Time Management

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The FACTS and benefits to consider before you organize a meeting

meetings free ebookMost of us have been there at least once in our professional lives: You enter or leave the meeting wondering why you were invited and how you will make up for the precious time you’ve just lost by attending the meeting. And you wish the meeting organizer had stopped to ask “Do we really need this meeting?” before the meeting took place. 

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Consider the FACTS and the benefits before organizing your next meeting

To help you decide whether a meeting is worth holding, we ask you to consider the FACTS:

Format

Is a meeting the right format?

For example, if the goal of your meeting is only to relay news to your team, maybe you can save everyone time and send an email instead? Can, for example, everyone on your team make it to the meeting? If you’re relaying important news, will they feel left out?  Thinking about alternative formats to meetings can reduce the total amount of meetings you need to have with your team. There are pros and cons of meetings, emails, community updates etc., and there is no right or wrong. You need to make the decision as to which is the right format for each situation.

Aims

Is there a clear, definable aim for this meeting?

A meeting without a specific aim is usually a waste of time. However, there are situations where the aim is vague. Perhaps, for example, you haven’t seen each other for a while. You may not have something specific to say, but explaining the situation helps everyone to understand why they are in the room. And meeting to catch up and network is a perfectly valid aim. There are also cultural considerations here – in some cultures meetings are to get work done, in other cultures they are to build relationships. There is no right or wrong, but a happy medium needs to be established in international environments.

Consequences

Are there negative consequences if we cancel?

If you can’t think of any negative consequences of cancelling, then there’s no reason to have your meeting. If you do cancel with people you’ve already invited though, make sure you offer some explanation. And be honest. Don’t try to make up an excuse for cancelling it. Just explain what you are thinking. The chances are that most people will rate you very highly for doing this.

Timing

Is now the right time to meet?

Perhaps new developments in the near future will make your meeting unnecessary? Do you really need to have this meeting at the same time each week? Why are you calling the meeting in the middle of the holiday period? Giving a bit of thought about the situation now can save time later.

Sense

Does it make sense?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, then holding the meeting clearly does not make sense. Cancelling this meeting is definitely the best option.

Three benefits of cancelling an unnecessary meeting

You may be reluctant to cancel a meeting, especially if everyone else around you seems to be in meetings regularly. Here’s why you need to lead the way by taking this step:

  1.  You save everyone valuable time – when you cancel a meeting, you and your colleagues can use that time to focus on tasks that add value to your organization.
  2.  You save money – when you calculate the resources needed to hold a meeting, the price can be extremely high.
  3.  You lead your regular meetings more effectively – knowing when to meet is just as important as knowing how to run a meeting. If you do this right, the participants in your meeting will know that their valuable time is always being used in the most effective way possible.

For more tips and language for managing meetings in English, why not look at our ebooks and related blog posts.

Business English apps for busy people

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Business English on the go

Maybe you’re as serious as all of my clients about improving your business English – but like them, you have other priorities too! What it comes down to is that learning English takes a back seat when important deadlines loom. Half the time, you’re travelling and the other half, you’re too busy to go to English training. Or something like that. There are many valid reasons for not having the time to practise your English. Even if you don’t have time to do the homework your trainer has given you, or time to listen to an audio book, or time to watch a movie in English, you still have time to learn English.

With five or ten minutes here and there, on the train or while waiting for your next meeting to start, there are a number of business English apps that can support you. I’ve tried a few of them and I’ve compiled a short list for you. All these apps are free and available for both Android and Mac users.

Boost your BE2

1.bmpBusiness English Test

This app focuses on English in the workplace and tests common business phrases and vocabulary with quizzes. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jquiz.english_business

2My Grammar Lab

A popular app with hundreds of practice exercises to keep you focused on your grammar when on the go. An advanced version is also available.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-grammar-lab/id516583295?mt=8

3Sounds: The Pronunciation App

A great pronunciation aid for learners, this app lets you focus on specific sounds and then test yourself. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sounds-pronunciation-app-free/id428243918?mt=8

4Dictionary – Merriam-Webster

This dictionary app also offers word of the day, synonyms, antonyms and a voice search feature to help you find new words. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.merriamwebster&hl=en

5EnglishPodcast for Learners

Free video and audio podcasts allow you to play back podcasts faster or slower depending on your level. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tidahouse.englishpod&hl=en

The importance of independent learning

These apps are an additional tool for you to use when learning English and it’s great that they’re so widely and freely available. While virtual training, on-the-job support and face to face training all have an important part to play in learning – independent learning is essential.

Check out these links if you want to read more about independent learning:

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Email MADNESS!! Misusing and abusing email –and what you can do to stop this

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Knowing how to use email is simply assumed

Did you know that the majority of email traffic comes from the business world, with business users sending and receiving an average of 121 emails a day in 2014? Email is the most pervasive form of communication in the business world, and therefore effective email writing means effective business communication. But surprisingly (or perhaps not) email doesn’t always mean effective communication, does it?

One of the more interesting aspects of being a trainer is the opportunity to meet, talk with and learn from other professionals in a wide range of jobs and industries. The following is a true story. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent – and the guilty. Sadly though, I’m guessing that as you read this you’ll have your own stories of email madness spring to mind.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

The use, misuse and abuse of email communication (yes, this is a true story)

I met Sven in an open seminar. Sven was the manager of the facilities management department at a large manufacturing company. His administrative location had just moved premises, and as you can imagine this was an incredibly busy time for Sven and his team. However even though (or perhaps because) Sven was busy he was determined to attend the time management seminar his HR department had organized with us. Sven set his out of office reply up the night before, and I met him on a cloudy morning the next day.  The training went very well as the group shared, discussed and developed practical solutions to the problems they faced. Then at lunch time the following emerged …

Somebody (let’s call him Michael) had sent Sven a mail and received Sven’s out of office reply. Sven had not changed his automatic signature block and Michael knew that Sven had moved offices, so why did his signature block still have the old address? Michael concluded that this could well be an IT problem, but as he wasn’t sure he sent a mail to his 12 teammates asking if they had experienced something similar. Of these 12 teammates, one sent a mail to the IT help desk, one of them sent a mail to his line manager (let’s call her Marie) … and one of them sent a mail to Sven’s colleague, who then sent a mail to Sven.

Marie sent a mail titled “URGENT – critical email problem” to the CFO. The CFO, who was in a meeting, saw the title and sent a mail to the Head of IT asking what the problem was and how quickly it could be resolved. The Head of IT sent a mail to the IT help desk asking what the problem was and how long it would take to be resolved. … and I think you can imagine the rest yourself. At some point during lunch time somebody from the IT help desk phoned Sven to ask whether he knew his signature block was old. At this point Sven explained it was his oversight – and that he’d update it when he got back into the office the next day.

Key learning points that all email users should keep in mind

Now obviously the above is not strictly speaking about just an email problem. But the elements of the story do highlight some all-too-frequent behaviours. Here are 4 key learning points which, if they’d been followed would have prevented the situation above:

Just because you can send an email it doesn’t mean you have to!

It is possible to over communicate sometimes. How many emails do you receive each day? One of the biggest sources of stress at work is the sheer volume of emails that people receive. So, before you even begin writing an email, always take a few seconds and ask yourself: Is this really necessary? Then ask yourself the same question again before you hit “send”.

Know when to use cc , and when not

Discuss this with your colleagues and agree on a “code of conduct”. Keep in mind that people can interpret what “cc” means in different ways. They can also read meaning into who was and was not copied in.

Think carefully about the subject lines in email

In particular think about how often you want to use words such as URGENT, NEED HELP, PRIORITY etc. If you use them too often in your subject lines, you should be prepared that when you really need to draw attention to your email, your reader won’t be interested.

Know when to pick up the phone

Email is not always the most effective form of communication. Sometimes, picking up the phone is faster. Email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic, or if you need to deal with questions that are likely to need some back-and-forth discussion.

Your email madness

As I was preparing this post, everyone I spoke to about it had their own email madness story to share. You can use the comments function below to share your example of email madness with our readers.

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?