A guide to productive meetings

Productive meeting

A phrase I hear a lot lately is “Zoom meetings.” A few weeks ago, a colleague mentioned they had back to back online meetings all day and as such couldn’t do anything else. What annoyed him was not having to attend so many meetings but the fact that most of those meetings were in his words “useless.”

COVID-19 forced people to adapt to new ways of working. Teams could no longer meet in person. This led to a spike in online meetings. However, if you are in back to back meetings 3 days a week, your productivity is going to suffer. When will you have time to work on those action items (action items are being assigned at the end of those meetings, I hope?)

Are your meetings ending on a happy note?
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What is the one thing you learnt today?

Chalk board

Every day presents a new learning opportunity. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. In a world where new information keeps being generated at an astounding rate, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You need only log in to a social media account to be bombarded by so many details. IBM once estimated that in 2020, human knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours. That’s an exciting thought but it can also be scary. How do you continue to gain new skills to ensure you remain relevant in your chosen field?

New skill icon
Skill up or become obsolete
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Learn to say “No” (ii)

No

Last week’s article was about the power of “No.” A simple word but with great power to help you take control of your schedule. Hopefully by now, you have had some practice with saying “No.” The goal is to eventually reach a level where you learn to say “yes” to opportunities and “no” to distractions.

With practice, it’s easy to know when to politely redirect your colleague’s offer for last minute help on a project they had two months to work on. Outside the workplace, however, it can become more difficult to decide which tasks to give up. Let’s examine the following list:

  • Take minutes of the meeting of market women’s association.
  • Service the generator at the orphanage
  • Do the book keeping for the Youth association
  • Read to five year olds at the library
  • Deliver the opening speech at your nephew’s speech and prize giving day

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Learn to say “No” (i)

No

“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”

-Bob Carter

What do you do when someone asks you to do a task you would rather not? Picture this scenario. You are working on a project early in the morning, trying to build momentum. Someone approaches. They ask if you have five minutes. They need your help to go over a report that they have to submit later today. What do you tell them?

You have three options. The first is to say “No. Go away.” That would do the trick and you might be able to get back to work after that but it won’t win you any allies that way. The second is to say “Yes” and allow the person take control of your schedule for the rest of the morning. You know the report was supposed to have been their responsibility and you feel they shouldn’t bother you. It’s not your job to look over their report. Yet you also feel you could do a better job of it than your colleague. Maybe they need a little help after all and you know you could write a better report than them. So you check the report and it’s a mess and you end up having to rewrite parts of it. By the time you are done, you have “helped” your colleague write a report and they can turn it in just in time. Then you go back to your original task and curse the fact that since you have wasted so much time you now have to work after office hours to finish your work.

No
No words necessary

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Learn your craft

A graduation cap and tools

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot about what counts as an essential skill. So many workers, including people pretty high up, previously secure in their roles suddenly found themselves without jobs as more companies looked for ways to cut costs in an attempt to survive lockdown. If you are one of those who still has a job, congratulations. Others have not been as lucky.

In a world where knowledge is being generated at an outstanding rate, having the skills necessary to keep up with it is no longer the responsibility of HR departments. More and more organisations are assuming employees come equipped with certain skills and don’t bother organising training sessions on those skills. Yet how true is their assumption?

LEARN
It’s spelt out

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Nobody works well under pressure

Working under pressure is last minute time management

We have all met someone who proudly declared they work well under pressure. The sort of people who boldly put it on their CV and expect to be rewarded for it. They are most likely the sort of people who annoy colleagues to no end by submitting work five minutes to the deadline and expect to be given a round of applause for it. You may have convinced yourself being able to work under pressure is a skill. Perhaps you also believe you possess that skill. Let me burst your bubble. It is not.

A man in a suit struggling to meet a deadline
You under pressure keeping people waiting

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Before you send that meeting invite

Unopened envelope icons

At some point during the past three months, you have probably attended a lot more online meetings than you normally would. If you are anything like me, you probably wondered why some of those meetings took place or why you were invited in the first place? COVID-19 has changed the way we work. More teams are staying in touch using digital technology. Zoom, the video conferencing app saw its shares increase in value as more people signed up to take part in online meetings.

It is understandable that as we continue to work from home, we will have to attend more online meetings. What many people don’t seem to realise, however, is that an online meeting is similar to a physical meeting in one crucial way: there is no guarantee that the meeting will be productive. A lot of people send out invites to online meetings because they confuse busyness with productive. Their supervisor is no longer breathing over their shoulder so they fear being thought of as slackers if they didn’t convene a meeting every few days.

An outlook calendar page
Let’s find a place for it in my calendar

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Are you spending too much time at the office?

A work schedule

The classic hustler story is of a young entrepreneur possessed of zeal who goes days without sleep working on a project that after many years yields them great profit. During that time, all other concerns such as family responsibilities, food and healthcare miraculously vanish. How else could you explain someone working for a month without sleep?

A man typing at a laptop in an office
Late night at work aren’t always a good thing

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Let’s talk about emails (ii)

A tablet screen with email icons

Emails are making life difficult for many people. If you don’t have a system in place for managing your email inbox, you will soon find yourself responding to other people’s emergencies all the time instead of focusing on your important tasks. To prevent email taking over your life, here are a few principles:

Mornings are not for checking emails

You have no idea what you will find in your inbox. If you start your day, by checking email, you are likely to find the five minutes you had hoped to spend magically became one hour. It’s hard to resist the temptation to reply an email even though some part of us probably knows the reply can wait. If it’s an emergency, you will probably get a phone call instead of an email. Use your morning hours to work on tasks that require deep focus.

Email icons
Can’t know what’s inside until you open it

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Let’s talk about emails (i)

A tablet screen with email icons

In the early days of the internet, email was all the rave. Suddenly, you could send a long message to someone across the world and they would receive it in seconds. You didn’t have to post a letter that would take weeks to deliver. Eventually, email was replaced by Instant Messaging and social networks as the preferred means of instant communication. However, email continues to be used for official communication.

Email has become a productivity death trap for many. It’s easy for anyone to send you an email or copy you in one. Unfortunately, very few people get paid to read and process emails. Unless you are a personal assistant to an Executive or work in Customer-care, you probably don’t fall into this category.

A blue envelope
Are you waiting for this?

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