Want to be Productive? Forget the Low-Hanging Fruit

If your desk is anything like my desk and your calendar is anything like my calendar, you probably feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start to get it all done.

Once upon a time, my advice was to start with the “low-hanging fruit.” Knocking out the mindless, easy stuff gives you as sense of accomplishment that helps you to build momentum to tackle the bigger, more time-consuming, mentally tougher tasks.

Not  anymore.

It’s time to forget the low-hanging fruit. Here’s why:

  • There will always be low-hanging fruit … The easy mindless tasks of our days don’t go away. They keep turning up like bad pennies. Don’t give them more importance than they deserve.
  • Low-hanging fruit eventually drops off the tree … Sometimes, if you leave the easy, mindless tasks alone, they will resolve themselves without you having to do anything.
  • Anyone can grab the low-hanging fruit … The easy, mindless tasks can usually be delegated to someone else to address and resolve.

I am not advocating ignoring emails, voicemails, snail mail or administrative tasks altogether. I am suggesting you start putting these tasks in proper perspective and priority in planning your days and your work.

If the goal is to add value and advance strategy in our workplaces, the low-hanging fruit isn’t going to get us there. Instead, it just ends up in the way! We only have 8-10 hours in our offices each day — and only 3-4 of those can be spent legitimately doing deep, mindful work.  Low-hanging fruit and the stuff that comes from it usually end up sucking all the productivity, energy, mind space, and progress from us. By the time we get through dealing with the so-called easy, mindless tasks, our day is half over and we’re no closer to accomplishing the things we really need to do!

Enough! Forget the low-hanging fruit!

Don’t give low-hanging fruit tasks more than 90 minutes of the day — 30 minutes at the start, 30 minutes after lunch and 30 minutes before the end of the day. Set a timer for yourself if you need to.

  • If it is something you need to deal with immediately, determine where to place the issue among your other priorities
  • If it is not something you need to deal with immediately, set a reminder to respond based on the timeframe you feel is appropriate
  • If it is not something you need to deal with at all, forward the issue along to the person who should

Then delete/destroy the item and move onto to the more important things.

Because important things are important. Give those things the best of you, not the rest of you.

Free yourself. Forget the low-hanging fruit.

Coaching: Do You Abuse or Encourage?

Coach. Coaching. Coached … It has quickly become one of the most over-used words in our workplace lexicons.

As in, “I coached him on XYZ-thing and he got better” or “All she needs is some additional coaching.”

It’s been used so much that now “coaching” has become synonymous with “telling someone what to do” or “telling someone what they did wrong.” Because that is what we see the most famous coaches doing during sporting events. They bark orders to the players and yell at them when it isn’t done right. They yank players out of the game and plop them on the bench when they’re under-performing. They argue vehemently with referees about unfair decisions … And when things seem to be going well and victory is in grasp, the coach sits down on the cushy-er end of the bench to seemingly do a whole lotta nothing!

As such, “coaching” in the workplace is becoming a negative thing. It’s now associated with aggressive behaviors by those in authority which creates unhealthy competition among subordinates to avoid punishment or dismissal. It results in much attention being given to mediocre performers and crisis incidents while consistent performers and general daily workflow gets ignored.

Wrong!

There is so much more to coaching than what we see happening on the sidelines at games. In fact, I’ve heard my sport-coach friends say that REAL coaching isn’t what’s going on during a game at all. Coaching is what happens during workouts and practice. Coaching is what happens after a win or loss when game film is reviewed. Coaching is what happens after analyzing and scouting out the competition to prepare for the next game.

In our workplaces, coaching is what happens during onboarding and orientation. Coaching is what happens during training. Coaching happens during the ongoing performance feedback we give. Coaching happens when we guide and direct employees in effort to develop their potential … Because coaches set clear expectations for their team. Coaches articulate the vision and definition of success for their team. Coaches create solid training plans for their team to help them meet expectations and achieve success. Coaches devise individual plans for each player on the team to ensure they are working to their full potential, no matter how great or small their role on the team.

Coaching = Teaching

Simply telling someone what to do or telling someone what they’ve done wrong without also equipping them with the skills and tools for success or improvement is NOT coaching or being a coach. Because correction and criticism alone are not coaching. Coaching is about encouraging and preparing a person to perform the duties they’ve been trained to do at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way — then stepping back and cheering the person on to victory while ensuring no unfair obstacles are put in their way.

If we’re not willing or prepare to carry out that definition in our coaching, we shouldn’t use the word. And we shouldn’t be in the game, either.

Refuting The Myth of “No Action Required”

One of the best things about the organizations I’ve worked for is the constant feedback. Monthly, quarterly, annual … Feedback. Every project, every committee, every major meeting … Feedback. Report, metrics, trends … Feedback.

There was and is never an excuse not to know where your performance stands.

Yet there has always been one piece of performance feedback which leaves a sour taste in my mouth …

No Action Required

I’ve seen this used frequently in environments when an employee is meeting budgeted or program goals. Hitting monthly production goals? No action required. On pace to reach quarterly sales targets? No action required.

No action required is a lie. When it comes to our performance, action is always required.

  • Same Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is continuing the same behaviors which helped us attain our goals. It seems to go without saying — but you would be surprised how easily and often complacency sets in. Giving “no action required” as feedback doesn’t reinforce the importance of maintaining performance beyond. Preservation is critical – do not overlook it.
  • Different Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is changing focus to another goal. Sales or production goals met? Great! Time to focus on training. Recruiting and hiring goals met? Awesome! Time to focus on retention. Achievement in one area does not mean there isn’t any other work to be done. Figure out the new goal and the best way to go after it.
  • More Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is planning how to exceed that goal and expectation. Reaching a goal is great. Smashing, crushing and demolishing it is better! No organization would be unhappy with greater production or greater sales as long as the quality of work remains. When an initial goal is completed, it’s time to decide what work, if any, can be done to surpass the goal.

The idea of “no action required” is a myth. We are never doing all that we can do. We are never doing all that we should do, for that matter. This level of perfection does not exist. The best we can hope for are ideal moments which open the door for new opportunities to achieve new goals.

By challenging ourselves to think beyond what is just acceptable to the “next action required”, we can cultivate creative working environments where performance excellence will flourish, grow and thrive.

Your Employees Are In Pain … Acknowledge It and Help Them.

In How to Manage After the Events in Charlottesville, I talked about what organizations need to be prepared to do from a policy enforcement standpoint should something like those events happen involving employees in your workplace.

But what about the hurtful and horrible feelings floating around and lingering?

It is hard to watch the news coverage and images surrounding these events without feeling heavy.  It is hard not to form opinions about the state of our country and our world based on this. It is hard not to think how you can get involved and make a difference. It is hard not to worry for your friends and family and community, wondering if your town  or someone you care about could be next.

It is hard to focus and feel positive. It is hard to turn all that off and work like none of it is happening.

So if it is hard for you, it is hard for the people who work with you too.

Look around you and know that everyone is more than likely feeling some of the same feelings of anger and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness that you are feeling.

What are you doing about it?

Most employers don’t know what to do … so they do nothing.

If you’re wanting to walk the talk on diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity, this approach isn’t going to cut it.

You need to do more. You need to do different. You need to do better.

Don’t know where to start? Consider these:

  • Encourage Self-Care … Remind employees of the benefits of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you don’t have an EAP, reach out to your benefits broker about adding one to your benefits offerings and possibly expanding the existing program if it isn’t very robust.
  • Communicate Candidly … Send acknowledgement of the horrible events and your empathy for the difficulty everyone is experiencing as a result. Send thanks for the continued hard work and diligence during this heavy time. Send reminders about limiting consumption of negative news and images to avoid damage to their psyche and becoming desensitized. Send messages of positivity, unity and hope.
  • Be Silent Together … Schedule a moment of silence for the victims and for our nation and for our world and, most of all, for our peace and sanity.
  • Give Together … Research charitable organizations who are doing positive work to help bring healing, understanding and equality. Encourage your employees to donate to these causes and match the donations.
  • Denounce White Supremacy … Yeah, I know I said this in the last post. I’m saying it again. Take this opportunity to remind everyone in your organization again that diversity and inclusion are celebrated and that the organization will not continue business with anyone who demonstrates they do not share these values. Knowing your workplace is a safe place from supremacy matters to your employees. Don’t let the fear and discomfort stop you from taking the stance if it is in your heart.

We spend half of our waking hours at work. Expecting people to suppress their emotions and thoughts from outside influences during that time is unrealistic. Whether you want it or not, your employees are talking about their feelings with each other. Look for ways to support them in their coping and healing.

Acknowledge their pain. Help them heal.

 

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