Time Management

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Asking for help

Knowing that asking for help is probably a viable solution is not always reason enough to ask for help. Asking for help can save time and allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, and become healthier people. It also gives everyone involved the chance to boost their overall well-being. The fact of the matter is we are accompanied on our journey through life by an invaluable army of helpers – nurses and doctors, teachers and schoolmates, coaches and teammates, friends and family… not to mention colleagues, mentors and managers. In reality, nobody makes it on their own and nor should we expect to. Then, why is it so difficult sometimes to walk up to a colleague and say “I need your help with something”?

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The pros and cons of self-reliance

As children, trial and error teaches us we need help, and sometimes we notice that the kids who do really well, are the ones openly asking for help. This is a lesson we sometimes ‘unlearn’ upon reaching adulthood. The quest to become fully-fledged, self-reliant individuals can mean going too far in the opposite direction. We live in an age where user-friendly, DIY solutions are designed to enable and promote our autonomy. And if you don’t know how to do something there are plenty of videos you can watch online without having to actually bother anybody IRL.

We often find that asking people for help is a bit embarrassing, and comes with feelings of vulnerability. Why not just bypass it completely and work things out for yourself? But what’s missing from this picture? In short, the voice of experience, and the immediate feedback you get from trying something out while your helper watches. The timely suggestions, advice on what to avoid and how, the tips and tweaks that save you precious time and effort. Someone maybe even showing you first-hand what you need to do to get the result you want.

Writing this, I’m thinking about the 10 minutes today my colleague spent helping me navigate a new process. It was nothing exciting, but her patient guidance gave me a sense of reassurance that is invaluable. And now I can do something with confidence, that before I was a little nervous about. But still I thought twice before I called her for assistance, worried she might not have time for me.

Research costs time – why not just ask?

The thing is, in the workplace, not asking for help costs time and money, and can hinder us all in learning and in taking action. Being able to move fast may mean the difference between winning or losing a contract. That speed also relates to communication. Second-guessing about getting help slows you down. Typically, as a manager when I frequently set tasks for members of my team. If they have a gap in their knowledge, I expect them to quickly learn what they need to, and get the job done. Why spend valuable time researching when they could just ask a colleague? Knowing all this, why are we collectively still hung up on asking for help?

Here are some theories that I came across while researching this post:

Theory 1: I’m a macho girl in a macho world?

Asking for help means there is a gap in one’s knowledge or competence, a weakness, a flaw, a need, a vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable (and admitting it) feels like a small bird flapping in my rib cage. Who seriously wants to engage with that sensation? If we dig into it though, research shows that not only is it untrue that asking for help makes you appear incompetent, but in some cases asking for help with a difficult task actually results in higher perceived competence. In other words, we are far less likely to be judged negatively for admitting our weaknesses than we think. I know many parents who continually reinforce this to their children, but as adults we perhaps fail to recognise its validity for ourselves. Because feeling vulnerable is difficult, and it’s connected to shame. Shame tells us we are not good enough, and that if others discover this we will simply never recover. Here’s the thing though – for us to connect with other people, we need to be seen (and accepted). And as humans we are hard-wired to connect to others, because on a fundamental level it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

Brené Brown’s research into vulnerability turned her world upside-down, and in the process she identified a whole cohort of people whom she categorised as ‘wholehearted’. These are people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, and, crucially, who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. In other words, they feel a tremendous connection with others, and are rarely plagued by shame. Maybe you know someone like this, or maybe you are this person. When she delved into what these people all had in common, she discovered 4 attributes they displayed:

  1. Courage (to be imperfect)
  2. Compassion (to be kind to oneself, and thus to others)
  3. Connection (to let go of expectations about who they should be, and to just be who they are)
  4. Vulnerability (asking for help, initiating a relationship, putting yourself out there)

What she discovered is that to become one of these wholehearted people, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable at times. In order to reap the benefits that come with belonging and acceptance, we must make space for a little discomfort in our lives. Side note: current research also shows that the impacts of loneliness on one’s health can amount to the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Avoiding connecting with people is really not good for us! So while I might pride myself on being a tough, self-reliant cookie – maybe in truth it’s time to ask myself if I wouldn’t rather be a wholehearted girl, in a wholehearted world?

Theory 2: Rejection hurts – but just ask and you shall receive (in abundance)

The other day I fired off a request for a recommendation for my LinkedIn profile to a colleague I’ve known for about 10 years. As my finger hovered over the ‘send’ button various thoughts passed through my mind: he’s too busy, maybe he doesn’t feel like he knows me well enough, maybe he’ll say no. Guess what – today his recommendation came through. Not only did he have time, and know me well enough to write a few sentences, but what he wrote was amazing, thoughtful, and authentic. This is not the exception; rather this demonstrates the rule.

The fear of rejection is disproportionate to how often rejection actually occurs

Research shows that we regularly underestimate both how willing people are to help us, and how much effort they are prepared to spend. In various studies, participants misjudged both the number of people who would commit to help with a task, and how much help and effort each person would contribute. What this means is that we might not expect it, but people say ‘yes’ far more often than we think. And when they say yes, they really throw themselves into it. Why? There’s a growing amount of science on altruistic benefits, but the long and the short of it seems to show that humans really get a kick out of helping a specific person or people (rather than a general cause), especially when they have a chance to see how their help makes a positive impact. Studies at Harvard found that the emotional benefits of helping are multiplied when they ‘foster social connection’. Universally, doing favours for others boosts our well-being overall. So next time someone helps you out, tell them how it impacted on you and allow them to bask in the warm glow.

In short, asking for help allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, become better, healthier, more wholehearted people. It also gives helpers the chance to lift themselves out of a negative mood, boost their overall well-being and enjoy the emotional benefits that come with giving.

Theory 3: You have to say the words. But when you do, be specific, unapologetic, personal, and then share your results

Ever held a crying baby in your arms, overwhelmed by frustration because you can’t figure out what it needs? Of course, the baby can’t articulate the help it needs, but we can… and should. We are often misled by “the illusion of transparency” that others can see right through us, and will know exactly what we need without us having to actually say it. Make it easy for your helper – just tell them. The likelihood is that it’s not immediately obvious to them, and they don’t know what you are thinking and feeling. Research shows that 90 percent of the support that colleagues provide at work is in direct response to specific appeals for help. So get ready to say it out loud: “‘I need your help.”

Tips on asking for help and getting the help you need

  1. Be as clear as possible about the help you need. Half-baked, vague entreaties aren’t very useful. If we don’t really understand what it is that you need, then how can we be sure if we can adequately provide it? Giving useless help is a waste of everybody’s time.
  2. Phrase your request for help in a way that focuses on outcomes, rather than on you or your perceived shortcomings. In business, results really are what count and it’s far easier to provide help towards achieving a concrete goal than to try to support someone who feels crippled by insecurity. It may sound obvious but do share the bigger picture and explain what target this person’s help will support you in reaching.
  3. Don’t apologise or preface your request with a disclaimer about how awkward you feel having to ask for help. The subtext here is ‘I hate asking you for help’ and revealing this makes the whole experience a lot more joyless for everyone than it should be. Helping one another is an inherent part of human relationships, it is the acknowledged currency of caring, and getting hung up about this really doesn’t help!
  4. Having said that, asking for help is more than a transaction. Asking for help via email or text is impersonal and distancing, which, unsurprisingly, means people are less likely to help you than if you ask in person. And though asking by email may feel less uncomfortable, so does saying no! If you really want a yes, ask in person and your request is 30 times more likely to get a positive response.

Finally, and this is the one that came as the biggest revelation to me while researching this: every time you benefit from someone’s support, give them something back by following up with them afterwards. The idea that the act of helping is a reward in itself, is not entirely true. The real reward comes with knowing that your help made a positive difference on a human level. If I have no idea what impact my help had on you, how can I possibly feel good about it?

And on that note, can I ask for a favour? If anything in this article has made an impact on you, let me know in the comments section.


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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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:

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

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

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?