Being positively productive depends on your ability to focus on the task at hand. Your ability to focus is greatly improved if you remove distractions that take your attention away from what you are working on. Here are some tips to identify and remove distractions caused by clutter.
- Paper clutter. Having stacks of paper on your desk and around your office creates clutter. It takes longer for you to find what you need, and you lose time and productivity as you sift through stacks looking for documents. Paper clutter distracts you from what you’re working on because you can see what still needs your attention. You are more likely to jump from task to task rather than finish each one sequentially.
- Electronic clutter. If you have documents, folders, and applications dotting your computer desktop, you have electronic clutter. This can be just as draining to productivity as paper clutter since your focus is scattered, and time is wasted as you search for what you need.
- E-mail clutter. Is your inbox jammed with e-mail that you have read, but not filed away? If so, you have e-mail clutter. Just as with electronic clutter, e-mail clutter damages your productivity.
So, what’s the solution?
Get organized with these tips.
- Take fifteen minutes a day right now and tackle one small part of the clutter. That adds up to 75 minutes a week or 300 minutes a month.
- Set up appropriately labeled folders for all documents.
- File or trash completed documents as soon as you finish them.
- Create follow-up folders if you need more information and move pending files and folders into follow-up.
No matter how well you get along with your manager, there will be times when you disagree and may find yourself in conflict with him or her. How you handle this kind of conflict can either help or harm your future relationship and your career. Here are some things to keep in mind when you and your manager don’t see eye-to-eye.
- Step back and consider the situation. Conflict is not inevitable when people disagree with each other; you can always agree to disagree and not let it affect your relationship. Evaluate the situation objectively to determine if a real conflict exists or if it is something you can either ignore or live with. Time can be a valuable ally when handling conflict. Sometimes things just blow over and fade away without the need for action.
- Consider your options. Writing down your thoughts and perceptions about the situation can give you distance and objectivity and help you organize your thoughts. If you believe that action is necessary, identify your options and the risks associated with each before choosing the most appropriate course.
- Consider other points of view. Everyone has expectations and preferences about work and working relationships. People can step on your toes or push your buttons without being aware they are doing so. Observe your manager’s communication and leadership styles and how he or she acts with other employees. You may discover that what you think of as a conflict is your manger’s natural way of working or communicating. Gaining insight about your manager can help you respond appropriately.
If you decide to meet privately with your manager, be prepared to explain your perceptions objectively, and avoid letting emotion take over the meeting. Focus on what you have observed, express your concerns, and be assertive, but refrain from blaming. Your intention is to resolve the conflict in a way that allows you and your manager to continue to have a productive, satisfying relationship. See my blog post Getting Along with Your Manager for more information.
The telephone is one of your most important business tools and one that is often misused. Here are some tips to improve your telephone communication whether you are making a call or answering one.
- Be upbeat. Put energy behind your voice by taking deeper breathes and smiling when you speak. Standing when on the phone also adds energy to your voice. The more dynamic you sound, the better the impression you make on the person.
- Speak clearly and precisely. Without body language and facial expressions to go on, listeners have only your voice and the words you use. This means that you must speak slower than usual and clearly pronounce each word.
- Use a greeting. Your greeting should identify your organization or department or both, include your name, and an offer of help. For example, “Good morning. ABC Financial Services. This is Carlo. How can I help you?”
- Avoid slang and speech fillers. Keep your comments professional and polite. Listen for fillers, such as ummm, uhhh, okay, etc., and work on eliminating them since they make you sound unprofessional and uncertain.
- Don’t hold and forget. Always ask if you can put the person on hold and explain why you are doing so. Return to the call every few minutes to explain what you are doing or offer to call the person back.
- Transfer calls the right way. Explain why you must transfer the call, provide the name of the person you are transferring them to and that person’s phone number, and stay on the line to ensure the call was transferred correctly.
Effective telephone skills are essential for every organization, especially for customer service. Help your staff brush up their phone skills and other customer service skills with my new course Creating a Positive Customer Service Experience
One of your most valuable skills for professional success is listening. This skill affects many aspects of your job, including productivity, teamwork, and customer service. Despite the importance of being a good listener, barriers pose challenges to effective communication. Here are three common barriers you may encounter.
- One of the biggest barriers to listening is your tendency to talk more than you listen! It takes self-control to keep quiet and focus on what the other person is saying as they say it. It helps to take notes, especially if you’re afraid you will forget what the person said. Resist the tendency to interrupt them or plan your response while they are speaking. When you do speak, be brief, focus on the topic of the conversation, and avoid unrelated or unresponsive comments.
- Listening is harder when you are distracted. Make good eye contact with the speaker and face them. Watch their gestures and facial expressions to determine if they are in sync with what they are saying. Body language often communicates more than words! If the environment is noisy, suggest moving to a quieter location.
- Assuming you understand the speaker is dangerous. Conflict often arises from misunderstood and misinterpreted communication. Always ask the speaker to provide more detail or clarify anything you don’t understand. Use open questions that let the speaker delve more deeply into the topic. Confirm understanding by repeating what you thought was said until the speaker indicates agreement.
Career success requires you to develop effective listening skills, so start listening more than you speak to improve business relationships and be more productive. For more information, see my blog post Shhh! Listen!
There will be times when you must work with people you don’t like and who may not like you in return. Despite your personal feelings, you need a way of building a productive working relationship with them. Here are some tips to help you work with people you don’t like.
- Accept the person as they are. Often, you don’t get along with someone because you have differing beliefs and values. This can be generational. For example, Baby Boomers believe that you should put in long hours and make your job the most important part of your life. Younger employees, like Millennials, believe that the job is just one aspect of their lives, not the most important one. You don’t have to agree with each other; just agree to disagree and get the job done. Check out my program Bridging the Generation Gap.
- Always be polite and civil, no matter what you feel when you are with the person. There’s never a good reason to be rude. Even if someone has behaved rudely toward you, remain professional and positive. Focus on facts and observable data and set aside your emotional responses.
- Know what pushes your buttons and gets under your skin and refuse to let it. This is easier than you might think. When you feel yourself getting angry or find a sharp retort on the tip of your tongue, just take a breath. Inhale and exhale once or twice, and release those negative responses. Starting a verbal battle won’t help and will only widen the divide between you. If necessary, excuse yourself and walk away for a time out.
If you find it increasingly difficult to work with someone, talk to a person you trust about what is going on. Explain how you think you are being treated as objectively as possible, focusing on what you have observed and experienced rather than your emotional reaction. Sometimes just talking about the situation can provide a new perspective. See my blog post How to Handle Office Bullies for more information.
Burnout is a symptom of stress and can be caused by a variety of issues. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 26 percent of workers surveyed stated that they often or very often feel burned out or stressed by their work.
Not making time for yourself is a common factor in burnout. Are you working long hours, sacrificing personal time to get work done, not getting enough good sleep, eating a poor diet, and not exercising? If so, burnout is practically guaranteed. The harder you work, the harder it is to work.
Sometimes, the feeling of burnout is temporary, for example, if you’re working hard to meet a deadline. In this case, burnout should end when the deadline is reached. However, if you find yourself working like this most of the time, you need to act–even if you love your job. Prolonged burnout can lead to fatigue, mistakes, negativity, irritability, and health issues. If burnout is taking a toll on your life and performance, you must take charge of the situation and put yourself first.
- Disconnect from everything work-related. This will likely feel uncomfortable, but unplug from all work for an evening, a day, a weekend, or even an entire week, depending on how stressed and burnt out you are. Don’t check e-mail, make or take phone calls, and lock work away in a drawer. Use this time to recharge and reconnect with what’s important.
- Define what success means to you. Your feelings of burnout may come from not honoring your values and priorities. Take time for analysis and realignment. Set goals and identify specific actions that support what is most important to you. Talk with the important people in your life, so they understand your priorities and needs. Being with people who care about you helps you gain perspective and focus on what’s important.
- Set boundaries for yourself and honor them.Do you always step in and help no matter what else is going on? If so, stop. Assess whether the request will require more than you want to give. If it places too much pressure on you, doesn’t support one of your values, or isn’t necessary for your major business goals, decline. It’s okay to say no if saying yes is not in your best interest. See my blog post Say No without Turning People Off for more information.
Prolonged feelings of burnout may need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If you have taken steps to mitigate what’s causing burnout, and you don’t experienced results, call your primary care physician for a checkup. See my blog post Take Action to Manage Stress for more information.
Referrals are the lifeblood of long-term business growth and success, but some people find it hard to ask for them. Here are some tips to make it easier.
- Ask for referrals from clients who know your value and are pleased with your products and services. While referrals from long-term clients who have a solid history with you have more credibility than those from more recent clients, don’t overlook anyone who has done business with you and is happy with the result.
- Face-to-face is best, but if this isn’t possible, I recommend a phone call over an e-mail. E-mail is a cold communication, and a request made by e-mail is more likely to be ignored.
- Keep your request brief. Thank the customer for their business and ask if they would be willing to give your name/card to others who might be interested. Say something like, “I want to thank you for your business and am pleased that you are happy with [fill in]. I’d appreciate it if you would refer me to others who might need [fill in].” Give them some business cards to pass along.
Asking for referrals is a numbers game. The more you ask, the more you will get. Make sure you ask new clients who referred them to you and personally call that person to thank them.
Need help with customer service? Check out my new program Creating a Positive Customer Service Experience.
Have you ever said something and instantly regretted it?
What happens if your verbal slip-up was in front of your manager, or worse, directed to your manager?
Negative comments, inappropriate suggestions, and blurting criticism can damage your relationship with your manager and may even harm your career. Here are some statements to avoid.
- “That’s not my job.” No manager wants to hear this statement—even if it’s true. Demonstrate your ability to be flexible and a team player doing what needs to be done for the good of your team and department. If the request affects deadlines, describe possible negative consequences and suggest an alternative.
- “I’ll try.” This statement shows a lack of confidence in your ability to accomplish something. It’s a “weasel” word used when someone thinks they might fail. It lets them say, “At least I tried” when they do. Ask questions about the scope of the request to reassure yourself that you can do it. As Master Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
- “I can’t work with [name].” This statement shows reluctance to be a team player. Your department’s success relies on your team’s ability to work together and get results. You won’t like everyone you work with, but you must find a way to get along with them by looking past any personal idiosyncrasies and dislike to forge a productive relationship with them.
Think before you speak. You’ve heard this before—usually after you’ve said something you shouldn’t have. The key is to take a breath before you open your mouth, especially when you want to jump in and comment. Just take a breath and consider the effect of what you are about to say. This pause can ensure that what you say won’t derail your career or damage your relationship with your manager.
Do you hate to network? If so, you’re not alone. Some people hate the thought of walking into a room where they don’t know anyone, but they do it because networking is an important part of professional success. Being connected to others is one of the most valuable tools you have for getting referrals and being top-of-mind. Here are some tips to make it easier.
- Be selective about where you network. Choose organizations that you like and want to support. Having a shared interest and commitment to an organization makes it easier to attend meetings and mingle with other likeminded people.
- Take it slow. Don’t set a goal to meet as many people as you can. Instead, decide that you will meet two or three new people and reconnect with someone you already know in the group.
- Focus on the other person, not your discomfort. Use a journalist’s who, what, where, when, why, and how form of questioning to get to know people, but don’t come across as if you are interviewing them! Ask questions and share your own answers to them, so they get to know you, too.
- Follow up. When you meet new people, make sure you take time to send an e-mail within a day or two to reinforce the connection. If you meet someone you want to get to know better, schedule a coffee meeting within a week or two.
- Connect on social media. Add social media to your networking activities. LinkedIn is a great venue to meet people both within and outside your industry. Join groups, check profiles of people you are interested in meeting, and reach out to them.
The generation gap in today’s workplace is the most challenging it has ever been since each generation has a different view of how work should be performed. You’ve probably discovered that older generations tend to view younger generations as “upstarts” who want the rewards without the hard work, and younger generations think their older coworkers are too rule-bound and process-focused. The key to success is helping your team value their differences and use those differences to make the team stronger.
- Start by focusing on each generation’s strengths. Take advantage of your Millennials and Generation X employees by tasking them to come up with technology solutions that streamline processes. Your Boomer employees are relationship builders, so partner them as mentors and coaches for younger employees.
- Hold workshops and live trainings to help your employees understand each generation’s background, preferences, and expectations. A little knowledge can bridge the generation gap and help your employees value and respect each other.
- Think outside the box and be willing to make changes. Encourage your employees to suggest improvements and be willing to consider them. Create an atmosphere that fosters creativity and problem-solving and bring your team together to tackle a common challenge.
Help your team understand and value their differences and use them to be more successful in 2017. Want to know more about multi-generations? Check out my e-book Leading 4 Generations.