How often do you get requests from customers, peers, or superiors that have the air of urgency? Some days seem to have a never-ending flow of urgent requests. These urgent requests often keep you from tasks that move you toward your goals for days. But, are all the requests really urgent? Here are three tips for handling urgent requests:
- Know when to say no. You must learn to tell whether a request truly must be fulfilled. What are the consequences of saying no? Even clients sometime make requests that are unnecessary.
- Urgent doesn’t necessarily mean right now. Talk to requester about what her desired outcome is. Ascertain exactly when the task needs to be completed. Be wary of “time padding” – the addition of time ahead of the actual deadline. I have worked nights and weekends to complete projects, only to find that the real deadline was a week away.
- Respond now; act later. Sometimes the requester only wants an immediate commitment. Propose a timeline that fits into your schedule and see if it fits the needs.
In our fast-paced world every request feels like it is urgent. We are bombarded with information and with requests. Hopefully, the ideas above will help you handle urgent cries for help better.
[you may also like to read Defend Yourself Against Time-killers]
Innovation and forward movement require that you empower your team to pursue ideas. A team that is free to choose its tasks can output at peak performance, but only if the team is making wise choices. An empowered team has an overwhelming number of choices to make about how to spend their time.
Here are some thoughts on how to simplify your team’s day:
- Effectively communicate the team’s mission
- Set clear long and short-term team goals
- Get out of the way
- Get other obstacles out of the way
Disagreements on your team can be a good thing. Discussions from different points of view drive the group toward the best solution. However, if the disagreements go beyond professional argument, as a leader you must step in and find a solution. Here are some guidelines for resolving team conflict:
- Find the real cause of the conflict. What is on the surface may not be the actual reason for disagreement. Ask questions to delve into the root cause of the conflict.
- Don’t choose a side, not too quickly anyway. Be sure to understand both sides fully before making a decision as to what is the right answer.
- Defuse the emotions. Get your team members to step back and try to see the other point of view. Passion for one’s point of view is a good thing in a team member. Try to keep the passion from coming across as anger. Remind the team members that they are a team with a common goal.
- Find commonality. Start a discussion from the points the team does agree on. Often you will find that there is more agreement than disagreement.
- Follow up. You may get things to a point where there is apparent resolution. But, things can flair up again later. Continue open discussions until there is definitive resolution.
Attack of the Time-killers
Do you find yourself sitting at your desk for hours, working away, then, at the end of the day, you have trouble identifying what you actually accomplished? Perhaps you start your day with a to-do list. And then, the day attacks, doing its best to keep you from your list. Clients call with problems with your product; co-workers call with things keeping them from their lists, things only you can help them with; email yells for your attention; you feel you NEED to check Facebook for a 5-minute distraction, knowing it will become a 30-minute diversion from your list. The day continues its onslaught with the multitude of weapons at its disposal. You are beat into becoming a “Wandering Generality” (credit to Zig Ziglar).
How do you fight back? What can you do to be effective at completing the right tasks? There is no magic defense. There is no easy way out. However, you can learn to be more effective. To be cliché, the best defense is a good offense. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Stephan Covey’s Habit 1 is “Be Proactive”. Choose how you spend your time carefully. Make every decision about what to do with thoughtfulness and purpose.
7 Tips for Defending Your To-do List
- Actually have a list. Write it down or create it electronically. The process of creating the list gets your brain working on the items on the list. Know how each item on the list fits into your larger plans and projects. You do know what your larger plans and projects are, right? I recommend Remember the Milk, a task management app. Remember the Milk lets me keep personal and various professional lists in one place.
- As the day attacks you, carefully consider how you respond. Do you have to handle that customer request, or can you delegate? Are you the best person to help your coworker? Does she really need you to help right now? How does what you are about to do fit into the following (adapted from First Things First, Stephen Covey):
- Important and Urgent – do it now. If the building is on fire, leave.
- Important, but not Urgent – perhaps this interruption should go on tomorrow’s list?
- Urgent, but not important – Can you delegate it? What are the implications of NOT doing it?
- Not Urgent, Not Important – These can fool you. Consider how you handle them carefully.
- Sometimes you have to say “No”. Do you really have to be in that meeting? Or, can someone take notes? We humans want to be liked and feel we have to please others. Be careful that your desire to please others doesn’t negatively impact the greater good.
- Be careful of distractions. Email, Social Media, and co-workers all can be distractions. It takes a strong will, but don’t constantly check email, a few times a day will suffice. Social Media is a useful tool. But, it too can be checked less frequently, if at all while at work. Co-workers will understand if you have to delay a talk. They too have things to do and understand more than you think.
- Plan – OK this one is very related to #1 above. At the end of each day, or first thing in the morning, plan your day. Make a list of what you need to accomplish. Decide which item to tackle when. Know what you need in order to accomplish the tasks on your list.
- Delegate whenever it is appropriate. You do not have to do everything. Leadership is about getting others to move goals toward completion. Lead.
- Get plenty of sleep; eat right; exercise. You cannot perform well if you do not feel well. You must take care of yourself.
Self-awareness and Purposefulness
As you move through your day, and defend your list, try to catch yourself doing the wrong things. If you wander from your list, ask yourself why? What caused you to digress? Be aware of what you are doing and act with purpose. In time you will find yourself staying on track, accomplishing more, and reaching more of your goals. Move away from being a “wandering generality” and become a “meaningful specific”.
Today I am thankful for much. I especially want to thank all of you who come here and read my thoughts.
As you spend time with friends and family, strive to be truly with friends and family. Speak and listen with purpose. Really be present. Forget the problems, the troubles. Keep your mind on the people with whom you spend the day. Today is about the things that really matter.
God’s peace be with you.
- Be Grateful More Often (blogs.hbr.org)
- How to listen (sethgodin.typepad.com)
I heard a sportscaster pontificate about the past weekend’s football game. He spoke about the mistakes the losing team’s quarterback had made. This sportscaster had advice for the quarterback,”Don’t think about this past week and your mistakes; think about next week’s game”. I understand the thinking behind this advice; it is not helpful to dwell on mistakes.
However, I have different advice for the quarterback, and any leader who has made mistakes. Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Do think forward, about your next encounter. But, also analyze your mistakes. Find their causes; figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future – learn from your mistakes.
To the sportscaster/pontiff: your advice is good. But, it is also critically incomplete.
Listen, Understand, Act (Photo credit: highersights)
Communication. It is critical to leadership at any level. Think about recent conversations you have been involved in. Are there some from which you left feeling great about the other person, where you felt heard and understood? Certainly there are recent conversations where you left feeling unheard, even frustrated. What are the differences in these conversations?
Depth of listening
There are several depths of listening in conversation. You have likely been on the receiving and sending end of these.
- The “Uh-huh” depth. At this depth, the listener is not really listening. He is reading email, checking his phone for texts, or looking over your shoulder at something more interesting.
- The “Planning Rebuttal” depth. Here, the listener is hearing some of what the speaker is saying. However, he is spending most of his time planning what to say next.
- The “I can fix it” depth. This listener is listening to find how he can solve your problem. He doesn’t care if the speaker is actually seeking a solution.
- The “I want to understand” depth. This depth is what most of us want from conversation. We want to be understood, and heard. We want a connection
How to listen
In “7 Habits of highly effective people” Stephen Covey’s 5th habit is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. To reach the 4th depth of listening, you have to fight human nature. We naturally go to one of the other three depths. But, with practice you can learn to be a better listener.
Here are some guidelines to improve your listening skills:
- Make eye contact. Looking into the eyes of the person speaking signals to them that you are listening. It also helps you focus on the speaker; it prevents you from checking email, your phone, or scanning the room for something to grab your attention.
- Don’t interrupt. Never. There is never a good reason to interrupt. Interrupting signals to the speaker that what you have to say is more important than what she is saying. Even interrupting to agree or interject excitement over what the speaker just said is poor listening. Show agreement or excitement with body language, or a one-word agreement. Never interrupt with a solution or a judgement!
- Ask clarifying questions. Dig deeper into the speaker’s meaning. We sometimes put our own frame on what is being said. Be sure to understand. Ask questions such as: How do you feel about it?, What is your take?, What was your reaction?, What do you plan on doing next?
Good listening takes practice. But, good listeners are respected, and influencing others requires good listening skills. Be a better listener, a better leader. Practice.
Expectations. With any request or exchange our minds set expectations. We decide what we expect to get from that meeting we were invited to. We decide well the widget presented at the state fair will slice and dice, and how long it will last. We estimate how many customers our new ad campaign will generate. We decide what our boss expects us to accomplish.
As leaders, or as salespeople, we have the power to influence expectations. An accurate agenda helps set the expectations for meetings. If we want a customer to buy our next widget, we tell them exactly what to expect from the one we are presenting to them now. In marketing sales, we, based on our experience, tell that potential client what to expect from the marketing campaign. As leaders, we tell our teams what we expect them to accomplish.
Left to the imagination, the person across the table may imagine you delivering more than is possible. Set high, but honest and realistic expectations. Then, do your best to exceed what is expected.
Promise big and deliver bigger seems to be the only reliable strategy. - Seth Godin
What are the effects of extending a deadline? All leaders have been put in the position of “needing” to extend a deadline. Perhaps you are not reaching a goal of the project, or outside forces are introducing new challenges to the project. Human nature causes nearly everyone to push deadlines, to procrastinate. But, is extending deadlines a good idea?
Why do we push deadlines?
A goal means we need to accomplish something. Many folks procrastinate because Continue reading
Several months ago I made a commitment to myself – I committed to write a blog post on a leadership-related topic every day. I did great for a while. I wrote daily. Some entries were pretty good, some were pretty lame. But, I did keep my commitment. Then I missed a day, then another, and another. Soon, the habit of writing every day was replaced with the habit of not writing. And, it all started with one day of writers block.
I’m back. However, I am going to reduce my commitment to myself. I HOPE to write daily. But, I am only going to commit to myself to post once a week.
There are several thousand registered users on this blog. I apologize to those of you that I let down. I hope you will return and give me another chance.