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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Time Management - How to save one day a week!

A few years ago, I stopped working Fridays.

Loads of reasons. But mainly because I wanted a better work-life balance and so that I could dedicate more time to my own personal development.

But I knew I’d feel uncomfortable if I stopped working for a fifth of the week, and my business shrunk by a fifth. I didn’t want my business to shrink. Who would?

So I spent ages working out how I could become more efficient. Such that I could save a day a week without doing any harm to my business.

I’ve always been pretty good with time management.

But I managed to save a day.

A whole day! Every week!

Here’s what I did.

I started by reviewing my diary for the previous 2-3 weeks. I identified the things that were taking the most time and focussed on reducing them. For example, if you spend thirty hours in meetings every week, being twice as efficient would save you fifteen hours.

This list of bullets were my biggest time savings. Which one(s) could you copy? And which others did I miss?

  • With every communication, be crystal clear at the beginning what the desired outcome is. For example, always start meetings with “by the end of this, we want to have achieved X”. Never begin with “so, we’re talking for an hour about X, Y and Z” 
  • Never have one-hour meetings. Aim for 15-20 minutes for each one 
  • Never meet face-to-face unless (1) both you and they think you should and (2) it’s convenient for you both 
  • Avoid Telephone Tennis. Schedule “Telephone Meetings” at fixed times, rather than just ringing and hoping you get through 
  • Avoid Email Tennis. Whenever you receive an email that requires more than a quick email response, pick-up the phone and ask “how can I help?” 
  • Whenever anyone asks you to prepare a document, say “Of course. Let’s first quickly agree the structure/headings you want”. This makes things miles quicker and better. You aren’t guessing, and they aren’t disappointed 
  • Every Thursday, preview next week’s diary. For any meeting, you now don’t need to attend, decline it – politely of course! For any you do, send a quick email “Anything new that you want me to prepare/think about before we meet?” 
  • At the end of each day, review everything that’s happened that day. Then, do/diarise all your follow-up actions. So, do the urgent ones now. And diarise to do the others a few days later 
  • Improve your delegating. There are some things you do that just don’t need to involve you. So delegate them. Yes, it saves you time. But, when you give them to someone better suited to the task, the outcomes will be better. So, everyone wins 
  • Change communication channels. For example, I often see managers sharing their team’s results in a one-hour conference call. It’d be quicker to (1) email the results, asking people to read them before the call (2) host a ten-minute conference call, praising successes, answering questions, and agreeing actions (3) send a quick follow-up email, confirming the actions 
  • Anything you don’t like doing, that won’t do any harm if you stop doing it … Just stop it! Tell the recipient you’re stopping, of course. If need be, agree on alternative approaches 
  • Create a 30-minute “stuff to do” diary entry every day. Drag all the small stuff in there. Blast through them all in the 30 minutes (I found this one useful. Before doing this, I used to have every action as a separate diary entry. But Outlook would default to making them 30-minutes each. So, my day would look full even though it wasn’t) 
  • Empty your inbox. And keep it empty for evermore. So, whenever an email comes in, either deal with it now, or drag it out of your inbox and into your ‘Stuff to do’ diary entry on the day you’ll respond. Either way, delete it from your inbox 
  • Identify everything that you do a lot, and that you’re slow at (for example, with me, that’s typing). Now find someone who can help you with it.
So, that’s what I did.

Now, of course, you won’t want to do all these. But, I imagine you can do more than none.

And how much time would you save if you did?

Action point

Free-up some time.

Do this by looking at your diary, either in advance or in reverse:

  • In advance – look at today’s diary – what can you speed up? For example, an easy one: for all today’s meetings, start by explaining the desired outcome of it. Then finish the meeting as soon as you’ve achieved it. Don’t let it become a one-hour Talking Shop 
  • In reverse – start like I did: review your diary for the previous 2-3 weeks. Find the things that absorb most of your time, and remove/reduce them

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Pointless meetings are pointless!

This week, a number of people have asked me to write about today’s topic, and I’m going to take a wild guess and assume they aren’t the only people in the world who want help on this.

The topic?

Pointless meetings.

Are you still reading?

Thought so.

Obviously, we can’t fix everything about meetings in one Tip.

But we can, at least, make sure they have a point to them.

And, for that, we need to remember The Golden Rule of Meetings:

         Meetings are supposed to cause something to happen

In other words, after a meeting, something should happen because of it. A new decision has been made. A new action has been taken.

Therefore, even if a meeting was the most dreadful, tedious hour of your career… if there’s an action afterwards, at least there was a point to it.

So, how to make sure that every meeting does cause something to happen?

  • Firstly, know what you want to happen! So, start your prep by asking yourself “what do I want to happen after this meeting? What decisions need to be made? What actions need to be taken?” (So don’t start your prep by thinking what should happen during the meeting. Instead, start with what should happen after it) 
  • Then identify the only agenda topics you need to cover, to ensure you achieve this outcome 
  • Now, identify the shortest time period you need for the meeting (trust me on this: meetings don’t always have to last one hour) 
  • And the fewest people that need to be there (remember, you can send Actions Arising to people who need to know the outcome, but don’t need to contribute to it) 

And that’s it. Start with your desired outcome and work backwards – streamlining content, duration and attendees. For example, let’s look at your weekly update meetings…

  • Start by knowing your outcome. What do you want to happen after the meeting? Let’s say it’s simply this: for everyone to try something new next week. And that's it 
  • Therefore the agenda only needs to contain two things (1) Success/challenge share – everyone has 30 seconds max to share their proudest success and biggest challenge since last week’s meeting (2) Identify your new thing. Everyone then says what their new thing to try this week is. This’ll either be copying someone else’s success or finding a new solution to their big challenge 
  • Duration – 15 minutes max – five for the first agenda item; ten for the second 
  • People – just the team. We don’t need anyone else 

And the benefits of this?
  • A fantastic outcome – each of your team has a new thing to try. Compare that to typical Updates where nothing happens as a result 
  • It’s quick – 15 minutes, not an hour 
  • It’s focused – no time wasted on peripheral, pointless agenda topics 

But best of all: there’s a point to it.

The meeting’s no longer just a Talking Shop.

Instead, it’s an action-triggering event that made things happen. Things that wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a meeting.

Now that’s a great way to spend your time.

Action Point

Look at your next three meetings:

  • For the ones you’re chairing, identify now the action/decision you want to happen after them. Focus your prep before – and chairing during – to make sure you achieve them; and 
  • For the others, ask the meetings’ owners what actions/decisions they want as a result 

And, for any meeting where nobody can identify a desired action/decision? Don’t have the meeting. There’s no point having it.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Want to stand out from the crowd and be a great communicator? Try these tips

I’ve asked thousands of people this question:

       “Do you think you’re better than average at communicating?”

And how do you think everyone responds?

That’s right, it’s “Yep – I’m above average”

But that’s mathematically impossible. Half the people in the world will be below average. That’s what average means.

And then I ask:

       “When you communicate, do you go the extra mile?”

Again, everyone says they do.

But that can’t be true either. If it was, it wouldn’t be “extra” to do it.

No, sadly, half of us are below average. And very few of us go the extra mile.

Which, of course, means it’s extremely easy for you to stand out. All you have to do is go the extra mile – do things that most people don’t – and you stand out as being a good communicator.

For example, next time you organise a meeting, why not do some/more of the following (because most people don’t):

  • Be crystal clear on the outcome you’re looking to achieve after the meeting. That way, you’re focused on the end-point so the meeting will be quicker 
  • Include this outcome in your meeting invitation beforehand – that gets buy-in early 
  • Include this outcome in your meeting intro on the day – that means everyone instantly engages… 
  • …And stop the meeting the minute you achieve the outcome. In other words, don’t just keep going until the scheduled end time (a good way to help achieve this – remove ‘Any Other Business’. That’s just a licence to spend ages discussing stuff not important enough to go on the agenda) 
  • Invite as few people as possible – stops people wasting time when they didn’t need to be there 
  • For those you do invite, individually tailor their invitation, so they know why they’re so critical to the meeting 
  • For those you don’t invite but thought about doing, let them know the meeting’s happening, why you’re not taking their time by asking them to attend, and that you’ll send them the 'Actions Arising' 
  • Contact people the day before the meeting, to remind them of the meeting’s outcome. Also, tell them you’re starting on time and that you’re expecting to finish early 
  • When they arrive, give them a pleasant surprise – something they don’t usually get at meetings they attend 

Or if you’re creating a document/presentation for someone, agree with them beforehand:
  • The purpose – in other words, what they want the reader to do after they’ve read it 
  • The structure/headings – so, what content do they want in there (and – equally importantly – the content they don’t) 
  • How long they want it to be 
  • The tone/formality 

Then, after you’ve agreed all this:
  • Diarise time now to prepare the document. After all, if you don’t, you’ll have to cram it into an otherwise busy day – that isn’t going the extra mile 
  • After you’ve created the skeleton for the first draft, contact them and check they’re OK with how it’s going 
  • Finish it 2-3 days early if possible – to give you time to practise 
  • Also, diary-remind yourself to call them before they present it, to wish them luck 
  • And diary-remind yourself to call afterwards – ‘how did it go?’ 
  • Once it’s been delivered, offer to help again 

You could think of your own lists, of course. All I did when creating mine was to think “What do other people really want me to do when I communicate with them that (1) will hugely help them but that (2) most other people don’t do?

And that helped me go the extra mile.

Which put me above average.

What about you?

Action point

Today, you’ll be in meetings, preparing documents etc. So go the extra mile. Use some of the bullets in this tip – or ideas of your own – to impress everyone you speak with. 

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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Instantly become more interesting in 2 simple steps

You know how you’ll be speaking to lots of people today?

Well, will you be interesting?

Will they enjoy it?

Will you?

If you know 100% that, yes, you’ll be interesting, great – crack on.

But if you aren’t that sure, here’s a great question to ask yourself when you’re preparing:

      Is this interesting?

It sounds obvious, I know.

But hardly anybody asks it.

That’s why most communications aren’t interesting.

Great news though: it’s extremely easy to be more interesting. All you have to do is follow these two simple steps:

  1. Think what people find interesting 
  2. And do some of that 

For example, people like interactivity. So include some questions. That way, you ask them things. That makes them speak. It’s now interactive.

They also like it when people tell stories to make their point (facts tell, stories sell). So think of a couple of stories you can use, and use them.

They’re interested in things that benefit them. So mention benefits in your opening sentences. Which presentation would you rather listen to?

  • “Today, I’ll be running through the intricacies of Excel. It really is a wonderful spreadsheet” or 
  • “You know how you’re short of time? Well, I’m going to show you something that’ll free up lots of time for you. Maybe a few hours every week. It’s what we call Excel” 

Let’s do a couple more. ..

They like it when things are relevant to them (and hate it when they aren’t). So, before you prepare it, ask them what topics they want you to focus on. And then talk about them. Maybe also ask what topics they don’t want to hear about, to ensure you don’t bore them with irrelevant stuff

They also like good visuals. So don’t use bullet points on slides – they’re just boring to look at (I know they’re great Speaker Prompts. But you’re presenting to them, so should show them things they’ll like). For instance, you could use PowerPoint’s SmartArt function – miles nicer to look at than bullets.

Let’s think – what else do people find interesting? Learning things – so teach them something. Trivia – so include some. Quizzes – so have one. Humour – so include something funny. Brevity – so minimise your content.

You get the picture. Simply:
  1. Think what people find interesting 
  2. And do some of that 

You don’t have to do all the things in this Tip, of course. But, if you want to be interesting, you’ll have to do more than none of them.

After all, if you don’t, it’s boring. And that’s just terrible for everyone.

Action point

Preview today’s diary. What are your main communications? Ask yourself “Are they interesting enough?” If they aren’t, you know what to do. 

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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Want more productive meetings? Change your agenda!

When someone says they’re “dieting”, how can you tell it’s working?

Because they lose weight, yes?

When someone says they’re “teaching”, how can you tell that’s working?

Because the children are learning.

But what if someone says they’re “discussing”? How can you tell if that’s working?

That isn’t so easy, is it? After all, what’s the output of ‘discussing’?

And this is a huge problem with meeting agendas. For example, if an agenda item says …

       “Discuss Project X”

… you know “discussion” is the input. But what’s the desired output?

You can’t tell, can you?

But, if you don’t know what it is, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? You can’t. So you’ll all just keep on talking about it, but not achieving anything.

Instead, imagine the agenda said…

       “Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps”

… well, the output is crystal clear now. And because you know where you’re going, you’re much more likely to get there.

And how does this affect you?

Well, you know all those meetings that don’t work? You know the ones – too long, too pointless, too boring…

Look again at their agendas. I bet most of them contain input verbs – discuss, review, share, update, download … and so on.

But these make no reference whatsoever to what the desired output is.
So you don’t get any.

The good news is that this is pretty easy to fix: simply change your input verbs into output verbs.

For example, which agenda sounds better? Agenda #1

  • Discuss Project X 
  • Update on Initiative Y 
  • Download on Strategy Z 

Or Agenda #2
  • Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps 
  • Identify quick wins we can make with Initiative Y 
  • Agree on any final changes we need to make, to ensure our Strategy Z launch works brilliantly 

Agenda #2 is better. No question. It’s the same meeting as Agenda #1. But it’s clearly going to achieve outputs.

In fact, Agenda #1’s meeting will just be a Talking Shop. The agenda’s input-focus means it’s been set up to fail.

So, let’s end with another question: think of the agendas you write – are they more like Agenda #1 or #2?

Action point

Look at the today’s meetings’ agendas. For each agenda item, replace the Input Verb with your desired Output Verb (for example, ‘discuss’ becomes ‘agree our next actions with’). This will make a huge difference – you’ll achieve much more, and in much less time

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