thrown out of whack for the rest of the day. In other companies, you may not be heading for another meeting, but a late start will affect how well you are able to manage your day.
Here are a few tips to help round up everyone in the same room at the same time:
Before the meeting:
At the meeting:
After the meeting:
If your boss is always late:
If a subordinate is always late:
*A network MCI Conferencing White Paper. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity.
**Same source as above
Follow these top ten email tips and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how productive you will become in handling email and how much time you’ll save. You’ll also discover that it is really possible to reduce (even empty) your inbox.
1. Do not do email first thing in the morning. Once you plan out your day, work on your most important task (MIT) for the first hour you are in the office while you are fresh and alert. Then, start email. (Note: it’s OK to glance through email first thing in the morning to make sure that you have not missed anything significant, such as an urgent email from your supervisor or a cancelled meeting.)
2. Schedule several blocks of uninterrupted email time – one mid-morning and a second in the afternoon. Use a timer to keep you focused and on track. Plan on spending 45 minutes – one hour reviewing email that needs to be handled right away. The rest can wait. When you are checking email, try and stay focused. That means not allowing internal and external distractions. Let phone calls go to voicemail and indicate that you are “busy” on your calendar. If you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down on a pad of paper and continue to read and answer email. Make the best use you can of the email time you’ve allotted yourself.
3. Move or drag email out of the inbox. Do not let it sit there.Commit to making a decision on each email. Delaying decisions creates havoc in your inbox. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet. View your email inbox as just that – an In Box — where email arrives that need processing. Imagine how cluttered and messy your kitchen counters might look like if you ignored incoming snail mail. You’d be lucky to find anything.
4. Decide if the email is action or reference. Start at the top of your inbox and look at each email in order. Do not skip around. If it is action, follow the 4Ds (#5). If it is reference and will be needed again, move it to personal documents, shared files or the personal folders in the inbox. Examples of reference folders are: inactive clients, proposals, past projects, and marketing materials.
5. Use the 4D’s of Decision Making. This valuable tool eliminates a lot of the guess work about how to handle individual emails and where to move them. It is a sure-fire way to reduce the email in your inbox.
6. Set up specific folders for action items, current projects and reference and move email to the appropriate folder. Examples of folders: To Do, To Call, Waiting For (or Pending), Read & Review, Upcoming Meetings/Events, Cases, Clients, Current Projects, Associations. My favorite personal folder is “Read Later”. The email in this folder can wait.
7. When sending an email:
8. Respond to the sender promptly even if you cannot give an answer right away. Let the sender know the email was received. Now the sender will not need to send a follow up note because you were proactive. That will be appreciated.
9. Use “Reply All” judiciously. Usually a reply to the sender is all that’s necessary. Not everyone needs to know you’re leaving for vacation and cannot attend the meeting.
10. Move important folders to the Cloud such as Dropbox and SugarSync. If anything happens to your hard drive, your information will be safe.
Often people with hundreds, or even thousands of emails, feel totally overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. We recommend that they set up a system that works using these tips as a guide and then manage the newest emails first. Ignore the older emails or move them into archives where you can deal with them later.
By using a few of these tips, your inbox will be manageable. Finding the email you need will be much easier. You’re the one in control now.