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3 thought-provoking business books from 2016 that you may have missed

As 2016 comes to an end (it’s gone so fast, hasn’t it?) we’d like to share 3 thought-provoking management books we’ve enjoyed and been challenged by.  From everyone at Target Training we wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, and a great “slide into the New year” as they say here in Germany.

 

 

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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Cal Newport

Do you ever feel that you can’t get any work done because of the countless emails, calls, updates and web-meetings? Do you feel that you spend all day “communicating” without getting things done properly? Then this hugely topical book is for you.

In Deep Work Cal Newport argues that one of the key skills for productivity and success in such a “connected age” is the ability to focus  on demanding tasks. He then brings this to life with science, stories, anecdotes and examples. Finally he then shares 4 “rules” for building habits and transforming your approach-

  1. Work deeply
  2. Embrace boredom
  3. Quit social media (see below)
  4. Drain the shallows

Check out the author’s excellent and generous blog to get a quick overview of the ideas.  Then put your smart phone in a drawer, turn off the TV, pour yourself a glass of wine and make the time to read it.

 

 

Managing in the Gray: Five Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work

Joseph L. Bardacco

In contrast to the previous “21st century” recommendation, the core themes of this book are timeless and universally applicable regardless of your situation. Every manager needs to accept and work with ambiguity.  Do you support your manager when you know the decision is terrible – and your team know it too?  Do you promote a driven and successful team leader who has regularly rubs people up the wrong way?

This book offers five deceptively simple questions to help you navigate through “gray areas”.

The questions are …

  • What are the net, net consequences?
  • What are my core obligations?
  • What will work in the world as it is?
  • Who are we?
  • What can I live with?

These 5 questions provide an ethical compass. To quote the author “When you face a gray area problem at work, you should work through it as a manager and resolve it as a human being.”

Certainly worth your time, and it also provides an excellent framework for teams, talent programs and management training programs.

How To Have A Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioural Science to Transform Your Working Life

Caroline Webb

And finally, our third suggestion is perfect for December. As the year comes to an end. many of us will be reflecting on what we’ve achieved (or not), how we’ve achieved it, and what we should be doing more or less of.  In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb shares findings from behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience and then shows how you can build on big “scientific” ideas to transform the quality of your everyday life.  The book is divided into seven areas

  • Priorities
  • Productivity
  • Relationships
  • Thinking
  • Influence
  • Resilience
  • Energy

And concludes with a transfer-oriented “Making it stick”.

Speaking openly, it can be a heavy read. There’s a lot of research and findings shared, BUT there’s a clear focus on your working life too.  Don’t let the “self-help” moniker put you off reading this – the stories and examples avoid slipping into fantasy or “business book bullshit”.

The author’s excellent blog is also well worth your time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Finally, I know we’ve shared our 3, but its Christmas so check out “HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2017: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review”.  The summary of “Collaborative Overload” by Cross, Rebele and Grant connects back with Cal Newport’s Deep Work and is hugely relevant to anyone working in virtual teams. Plus check out the  excellent summary of Erin Meyer’s “Getting to Si, Ja, oui, Hai and Da” if you need to negotiate across cultures.

 

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4 TEDs on Increasing Work Productivity

When learning a foreign language, it’s definitely beneficial to vary techniques and shock the brain so that it becomes more alert and is more apt retain information such as new vocabulary. In this vein, listening to native speakers is one of the best ways to learn. The learner can hear how the language is used in a variety of situations as well as intonation and pronunciation. This technique works best when the learner has interest in the topic being discussed; otherwise, the learner loses interest and stops listening. TED Talks are a great place to find interesting topics. TED means Technology, Entertainment and Design, but the talks now cover just about any topic you can think of. One great thing about the videos is that you can choose subtitles (English, please!) or follow along with the interactive transcript if you want. These are helpful tools for understanding an unknown word. I recently perused the website and found a few videos of varying length on the topic of increasing office productivity that I would like to share.

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How sweet are your emails?

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How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

David Grady shares with us his ideas on How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings in his talk where he uses the analogy of office furniture theft to explain how and why the listener can and should bring order back to their daily work schedules by avoiding unnecessary meetings. After watching, you can learn how to avoid MAS, too!

Why work doesn’t happen at work

Jason Fried details three suggestions on how to improve productivity in the workplace in his talk on Why work doesn’t happen at work. In it, he explores where people feel more productive and what causes involuntary distractions at the workplace. He compares work to sleep phases where you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get work done. What is the longest you can go at work without getting interrupted by managers or meetings?

Got a meeting? Take a walk

In her short talk, Nilofer Merchant advises the listener Got a meeting? Take a walk. Not only is this idea good for the health, it also allows you to get out of the office and see things a bit differently. As she says, fresh air drives fresh thinking!

As work gets more complex, 6 steps to simplify

Sometimes work gets unnecessarily a bit too complicated. Yves Morieux has thought about this and came up with six ways towards streamlining in his talk As work gets more complex, 6 steps to simplify. He looks to answer the questions why productivity is so disappointing, why there is so little engagement at work and what this has to do with the increasing complexities faced by businesses today. His answers just might surprise you!

If you found these talks interesting, I suggest you explore other TED talks on a topic that intrigues you. There are many compelling talks available, and the more engaged you are with the topic, the more likely you are to retain any new vocabulary you pick up whilst listening. Not only that, but you can also use the talks to train your ear for understanding foreign accents such as Yves’ wonderful French accent. Let us know what interesting talks you discover!

Being effective in 2015 – 2 time management tips I know will make an impact

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m not the most structured and organized of people. Like many managers I’ve got multiple roles – some I enjoy, others are a “necessity”. At the end of last year I was, quite frankly, ready for a break. Over the holidays I walked the dogs and reflected on the causes and possible solutions – and, like many of us, I’ve resolved to make a few changes this year. Drawing on the techniques we share in some of our seminars, these are two concrete time management tips I’m going to focus on going forward, and I know from past experience that they’ll make an impact. Maybe they can support you too.

Time management tip #1 – Talk with people about how they communicate and interact with me

Identifying why I seemed to be so busy was a first step. I then split these reasons into “time sins” , “time thieves” and “time wasters”. Time sins are things I do to myself, for example getting easily distracted, poor planning etc. Time thieves are things that others do which mean I’m not as effective as I could be, for example sending me too many emails when a phone call would be more effective, not preparing for a meeting which means everyone loses time, pushing problems up to me that they can and should be dealing with themselves. Time wasters are those things that just happen and are out of my immediate control e.g. delays caused by traffic, IT issues etc.

I’ll address time sins in the tip below – but in my case time thieves are also clearly a problem. So, going forward in 2015, I’ve resolved that, as and when time thieves reappear this year, I’m going to take (or make) the opportunity to talk with my colleagues. I’ll try to understand how they see things and why they are working like this, explain how I see things and then together agree to build new routines and habits. I know that time thieves won’t just disappear by themselves unless I talk with the “thief” directly. These conversations won’t always be easy but having them is important.

Time management tip #2 – Eat my frogs

Do you ever have that feeling that you just don’t know where to start? Everyone procrastinates at some time, and Brian Tracy’s “eat that frog” technique is an approach I’ve relied upon time and time again when things are getting a little too crazy at work and I don’t know where to start. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it goes something like this…

Your alarm goes off, and you roll over, turn it off and rub your eyes. Another day has begun and it’s time to get up and get ready to go to work. However before you get out of bed you sit up, reach across to your bedside table and pick up that big glass jar you keep next to you. You unscrew the lid, put your hand in and pull out … a frog. A living, croaking, slightly slippery frog. You then open your mouth, push the frog in, and start to chew it. Bones crunch, you resist the temptation to throw up, and then you swallow it. You then get up feeling relieved that this dreadful task is over. That was probably the worst thing that’ll happen to you all day .

Got your attention, right? Obviously this is a metaphor – eating frogs doesn’t actually help you become more effective. “Eating the frog” is a metaphor for doing the task that you’ve been avoiding, delaying or ignoring – and doing this task first thing! Most of us start work with the same comfortable routine. We get into the office, start up our computer, talk with a colleague, grab a coffee (and perhaps even read the news online) and then open and read our emails. Eating your frog means the very first thing you do when you get to work is that task you’ve been avoiding, delaying or ignoring. It could be a task that you’re nervous about tackling a task that you just don’t enjoy doing, or a task that you just don’t know where you should start. But before you open your emails, before you allow yourself the luxury of perusing the morning paper, before you even start chatting with a colleague – you do the thing you don’t want to do (for me this could typically be an administrative task). Once you’ve got your frog out of the way you’ll hopefully then spend the rest of the day being more effective, feeling more effective and focussing on other challenges.

These are 2 approaches I’m going to commit to. How about you? What tips and tricks do you have to share? How will you make sure that you are effective in 2015?

Prioritizing Work: 4 Categories to Help

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4 Simple categories to help in prioritizing work

Prioritizing work can be a challenge for anyone, especially managers. I have just returned to work after being on holiday for two weeks. After reading all of my emails and speaking to my colleagues, I now have a huge to-do list. In the past, I wouldn’t have known where to start but I recently learned a very simple method for prioritizing. Based on The Eisenhower Matrix, I label each task on my to-do list with a letter, A, B, C or D.

Prioritizing work with A, B, C, or D

 

1.  ‘A’ tasks: Do it

These tasks are:

  • urgent, very important and should be done straight away
  • directly affect the work of others and they are waiting on you to continue their own tasks

2.  ‘B’ tasks: Plan it

These tasks are:

  • important but not urgent, so you can take the time to plan when you will do them
  • ones that require extra thought and consideration and should not be rushed

3.  ‘C’ tasks: Delegate it

These tasks are:

  • ones that aren’t overly important but need doing quickly
  • easily done by others who have more time to do them

4.  ‘D’ tasks: Drop it

These tasks are:

  • not urgent, nor are they necessarily important
  • ones that could be skipped, forgotten about, or done only if you have extra time at the end of the day

 

The A tasks are the most important, so I start with them, then the B and so on. One challenge I face is to find the time for the C tasks. Normally, at the end of the day, I find it useful to make my to-do list for the next day, along with the priorities; that way I know exactly what to do when I arrive at the office and I can get straight to work. It also stops me from brainstorming tasks for the next day when I should be listening to my bedtime story!

What methods do you use for prioritizing work? Let us know in the comments area below.  Are you interested in improving your time management?  Click here for information on how.

 

Time Management: 2 Simple Tips

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Time management does not come naturally to me. Managing my own time is something that I have had to work at. And, good time management is something that I find works best if you apply one or two systems. Here are my two tips for improving your time management:

1.  Use a calendar

Sounds simple, yes? But, I use a calendar for everything. Every meeting and discussion that is planned goes into my calendar. Additionally, I also include tasks that need to be done, followed by planning the time for these tasks and then blocking the time in my calendar.

I plan long-term, non-urgent tasks in advance and block the time to complete them.

At the start of each day, I write a list of any additional tasks that need to be completed. Where possible, I include the time of the day when I will do these things. Each task gets crossed out once it is completed. If it is the end of the day and something has not been crossed out, I put it into the list for the following day, or find an actual time-slot in my calendar to perform the task at a later date.

2.  Keep your inbox clean

Again, this sounds simple. But, almost every day I see someone’s inbox with 200+ emails and 50+ not even read. Part of my solution is to be honest with myself. If I really don’t think I will do anything about an email, I won’t keep it in my inbox “just-in-case”.

When reading a new email, I immediately decide if I’ll do something with the email. If not, I will delete or archive it. If I plan to do something with the email, I’ll either do it straight away (for small tasks) or plan the task into my calendar. Once the task is planned, I’ll move the email to the relevant folder and also put a copy in my calendar if necessary.

It seems that a lot of people use their inbox as a “to-do” list. They leave the email in the inbox as a reminder to do something and this is how they “plan” their work. But, cleaning out my inbox forces me to actually plan tasks in my calendar and make time for the tasks.

Both of these ideas are simple. What works for me is the combination of the two ideas.  Why not share your own time management ideas in the comments below?  Also, click here for information on how to further improve your time management.