Thursday, April 30, 2015

Step One: Stop Checking Your Email

I mentioned to a colleague my desire to have a day of work – when everything else in the world is on hold – so that I could feel caught up.  He laughed and expressed a shared interest in that “extra” time.  Why, I wondered, if everyone I know is feeling over-extended – do none of us seem to have a handle on what’s causing it?

Here’s my two cents…This feeling exists because we never stop working.  We leave the office, but take our smart phone. 
We check messages, respond, and review late into the evening and first thing in the morning.  And yet we feel ourselves fall farther and farther behind.  Why?  This constant effort actually compromises us - both personally and professionally.  By checking email we:

1.    Reduce our ability to have downtime.  To refresh, refocus, renew.  A rested brain is more creative, resilient, and productive.  By doing less, we actually accomplish more.
2.    Forget to respond.  Reading an email while in line at the grocery store does not allow you the time (or focus) to answer a question, consult a colleague, or check your calendar.  The result?  You postpone it, and like many of us, neglect to review those older “read” emails on your next day at the office.  Your attempts at efficiency have now delayed a response or cause it to be forgotten altogether.
3.    Fracture our relationships.  By taking “just a minute” to check our messages we demonstrate a lack of respect and lack of care for those around us.  Their level of priority is literally and figuratively lowered.  This is as true when we go to lunch with a colleague as it is when we are with a child.  Does anyone remember the song “Cats in the Cradle”?  Rather than apologizing for our busy-ness, let’s try to stay in the moment – especially with friends and loved ones.
4.    Affect our mood.  When a Sunday afternoon is interrupted by worry about a client’s email or the ‘need’ to respond to a colleagues questions, it impacts our ability to be in the moment.  Instead of enjoying a spiritual connection, the sounds of nature, or the view in front of us, we are distracted by work.  Our mood is compromised by the interruption, consequently impacting those around us.
5.    Miss opportunities.  Whether it’s the “fly ball” that brought home the winning run or your child’s first time making it all the way across the monkey bars, by looking down at your phone, or being otherwise distracted by work, you pay the price of losing these precious moments that cannot be recaptured.  Have you ever wondered what else you are missing?   
6.    Make excuses for other internet distractions.  Email is our gateway drug – once we are done checking those messages, we are given to checking for others on social media, or using the internet to quickly buy or research something.  All of this extending our time online, making us feel at work.  Last year’s viral video “Look Up” put emphasis on the costs of this behavior. 
7.    Increase our health risks.  Beyond the impact of blue light on our vision, computer and cell phone usage is responsible for a variety of other medical issues including stress, depression, headaches, and sleep disruption.

So here’s step one:  We need to stop checking our email when we are not on “work” hours.  Whether that means going cold-turkey or beginning a gradual shift, it is a step in the right direction.  And we may all reap the benefits. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Be A Leader Worth Following

Before I begin any workplace engagement, I ask the person informing me of the problem one important question:          
“If I determine that you are at the core of some of these issues, how do you want me to tell you?”  I ask this because problems do not happen in isolation.  Very commonly, they trickle down from the top.  From leadership missteps to flaws in the organizational structure.  My role, as I see it, is not just helping the individuals, but the company as a whole.


          From this vantage point, I have learned a lot about the characteristics that make a good leader, and about those well-intentioned qualities that sometimes undermine growth and success.

Here is what all leaders should know:

Leaders should be visionaries – Look ahead at what is coming, determine where the organization is heading; Great leaders must be reflexive and able to pivot and adjust as situations emerge – both internally and externally.  Whether it is adjusting to market fluctuations or acknowledging a gap in training or technology, a great leader takes swift action to rectify a problem and funds a budget that can support unforeseen demands. 
Leave people issues to your managers – Nothing undermines organizational stability more than a leader who inserts him/herself into staffing issues.  It undermines the authority of your managers, disrupts the process of addressing behavioral issues, and leads to claims of favoritism and unfair work practices.
Keep connected with your staff – on a macro-level.  Instead of having an “open-door” policy (which invites complaints that belong at the manager level) make a habit of walking through your office, getting to know your staff, and learning what is/isn’t helping them to get the job done.  Your focus is on the organization, and your staff is the first to know if an initiative isn’t working.  Engage with them for the purpose of making the company better.
Recognize the impact of employee morale – While leaders need to stay out of the fray, they must also support initiatives that help or engage their employees.  If employees are championing a measure – do what you can to support it.  This may mean investing in training, supporting team development, or bringing in a consultant to resolve conflicts that are undermining communication or productivity.  Be aware that budget constraints are rarely seen by employees as an acceptable reason for stalling on these efforts. They will quickly look to other expenditures that should be cut.  Address their concerns in a fashion that demonstrates their value to you and the organization – the return on your investment will be palpable. 
Set a positive and inspirational tone – for the whole team.  At regular intervals (preferably at an all-staff meeting) share the direction of the company, and what is expected of them to make the vision a reality.  Every member of your team should recognize their importance and contribution to the company’s success, and should feel motivated to help the company get there.
Model honestyOwning mistakes and taking responsibility for making things better is vital to long-term success.  Modeling this behavior – whether acknowledging a venture didn’t go as planned, or that lay-offs will be necessary – isn’t easy, but it goes a very long way toward creating accountability and shared responsibility for success.  By humbly owning your mistakes, you demonstrate the importance of this virtue while also silently encouraging your team to inform you if they foresee problems on the horizon.