I realized the other day that my daughter is really good at delegating. She usually starts with, “Mom, can we...” which usually translates into something I must execute. And as annoyed as I am about being assigned a task by an eleven-year-old, I am happy she has a sense of how to use the “resources” around her.
One of the missing skills I see in many young employees these days is the ability to delegate efectively. Delegating I realize is often about entrusting a task or responsibility to someone more junior and therefor a skill often associated with more senior roles. And when you are at the bottom, it sometimes feels like there is no one below you. But, the ability to know when to delegate and who to delegate to, is the often the first sign of a future leader.
Why we don’t delegate
Many people starting out are focused on doing everything possible to prove themselves. And sometimes that means taking on everything that comes their way, never asking for help and most certainly never delegating. Unfortunately this often leads to working hard, but not necessarily working smart and inevitably leads to burnout.
For many, delegating feels like a loss of control and junior people can be just as guilty of holding onto anything that feels like control and power as much as a more senior person.
Delegating takes planning. For many of us, it often seems like telling someone else what to do, will take as much time, if not more, than simply doing it yourself.
The who and how of delegating
Being junior doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have people to delegate to. Often, in any number of organizations, there are roles with overlapping responsibilities. The accounting team maybe able to pull reports or follow up on invoices on your behalf. A coordinator in another group maybe able to follow up on the status of project if she shares the same supplier. Keep your ears open, when someone mentions they are looking for something to do, speak up and take advantage don’t wait for someone more senior to beat you to it.
Remember, when you are junior and you are delegating, it is important to ask permission - from someone senior and from the person you are asking. And remember to be willing to reciprocate.
Delegating - is about trusting and communicating
When you delegate to someone, you need to be clear about what you expect them to do and when they need to do it. And be prepared for them to do it their way. And even if you suddenly get less busy, please don’t step in and pick up the task you delegated unless you have communicated first.
Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The golden rule
Time and time again when junior people delegate they never give feedback. They will chat amongst themselves about how poor a job so-and-so did, but they won’t tell that person how to do it better. Providing constructive feedback is another key skill of good leaders. When someone does something for you, you need to find a positive way to give feedback. It will enable that person to learn and grow (an opportunity I think you would want for yourself) and helps create a better resource for you in the future.
When you are the reason a project isn’t going forward, chances are there is something on your plate you need to delegate. It could be a task related to that project or perhaps it is another project on your plate that is getting in the way. Step back, look at what is on your plate, think about who can help, reach out to your manager for support and then delegate to get it done. I promise you, it will show that you have skills well above your level.
It is Sunday, a beautiful Sunday and I am sitting in front of my computer trying to stay focused, productive and stress free. When I first sat down to work I Tweeted, “working on a Sunday, keeping the to-do list short so I can feel a sense of accomplishment” - my way of publicly committing to not letting myself get overwhelmed on a Sunday afternoon.
I have an endless list of things I could tackle, but realistically I know that I can’t do everything. If I give my self just a few things to do today, I will get them done and I will still have time to relax and enjoy the weekend.
I remember, way back in my first year of university, sitting down with a counselor and talking about how overwhelmed I was getting with school. The man I sat with told me a simple story that I have carried with me ever since - a story I wish I would live by more often. Every day this man would ride home with a colleague, he and this woman had very similar jobs and work loads. Every night she would bring home a pile of work to do and every night he would bring home one thing to do. Every morning she would be stressed and admit to having gotten nothing done and every morning he would start the day with a sense of accomplishment - his one thing done.
"Do what you say you will do - it could be the most powerful thing you do."
- Danielle LePorte
Today, I needed to do what I said I would do - for me. But, it is even more important that we do what say we will do with others. As Danielle LaPorte says so eloquently in her video, it not only makes you more reliable, but it eventually forces you to be careful about what you say you will do. It may even, dare I say it, lead you to say “no” or actually refrain from volunteering to take on one more thing.
Like so many others, I am guilty of taking on too much, but I figure today is a good a day as any to focus on changing that habit.
How about you, do you do what you say you will do?
In our culture it usually takes something health related before we consider slowing down, doesn’t it? Let’s face it, the word “slow” has negative connotations doesn’t it? I mean who ever came in first by going slow? You are on to me aren’t you? You are expecting me to remind you of the tortoise and the hare...well you aren’t to far off.
The other day I noticed that I have slowed down, physically slowed down. I have long legs and have always had this wicked fast stride, but these days I don’t seem to be moving very fast. People actually pass me on the sidewalk. I can’t tell you that I consciously decided to slow my pace down, it just sort of happened. And I like it.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t get places on time or that I get less done, in fact I think I am on time more often, I know I am more productive and I definitely enjoy more of what is happening around me. For me, life is better now that I have slowed down.
I while back I wrote a post about the impact of multi-tasking, just one example of how we negatively impact our lives when we try to do too much too fast. I have also talked about the importance of truly disconnecting so that we can be present with the ones we love.
But what I have failed to notice is that I was really talking about slowing down. And there are full fledged international movements dedicated to Slow. The Slow Food movement, which has thousands of members around the world is dedicated to getting us to not only slow down and enjoy the food we eat, but also to step back and revisit the way it is produced.
According to Carl Honore, the Slow Movement goes beyond food to how we live our lives, run our cities and even run our corporations. So much speed in our daily lives from speed dating to speed yoga is actually causing a back-lash. I hope you take time to watch the video I posted and check out his web site, Carl’s message on slow is one I think more of us need to hear.
Slow isn’t always easy. I sort of stumbled into it in my attempt to create a better life and more rewarding career. It seems funny now to realize that all I really needed to do was slow down and take on less. But to go slow, to have time to enjoy the breeze and gaze in the shop windows as I walk to a meeting means I need to leave earlier. And to leave earlier means I need to have less to do in the mornings which usually requires more planning to ensure it all fits in and for me it has meant doing less and saying no. Like Carl, it means sometimes I turn off my phone and I don’t say yes to every project I am asked to work on.
Just this afternoon a funny thing happened, I had a flurry of urgent changes from a client, and although I addressed what I could immediately there was one thing I couldn’t change without the help of a graphic resource, something I didn’t have access to this Friday before a long weekend (the client knew we were closed). Rather than stress out about not being able to fix everything instantly, I headed off to the park to see my daughters play (something I had promised to do). When I got back the I found an email from the client saying they changed their mind - the graphic change was no longer required. Makes me wonder if they had slowed down in the first place maybe none of these last minute panic changes would have been needed.
Okay, so that is mostly a headline to get your attention. The office I am working in is far from gross, in fact I like the space and really enjoy the energy in the place and the people. But, I truthfully was a bit grossed out this week by sick people in the office. I haven’t been exposed to sick colleagues in over a year and the thought of it made me want to run back to my germ free home office. Okay, so my home office isn’t germ free, but you know what I mean.
Really folks, why are you going to work sick? Chances are you aren’t going to be productive and you will likely get your co-workers sick too. Know what happens then? Not only are you not productive, but you risk impacting the productivity of your entire organization. All that because you want to be the hero who isn’t a suck staying home with a cold or a flu?
The impact of coming to work sick is significant - a study out of the US says that presenteeism costs that economy up to $150 billion a year due to lost productivity.
I realize I am being snarky, people don’t really come into to work to be heros, the culture of being recognized, rewarded and evaluated for simply being at your desk is the biggest motivator for people coming to work when they are sick.
The best way to avoid this is to create an environment where working from home is acceptable. Obviously if someone is really sick and not going to be effective, they should un-plug and relax. For many people, however, being able to check emails, line up a few meetings, review a file or finish up a report actually makes them feel better and lets them relax and recover quicker.
It is ironic, the reason that most organizations or managers are against people working from home is because they fear people will goof off and not get their work done. But, when management creates an environment where people feel they have to come to work sick, management is the one who is responsible for the drop in productivity, not the employees.
For those of you who can work from home, next time you feel yourself coming down with something, grab what is most urgent and make sure you bring it home with you so you can stay home. Be the hero by sending in that urgent report from home rather than from the office where you would just make others sick too!
Wow I am so out of practice for working in an office, last week was a struggle for me and I ended up feeling so completely exhausted at the end of the week. The reality of working at home is that you have so much extra time to work and deal with life. Heading off to the office, even though it is only for 20 hours a week ate up almost all my extra time and left me scrambling to get things done.
The extra stress of having to be somewhere on time and the pressure of trying to prove yourself to a new team are actually huge energy suckers. It doesn’t seem so obvious when it is part of our daily life, but when it happened to me last week it was a bit of an eye opener.
In retrospect my week wasn’t well planned - I didn’t know ahead of time which days I would be where - it made it hard to plan ahead for anything. On top of that , one morning we slept in (something we never do) and the result was a stressful morning rush. Another afternoon I actually had to call a friend to pick up my daughter from her after school program because I couldn’t get there on time. I can't tell you how many times I had to circle the block looking for a parking spot never mind the number of times I had to run out and put money into the meter.
The result just reminded me how much I love working from home.
There is another side to this as well. It is fun to go to an office especially knowing that it isn’t long term. The team I am working with is great and I am learning and growing in ways that are often hard to maintain when you work at home. I am completely excited about the projects I am working on and even more excited at the prospect if having another long term partner to keep me busy.
As I prepare for the week ahead I know I need to have a better plan for the week. As much as I want to be as accessible as possible, I know that having a set schedule will reduce my stress and ensure that I am actually more affective and productive which will benefit my new clients!
How do you manage the transition back to the office routine?
We suck at change - we do. When we think about creating a flexible work environment there are a million excuses for why it won’t work. I had one boss who wouldn’t consider it because it couldn’t apply to everyone. Hmm I wonder is she felt the same way about how we were paid or our titles...maybe those should all be the same too?
Retention is one of the biggest challenges facing an organization and we often hear about it as it applies to more senior roles but, how many of us have faced the impact of turnover related to more junior or hourly roles? I know I have. In the United States, 75 million people work for hourly wages (61% of them are women).
The Corporate Voices for Working Families study, Innovation Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers, shows that flexibility, "can be as beneficial or more beneficial to hourly workers and the businesses that employ them.” Their research into companies like Marriott International (Hospitality), Proctor and Gamble (Consumer Goods), Bright Horizons (Child Care) and PNC Financial (Financial Services) are proving that flexibility for hourly workers is an option in a variety of fields.
Businesses implementing flex work options for employees are seeing the following benefits:
Improved customer service
Lower personnel costs as the result of reduced overtime
Higher retention rates
Ability to tap into a wider labor pool
Recognition as an “employer of choice” with younger generations
Ability to expand hours of operation
Let’s be frank, the employee benefits, which we can only talk about now that we have clearly shown the corporate benefits, are also benefits to the companies:
Reduced stress = more efficient, less mistakes
Improved well-being = better temperament, and customer service, less sick days
Enhanced work-life effectiveness = ability to retain employees who go back to school, have a family or need to care for a family
Increase productivity = I am not sure I need to qualify this one.
Despite the stats that indicate most flex work (usually cause they lump work at home jobs in this same category) is filled by senior men, more employers are catching on and creating flexible options for hourly workers. Working Mother has even come out with a Best Companies for Hourly Workers list.
These companies go beyond providing flexible schedules and include benefits like tuition reimbursement, paid vacation, job training and more. As for flexibility, some provide things like advance notice of work schedules (up to a month), volunteer overtime and unpaid time off without penalty. Others permit shift trading and split shifts.
According to the news anchor, we slow down in the snow and speed up in the rain. When the rain falls after a weekend of snow and the roads are still slippery and everyone is speeding along, guess what happens. Accidents and a disastrous morning commute. This morning’s accident, which I watched from the comfort of my bed at 6:30 a.m., included a major highway, a car ending up on the commuter train lines and a car hitting an ambulance. No lives were lost, thankfully.
All I could think was, wow, all the people who are being held up likely started their mornings at 4:30/5:00 a.m. in the hopes of beating the rush by coming into the office early. Now they will get in later, likely be stressed when they get there, they will need to stay later to make up for the late arrival time and will hit traffic on the way home too.
The commute was also bad for those using public transit when a major portion of the subway was also closed between 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. according to the Toronto Star.
The cost of a bad commute goes well beyond being late and staying late. According to the Urban Mobility Report that surveyed traffic patterns of 439 U.S. urban areas, the cost of commuting based on lost productivity and wasted fuel, reached $115 billion. The average amount of time wasted per person was 35 hours, or almost a full work week. For commuters in Chicago and Washington time wasted was doubled - 70 hours or two weeks of work per person.
The Urban Mobility report suggests that changing our work/commute patterns to implement more ride share programs and flexible work times to avoid the traditional “rush hour” as a possible solution to this growing and crazy expensive congestion. I can tell you that this morning in Toronto, it was the early birds who were seeking to avoid the rush, that got the bulk of the delays. Improving public transit is another suggestion for improving congestion and rising cost of commutes. In Toronto this morning, the public transit system was hardly the “Better Way” for many.
What we need is more opportunities for people to avoid the commute all together - we need more remote, flex work or telework opportunities and arrangements.
It’s on days like today that I really appreciate the benefits of my home office. No commute, no added stress, no worries about being late and no loss in productivity or wasted gas.
I follow the hash tag #telework, and during yesterday’s snow storm that closed schools from the midwest across to the east coast, the comments from those of us who telework wasn’t all positive:
The next time hubs sticks his head in my office, I may punch him in the nose. #telework #snowday
#Telework on a snow day: Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.
Working while everyone else in my house has a snow day is NOT panning out. One more interruption & I am going to SNAP. #telework
#Telework challenge: trapped with four other people who don't #telework and have a snow day. Workus Interruptus!
In my house, my daughter assumed her snow day was a snow day for all of us, she didn’t understand that I still needed to work. By 8:00 a.m. we had arranged a play date and I knew I would be able to have a regular productive work day. Not every teleworker/flex worker was as lucky as me, as those post clearly show. Trying to get work done when your family members or roommates aren’t can be distracting and frustrating!
I am well aware that one of the benefits of telework or flex work comes from being able to maintain productivity when inclement weather prevents people from coming into the office.
One of the big drivers behind the US Federal Government’s recent bill to mandate telework was to ensure employee productivity could be maintained during bad weather. Last year’s snow storms were said to have resulted in productivity loss of $71 million a day, mainly because too few federal employees were able to work from home.
Yesterday’s Toronto Star had a great article, “ Snow days, not just for kids anymore” that showed how flexible work arrangements were enabling employees and companies to stay productive despite the bad weather.
There is no question, flex work or telework are key to ensuring productivity stays on track during times of bad weather, but that doesn’t mean that it enables all of us to stay productive when schools close as today’s Toronto Star article, “Did schools really have to close,” shows.
Many of us felt that the closure of the Toronto District School Board (which impacts 562 schools and hundreds of thousands of kids) for the 6 inches of snow that actually fell in the GTA, was over reacting. The result was a scramble by many families to find care for their children. I love the mention in The Star article of the mom who ended up taking work calls in the only room in the house with a door that locked - the bathroom. Those of us who work from home may not need to scramble for care, but if don’t it often means lots of interruptions and working late at night to fill in for all the daytime interruptions.
If you are multitasking chances are you aren’t being as effective in your job or as engaged in your life as you could be. Ironic isn’t it? We multitask because we think it helps us do more when in fact multitaskers do less and miss more information. Cognitive science and studies into multitasking show that it can take up to 15 minutes to reorient after a distraction resulting in an efficiency drop of almost 40% . Not only that, these distractions reduce our long term memory and creativity!
The message is, we are not capable of multitasking, we only think we are. When we start checking emails our brains switch to our visual cortex and we are literally hearing less of what is being said in the meeting we are attending. The people you work with and your family are right to be annoyed with you, you are missing a large part of what they are saying.
The solution is really a combination of project management and being present. Being present is about paying attention what you are doing at that very moment. Its the kind of thing that a yoga instructor will encourage, but when we apply it to life and work it makes us better at whatever we are doing.
When we practice being present when we eat (which means not eating in front of the TV or computer) not only do we really experience and enjoy the flavors of what we eat, we actually eat less.
Being present in a meeting means paying attention to that meeting, if you know you are the type to get distracted or bored, then take notes to stay focused. And yes folks, let’s all try and make these meetings more effective so we don’t need to get bored, invite only who really needs to be there, have an agenda and stick to it!
Try being present when you help your kids with their homework not only will they appreciate the uninterrupted and undivided attention, I am going to bet that you will get through that work with less frustration and in less time.
You noticed that I haven’t told you to put down your iPhone or Blackberry or step away from the computer. I love what all if this technology can do to connect us and help us share information.
Project management can help us avoid multitasking. Part of project management is anticipating what will happen in a project. Sometimes that is about what will go wrong and sometime it is as simple as scheduling copy editing before a web launch. Here is the thing, you know that you need to check emails, you know that want to engage in Twitter or other social media, so why aren't you planning for it?
Peter Shankman has a great post about Why you need to get up earlier and how to do it. Reading his post I couldn’t help but think, waking up early enables Peter to be present in whatever he does in that extra time be it biking alone in Central Park, taking time to eat breakfast or watch the sunrise, or reading and catching up on email during a time when he won’t be interrupted.
I recently had coffee with a friend who has amassed a substantial following to his Twitter and blog posts - targeted, qualified followers - in 9 months. He calls it is social experiment because he wants to see how little time he can spend on this and still have it be an effective tool to grow his influence and contribute to building his businesses. To do this he dedicates specific uninterrupted time to these tasks. On Twitter he makes the best of his time by participating in specific Tweetchats that often happen weekly at a specific time and often for only an hour and often after his kids have gone to bed. This means when he is active it as at a time when he can participate in a dialogue, engage with others and make bigger impact in a short period of time. When he posts a blog entry it is a thoughtful, authentic, passionate post that is well researched and thought out and then he takes time to respond to all the comments. He plans his time and is present when he does engage.
Stop multitasking, you aren’t doing it, you are just making it harder to be effective. Today try to do one thing at a time. When you feel yourself getting distracted and itching to check email or read your Twitter stream, first take time to note where you left off in whatever you were doing so when you get back to it, you don’t need to waste 15 min trying to remember what it was that you were doing!
I took a sick day this week. Well not really the whole day, more like as soon as the kids went off with their grandmother for the day, I crawled back into bed. That is the thing about being a parent, you can never just stay in bed, there may be an opportunity to get back into bed, but its always after attending to someone else’s needs. I did sleep and I did read, Inc., Fast Company and Wired, but then I decided it was silly (it wasn’t making me feel any different) to be in bed so I got up and started doing stuff.
Since I am home I have a whole new perspective on sick days. For the most part I can be sick and no one will know, unless like right now when I sound so ridiculously stuffed up that everyone is asking if I am okay (I think people think I have been crying!). I can get stuff done, or lie down, or warm up soup and my clients will never know, especially if I keep getting the work done and hitting all my deliverables. And that is okay, because when I work, I am not getting the whole rest of the office sick.
In my office days too many of us, myself included went to work when we are sick which got the rest of the office sick and impacted productivity well beyond just one person staying home for the day.
Turns out there is a name for showing up to work when you should be home recovering, its called “presenteeism”. A Cornel University study suggests that “presenteeism” costs the US economy $150 billion a year. The cost is the result of sick employees being less productive than normal and spreading that lack of productivity to others.
Its not just bad for our companies, it could be bad for your next review. When our productivity drops, our quality of work also drops, all in all, its best to stay home when you are really sick.
Some of us go to work sick because we don’t have paid sick days, and others because of our own work ethic or our corporate culture. Many organizations don’t give employees lap tops or even access to company servers or data should they want to work from home on their own computers.
These kinds of attitudes, policies and cultures that frown on people working from home, or simply taking time to recover, end up costing companies thousands if not millions of dollars.
Teleworkers actually cut absenteeism by 20%, not only that, but companies that enable teleworking avoid absenteeism due to things like bad weather.
Wouldn’t it be great if the next time someone in your office got sick, they stayed home?