Tag Archives: Work

Stumbling into focused work.

Focused Work

Today’s the day you’re going to get some serious work done.  You sit down at your device of choice and start by checking your email…then a quick stop on Facebook…over to see what’s happening on Twitter…oh, this article looks interesting.  Okay, one more check of email…

Sound familiar?  Suddenly an hour of “work” has passed and you’ve gotten nothing done.  For me, it’s that plus a splitting headache.  I’ve had my eyes checked and they’re essentially fine for my age (sigh) and I did invest in those funky orange-tinted readers to reduce computer eye-strain.  My office ergonomics could use some work and I’m looking for a good yoga class. But mostly, if I stay in one position too long, my neck and shoulders punish me.

So I’ve adapted by working in short increments, interspersed with other activities.  15-20 minutes of focused work on the PC, then onto something that requires movement – stretches, chores, chasing the toddler, etc.

And I’m finding that this is actually super productive.  Out of necessity, I’m breaking my to-do list down into small tasks that can be done in a short window.  So, for example, instead of one big item like “write blog post“, I have several smaller tasks – “write draft“, “find blog photo“, “prep links“.

I’m liking the satisfaction of crossing multiple items off my list each day and it has given me an increased sense of momentum.  And most importantly, it’s forcing me to be focused when I’m at the computer.  I’m able to avoid social media and other distractions because I have a clear idea of what I want to get done and a limited window of time in which to do it.

I have this fantasy of long stretches of uninterrupted work, but as a mom, I don’t really have that luxury much.  And, honestly, waiting for that special time to work is just another form of procrastination.  So for now, I’m glad that my aching head is forcing me to be more efficient.

How about you?  Have you found that having a time limit increases your productivity?

 

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How to stand-out on a cross-functional team (and leverage that experience to grow your career).

Odd duck by Don Graham

Most of us build our careers as specialists.  We get really good in one area and then we get promoted to managing other people in that area.  But at some point, growing as a manager requires a shift from being a functional specialist to a organizational generalist – from being a subject-matter expert to a leader who can understand how the business functions as a whole.

Early in your career, being assigned to a cross-functional project team can put you on the fast-track to management.  It introduces you to new people, sets you up as the go-to person in your department and increases your visibility within the organization.  It is also a great way to start making the shift from specialist to generalist.

Here’s how to make the most of the experience:

Do good work.  This should be the foundation of all career advice and directly applies here as well.  Make sure you’re contributing to the success of the project.  Meet deadlines.  Do more than required.  You’re representing your functional area and will be the go-to person, so always deliver.

Learn from other team members.  Respect that the other people on your project team are the experts in their own areas.  Defer to their knowledge.  Ask questions.  Dig into what their jobs are really like and how they impact the company.  Use the opportunity to learn their metrics, process flows and problem areas.

Don’t complain (but be sympathetic when others do).  You’re using this project to build your career capital, so you should see extra work as an investment.  But others on your project team may not feel the same way.  Show them that you understand how busy they are.  Commiserate, and then use your new cross-functional knowledge to alleviate their pain points.

Be a meeting rock star.  Knowing how to manage a meeting is key to a successful project outcome.  Be attentive, take notes and ask smart questions.  Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in the details of your specific task.  Understand the higher level problem the team is trying to solve and stay focused on the company-wide impact.

Project confidence but stay humble.  You want to be seen as smart, capable and well-rounded.  But no one likes a know-it-all.  And no matter how good you are at your job, being liked is important.  You’re building relationships that you will draw on as you move up in the organization, so build them wisely.

 

How about you?  Has working on a project team helped you grow as a manager?

 

(Photo by Don Graham via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Let’s get creative.

Paint brushes by Futurilla

I think a lot about creativity – where it comes from, how to use it – because I’ve found that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a mental rut, particularly when it comes to our jobs.

Doing things the same way you’ve always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it is limiting.  And kinda boring.

So here are a few prompts to get you thinking creatively about management challenges.  I urge you to spend some time letting your mind play with these ideas.

Change your perspective.  Use your imagination.  See what happens.


Size matters.

What if…your organization doubled its current square footage? (office space, manufacturing floor, whatever)  What do you do with the space?

Now cut your current space in half.  How do you adapt?


Find your superheroes.

What if…one person in your organization has a new product idea that will revolutionize your industry?  But you don’t know who they are.  And they don’t know what they have.

How do you find this person and capitalize on their idea?


“And the Oscar goes to…”

What if…your organization receives a prestigious industry award for excellence and you’re asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony.

Who do you thank in your acceptance speech?  Why?


Observe and report.

What if…you were a consultant (secret agent, space alien) visiting your organization for the first time.  It’s an average workday and you’re free to observe and interact with the staff.

What do you see?  How do you explain your findings to the people who sent you?


 

Need a creative jump start?  I love these books from Keri Smith:

          

 

(Photo by Futurilla via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

 

Finding meaning… wherever you are.

Seedling by Ray_from_LA

Graduating with a degree in Anthropology, I never pictured myself working in the private sector, and definitely not in manufacturing.

But life happens, and I found myself in the business world.  And for a long time I struggled with finding meaning in my work.

What’s the point, I thought?

Why am I working so hard at something so mundane?  How is this benefiting the world?

What saved me was realizing that my work as a manager made an impact every day.  Maybe I wasn’t going to change the world by making digital projectors or truck parts, but I could change how the people in my charge felt about their work.  I could change how they spent their time, how they engaged with each other, and how successful they were in their careers.

I realized my job was about helping people.

Yes, I had operational goals as well, but the beauty of well-rounded, motivated employees is that they have a practical value: they perform better.  A positive work experience that helps individuals achieve their personal goals benefits the whole organization.

So when you’re looking for meaning, struggling with the “why am I here?” question, try this:

Refocus on your team.

How can you help them grow their skills, or meet their personal or professional goals?  Is there an outside project someone is meaning to pursue?  Perhaps you can help them through networking, planning, or encouragement.

Think about how you can better meet their needs and maybe you’ll meet more of yours in the process.

 

How about you?  Have you struggled with finding meaning in your work?

 

Revised from original post – August 21, 2013

 

(Photo by Ray_from_LA via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

A few thoughts on organizational culture.

Culture

Culture is the way we create solutions to shared problems.

Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia.  Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another.  Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way.  And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.

At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way.  Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems.  How do we interact with one another?  How do we best serve our customers?   How do we prioritize our time?

Your organization has a culture, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.

The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?

Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?

 

Revised from original post – June 22, 2013

 

Management Quick Tip: Care about doing it right.

No no. Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell

“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or doing it better.”  ~ John Updike

I love this quote.  If you’re anything like me, at some point in your career you’ve had a job that didn’t exactly feed your creative soul.  And even in the best of jobs, there are always tasks that feel tiresome and draining.

So what do we do?  Do we struggle against it?  Always looking for a better gig or a quicker shortcut, essentially living in a state of permanent dissatisfaction?

Or do we embrace it?  Shift our focus to the beauty in the details and see the opportunity for presence and mindfulness?

Not to get all new-agey or anything, but I do think there’s something to this idea.

Let me know what you think.

P.S. I haven’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance since high school, but thinking about this post has made me want to dig out my old copy.


 

(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

 

What is your management philosophy?

Week 1 of 52 2010 by F Delventhal

How many pennies would it take to fill this room?

Have you ever had an interview question like this?  Did it stop you in your tracks?

Employers use these seemingly crazy questions to see how well you can think on your feet and whether you can reason through a tough problem.  Here’s a more common, but equally tough, question that can stump both new and seasoned managers alike:

What is your management philosophy?

This one can be difficult if 1) you’re not sure what the interviewer is looking for or 2) you’re not used to articulating your core beliefs as a manager.

First, as with the penny question, the employer wants to know you can provide an organized and reasoned response.  They also want to know if your management style will fit with their organizational culture and whether you understand how your leadership impacts overall performance.

Second, it’s important to distinguish between management actions (what you do) and management philosophy (what you believe and why).  Rather than listing tasks, think about how your management style creates a more effective and efficient organization, and focus on the results of your approach.

Stuck on where to start?

Consider working around the 4 basic management functions: planning, organizing, leading and controlling. (Remember those from business class??)

Planning
• How do individual and team goals correlate to organizational goals?
• What’s your decision making style?

Organizing
• Do you have a preferred team structure?  Why?
• What’s your foundation for distributing authority?

Leading
• What do you believe drives individual motivation?
• What are major sources of conflict within a team and how do you address them?

Controlling
• How does evaluation relate to performance?
• What are your options when individual or team results are not in line with expectations?

 

How about you?  Have you ever been asked about your management philosophy in an interview?  How did you respond?

 

For more thoughts on the interview process, try these posts:

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Sales Skills

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Cultural Fit

To Hire, or Not To Hire: Evaluating Locus of Control

 

(Photo by F Delventhal via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Revised from original post – July 4, 2013