CategoryManagement Tips

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.

Demand a Compassionate Workplace

I’m a huge fan of the show This is Us. Every Tuesday, I’m perched on my couch with my tissues ready for the emotional roller coaster.

One of the storylines centers around Randall, who is a bit of a workaholic, struggling with work/life balance while caring for his father with end-stage cancer. Ultimately, this leads to Randall having a severe anxiety attack that lands him in the hospital. About a week after Randall is released from the hospital, his father passes away.

During his absence from work for both his hospitalization, Randall’s job called him and texted him with questions. And the day before his father’s memorial service, work sends him a basket of pears, which he’s allergic to. On the day of his father’s memorial service, they text him again — acknowledging that they were bothering him but still asking for immediate answers to their needs.

Outrageous???? Yes … yet not all that uncommon.

During my 20 years in HR, I’ve experienced and heard so many stories like this. Some stories were even worse.

When a highly valued and dedicated employee has to take time away from work unexpectedly, managers are often devastated and confused. They cannot figure out how to function without the person. They cannot imagine the person would be unwilling to help. They cannot understand how someone who has always been so reliable could suddenly become completely unavailable.

It is this kind of thinking that makes FMLA regulations still very much necessary in our workplaces. If we want less government guidelines dictating our actions in this area, we have to do better in our workplaces.

We have to demand compassion.

The first thing we do to demand compassion in our workplaces is to model appropriate work/life balance. As managers, we have to work appropriate hours, take time off periodically for rest and give reasonable deadlines … We cannot give assignments on Friday, say the work is due Monday then act surprised when our employees end up with overtime after working the weekend. And if we do, we cannot be angry when they leave early or come in a little later or take off another day. If we are modeling work/life balance, we are making allowances for this and encouraging it when necessary.

The next thing we have to do to demand compassion in our workplaces is to cross-train duties and have back-ups for our positions. No one person should be the only one with the knowledge and authority to complete major tasks in the organization. And compassionate workplaces know that burden is too much for one person to bear … We cannot expect one person to develop all the strategies, organize all the projects, implement all the programs and communicate all the outcomes without assistance while feeling no pressure. And if we do, we cannot be surprised when all our efforts come to a halt because that person takes leave. If we are modeling work/life balance, we make sure responsibilities are evenly distributed and that a second-in-command has been appointed.

The final thing we have to do to demand compassion in our workplaces is never pressure a person who is dealing with a traumatic life event to return to work before they are ready. These tactics only ever have negative impact. Compassionate workplaces know this approach is not going to yield high levels of performance or long-term loyalty. It will only result in causing a dedicated employee to lose all respect for the organization and people they once worked so hard for. If we are modeling work/life balance, we trust the individual to be respectful and responsible and to tell us what they’ll need and what they are capable of.

When we demand compassion and model work/life balance, our employees feel free to take the time they need so they return to work as the best version of themselves. This is what we all truly want. Only demanding compassion can make that happen.

On This is Us, the hurt from the careless handling of his illness and bereavement was too much for Randall to reconcile. He quit in epic fashion.

This video shows his exit speech. If you’ve ever pressured anyone to work or return to work when they were dealing with a life trauma, I promise you that they’ve said this to you in their mind and heart.

Don’t ever let that happen again. Demand compassion.

Finding the “Flow” at Work

A couple weeks ago, I downloaded the game app “Flow” onto my phone and tablet. It’s a game where you connect matching colors to fill the board space. The colors cannot cross or overlap; they cannot go outside the game board. You win by successfully matching the colors and then you move onto the next board in the series, then to a new difficulty level or time trial.

One night, I was playing to try to clear my mind after a rough day — and the game inspired my approach to resolve a lingering work issue! So I decided to share some of what I learned here.

Your flow should not block the flow of others.

flow1

There really is enough space and resources for everyone.

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Sometimes the best way is the shortest, easiest and most obvious.

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Sometimes you have to take the long way around to benefit others.

flow2

When everyone is in their flow, it’s really beautiful.

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Being in the flow at work requires clear, consistent communication. Being in the flow at work requires willingness to share space and resources. Being in the flow at work requires falling back at some times and stepping up at others. Being in the flow at work requires willingness to share responsibility for the good and the bad.

Being in the flow at work isn’t easy. It will take time and effort to find the right flow. It will take time and effort to maintain it … And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it will be time to move to another level and establish a new flow.

Finding the flow never gets easier. Finding the flow never stops being necessary. The only options are to find the flow or quit altogether.

Because finding the flow is the point of the game. Keep playing and don’t give up.

 

How To Delegate Effectively – Part 2

Last week, over at Performance I Create, I wrote a post entitled “How To Delegate Effectively.” This week, I’m continuing my advice on how to effectively delegate here.

In part 1 at PIC, the focus was on the reasons to delegate and ensuring clear understanding of tasks delegated.

In part 2, the focus is on the who of delegating effectively.

The hardest part of delegating is believing the other person can carry the task through to completion with the level of excellence you envision and expect. You have to be confident in your own decision-making as well as the abilities of others. Trust is the heart of how to delegate effectively.

When deciding who to delegates tasks to, consider the following:

  • Their knowledge. The person should have an appropriate level of knowledge and the skills needed to complete the task assigned. Without this, the person will struggle and the work will suffer.
  • Their independence. The person should be able to organize, execute and troubleshoot their way through completion of the task assigned without constant supervision. Without this, both you and the person will feel frustrated and the work will be delayed.
  • Their goals. The person should have an interest in the subject matter of the task — or the task should be related to the work the person currently performs in his/her job role. Without this, the person will either be unenthusiastic or distracted and the work will suffer.
  • Their workload. The person’s workload should allow sufficient time to complete the task assigned within time and budget constraints. Without this, both you and the person will feel stressed and the work will be delayed.

Another thing to consider is the position of the person respective to you. Delegation happens laterally or down. Never up. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you but delegating upward is just whining. It demonstrates lack of accountability, creativity, resilience and vigor.

Do not do it.

That’s not to say that people who aren’t the boss don’t get overwhelmed or need help and guidance. It happens to people every day. However, when that happens, you cannot just give work back to your boss. Don’t just bring uncompleted tasks to the table — bring suggestions on who and how to get the work done in a way that results in effective delegating.

Because when delegating is done with the right spirit, everyone wins.

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