This week's episode is a repost of Episode 31: Productive and Unproductive Multitasking
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As you progress in your career, one of the things that is important for you to be successful is to network.
You are building relationships at each job. As you move on to your next job or your colleague moves on to their next job, it is important that you maintain that relationship because at some point in the future one of you is going to need to call on the other for help.
What makes this process challenging is that it takes work and, although important, it isn’t urgent so it is easy for you to let it go. You don’t maintain the relationship because it isn’t right in front of you and then when you need it, you are starting off from a less than ideal situation.
Professional Relationship Lifecycle
The life cycle of professional relationships is interesting. You work with someone and because you spend a huge portion of your week at work, you get to know the person pretty well.
Think about the people you work closely with. There are people you talk to daily and people you talk to at least weekly. You talk regularly because your job requires it.
And, although you are likely talking about work, over time you are building a relationship. You get to know the person and they get to know you. You know what they are good at, the way they communicate, whether or not you can rely on them, if they meet deadlines, etc.
And then, you get a new job and move on. Suddenly, someone you were talking to every day is no longer part of your life. Someone you relied on to get your work done – to be successful in your career – is not part of your life at all anymore.
It is a very interesting phenomenon. Now, you may keep in touch with some of the people who you developed a more personal relationship with. These are people who crossed over the professional relationship divide into the personal relationship category.
These are not the people I’m talking about today.
I’m talking about the people you had professional relationships with – strictly professional. Keeping in touch with them is important for your career. The better you are at keeping in touch, the better off you will be when you need something that they can help you with.
Networking is not something you do at a weekly breakfast or cocktail hour. That type of networking, when you goal is to hand out as many business cards as possible, is really a marketing activity.
What I’m talking about is a relationship activity. You need to constantly maintain your network because relationships are important to your success.
Doing this isn’t hard – at all. But, it also isn’t easy for the simple reason that its not urgent, which means most of us won’t get to it. We aren’t intentional about networking because it isn’t in our face.
The piles of email and stacks of status reports are in our face.
The deadlines we have to meet this week are in our face.
Reaching out to Dan, who we worked with 2 jobs ago is not in our face because we don’t need anything from Dan right this minute.
Become Intentional About Maintaining Your Network
What I’m encouraging you to do is to be intentional about maintaining your network. Here are a few things you can do to make this process a more active part of your professional life:
For example, recommend a book or app or tell people about a tip they can use such as how to better organize their email or how time blocking can make you more productive.
The idea with this third activity is that you are posting something general out to your network that will both remind them of you but also be seen as something of value that will create a memory in their mind that you are someone who is always adding value.
The Difference Between Networking and Thought Leadership
I want to talk a little more about why this post should not be specific to your company or industry. What I’m talking about in this post is the importance of building and maintaining your network. I am not talking about the importance of building your reputation as an expert in your particular industry. I’m also not talking about the importance of marketing your company.
Both of those things are also important, but just not for this episode. So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those things. But, I am saying that you need to separate the activity of maintaining your network from these other 2 things.
My network has people in a lot of different roles. I am connected to sales people and accountants, writers and educators, marketers and developers.
If you are in accounting and the only thing you ever post is related to accounting, you are not being relevant to a good portion of your network.
By posting something that is more general, that can be useful to people in a lot of different roles, you are making connections with them. Don’t stop posting about topics important to accounting, just remember to also post about time management or goal setting or communication as well.
By doing these 3 things monthly, you’ll see a lot more traction from your network and find that when you are in need of something from your network, you’ll find them more responsive.
Being intentional about your networking will pay dividends the next time you need something!
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This week is a replay of Episode 11: System vs Process011.html
If you are struggling to improve one of your processes, this episode will help you learn how to look at the bigger system and identify a wider range of possible solutions.
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When you think about the next 30 days:
Some of those answers may have to come to you quickly, and others may have taken some time.
Were there any that surprised you because you hadn’t thought about them at all?
Plan for Your Goals
Achieving goals in a way that makes you feel productive takes planning. And, the first step in planning is having a goal to work toward. If you don’t know what your goal is, you don’t work toward it – you end up just meandering based on whatever is happening in front of you at the moment.
You need to constantly remind yourself about what your priorities are in order to stay on track. I’m not talking about once a week. I’m talking multiple times per day. As you think about how you will spend the next 60 minutes, do you know what your priorities are and are you confident you are spending the time on the right things?
We all have a lot of things going on in our life. It isn’t healthy to focus on 1 thing to the exclusion of all others. Finding a way to balance your priorities is hard work. It takes planning, dedication, and probably most important of all: intention.
And the starting place for it all is being clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish.
I’m not talking about a to-do list. Those are the tasks of the whirlwind of your life.
I mean the big picture – what will make you happy – goals. It needs to be a manageable list. And, it needs to be wholistic – meaning you need to cover all aspects of your life.
If you can focus in on the one thing that is important to you in the next 30 days at work, for your family, for yourself, for your finances, and for your mental health, then you have a manageable list to go through each day, multiple times per day to keep you on track for being productive.
Make it a Habit with a Daily Reminder
I’m going to ask you to put a daily task on your calendar that pops up at whatever time works best for you. The calendar reminder subject is “Remember Your Priorities” and in the body of the task is the answer to the 5 questions.
Episode 69: A Deep Dive into Your North Star List
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Are you a specialist or a generalist? The world needs both, so I’m not going to argue for one over the other. I can see the benefits of choosing either path for your career.
And, to be honest, I’m not even sure I know what the definition of specialist is because it is all relative. You can specialize in marketing vs finance – sure. But, within marketing there are a lot of different roles you can specialize in. I’ve even seen job postings for inbound or outbound marketing specialists. Apparently, there is a big difference between whether you send the message or receive the message.
The thing is, when you specialize in an area, you begin to look at everything in a certain way. You fall into patterns or routines. You know the saying ‘to a hammer, everything looks like a nail?”
To a marketer, every problem looks like a marketing problem.
To a finance person, every problem looks like a numbers problem.
We all approach our specialty with blinders on. We bring our experiences, our knowledge, our comfort zone to our actions. It is natural and expected, and doing this doesn’t make you a bad person or serve as a weakness.
Expand Beyond Your Specialization
But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to improve. Having a broad, generalized knowledge about areas outside of your core specialty help you to find innovative solutions to problems. It helps you to connect seemingly unrelated dots in ways that others might not have thought of.
This takes effort and requires you to be a little deliberate about the whole thing.
It may require you to go a little outside your comfort zone.
It takes some effort and time, so you will need to build that into your schedule.
But, my experience has been that it is so very worth the effort.
Area of Focus
So, what I’m advocating for this week is that you pick an area of focus to expand your horizons. What is something that you can learn about that is outside of your area of specialty? Spend the next 6 months purposefully learning about it.
That could mean reading books about the topic.
It could mean listening to podcasts focused on the topic.
It could mean reaching out to people in your company, or in your network and asking them to teach you about it.
Not because you want to move into it as a career, but because you want to expand your knowledge beyond your current blinders.
An area of focus is like taking a 101 course in college. Your goal is to learn the basics and be able to speak the language. Whether you move beyond 101 is up to you. But, you have to be deliberate about it. It takes effort. It doesn’t just happen. It isn’t going to be part of your routine, so you need to make it a priority for yourself and give yourself enough time. Little by little, you can learn more about the topic until it is time to pick the nxt area of focus.
Over the years, I’ve had areas of focus in sales, support as I’ve already mentioned, critical thinking, nutrition, podcasting, change management, customer experience, and literacy. Right now, I’m taking a deep dive into the industry of senior living community operations.
What will your next area of focus be?
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Every single one of us gets paid to solve a problem. The type of problem we solve Is what categorizes us into different job titles.
A sales person is solving a problem for the person he is selling to, but also solving the problem of brining in revenue for his company.
A product owner is solving a problem for the people who will be using his product. The product owner of Salesforce.com is solving the problem of tracking contacts, sales opportunities, and all of the sales metrics that sales leaders need.
An accountant is solving the problem of accurately accounting for the company’s financial health.
A recruiter is solving the problem of hiring other people to solve problems.
So, fundamentally we are all solving problems and you may not even think about it that way. But, sometimes you get into a problem so big, or complex, or maybe so amorphous that you aren’t sure how to fix it.
Today, I want to introduce you to an approach for tackling problems that works well when you are feeling stuck. This is something I first learned from the book Do More Great Work by Michal Bungay Stainer when I read it many, many years ago.
There is a set of 6 questions to ask yourself – or a group – when doing this exercise.
The process is brainstorming with urgency. So, you are going to do this in a rapid-fire type of way. Ask the 1st question and give yourself no more than 5 minutes to write down your answers. As you move onto the next question, reduce your time to 4 minutes. For the remaining questions, give yourself 3 minutes each.
The exercise is designed to get your creative juices flowing. To help you think of things you may not have thought of because they aren’t part of your routine. To expand your options so that you aren’t limiting yourself by unspoken or even unconscious assumptions.
Ok, so let’s do this. To help illustrate the process, I’m going to use an example I’ve run into several times over the course of my career. Let’s say you work for a company that is growing fast, and there is a need to hire a lot of people, but the recruiting efforts so far just aren’t resulting in enough qualified candidates to fill the roles. Its stressful because there is more work to do than there are people to do it and as long as the positions stay unfilled, everyone else suffers.
So, you pull a group of people together and tell them about the problem. Once everybody is clear about the problem, you ask:
Obviously, these ideas may be good or bad, but the point is,, they get you thinking. Coming at a problem from the stand point of ‘what would be fun’ is out of the ordinary, but frees you to think without imposing assumptions that you might not even realize you are imposing.
Chances are, after you do this exercise, you will continue to have ideas about how to solve it in the days to come. With your creative juices flowing you’ll start to make connections between seemingly unrelated problems over the coming days. So, don’t feel like you have to pick a solution as soon as you finish the exercise.
So, I hope you put this problem solving technique to use the next time you feel stuck.
If you want to take a deeper dive into this topic, check out Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work that Matters (note: this is an Amazon affiliate link. Your cost is the same, but a small portion of your purchase will come back to us to help offset the costs of the podcast)
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I used to work with someone who never asked for help. I’m pretty sure she saw it as a strength. She felt like it was important to give off the impression that she could do it all and never need to ask for help.
I’ve never been that way myself. I’ve never felt life asking for help makes me look weak. For me, its quite the opposite. I feel that asking for help makes me better. If I don’t know the answer to something, asking someone who does expands my world. Asking for help means that I’m constantly learning something new. And, my experience has been that others respect me for it. Rather than seeing me as weak, they see me as curious, engaged, and collaborative.
It is similar when asking for help with tasks. It is easy to feel guilty asking someone to do something you are supposed to do. After all, it is your job to get it done. Asking someone else to do your job can seem like taking advantage. But again, my experience is that others don’t see it that way. They are happy to help.
The thing I think is key to this idea of asking for help is balance. When you ask for help in order to get out of work altogether, you are just pawing off your work. You are a slacker and your coworkers will eventually catch on. Or, if you are constantly asking others to help you solve problems but your motivation is to not learn, grow, or elevate the outcome, then again, you will be seen for what you are – pawing off your work.
So, at one extreme, if you ask too much with an underlying motivation of getting out of work, you will damage your relationships and your reputation.
At the other extreme, if you are like my old coworker and you never ask for help, you are likely to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t meet commitments. This coworker, I’ll call her Mary, spends a significant amount of time apologizing for her lack of meeting expectations.
So, at the other extreme, if you never ask for help, you will damage your relationships and your reputation because your coworkers will come to see you as unreliable. And, you’ll have to added impact of causing yourself an awful lot of stress.
The key to asking for help is to find balance. You need to be comfortable asking for help when you need it, but not so comfortable that you end up asking all the time.
In order to find that balance, the other part of the equation is to give help. The thing about asking for help is that it involves at least 2 people. Anytime you ask for help, someone else is giving help. You’ve created a kind of transaction between the two of you.
In order to achieve balance, you need to be willing to 1) ask for help when you need it and 2) give help when asked.
If you think of asking for help and giving help as a matrix with 4 quadrants, you can understand 4 different personas that Wayne Baker outlines in his book All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got the matrix and personas along with other resources in your inbox today. If you’d like to sign up for Scale My Skills, you can do so on our home page.
Overly Generous Giver
If you give help frequently, but ask for help rarely, you are an overly generous giver. Overly generous givers get a self esteem boost from helping others. They revel in the adrenalin boost they get from helping others purely for the sale of being helpful. If you are familiar with Enneagram, these are the Enneagram 2s. The issue is overly generous givers will eventually burn-out. And, they can be seen as unproductive because they spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own stuff done.
If you ask for help infrequently and you give help infrequently, you are a lone wolf. Lone Wolves are big on self reliance. They see life as a race to the top, which means that their relationships take a hit. And, because success in life and especially in business, is heavily dependent on our relationships with others, they usually fall short in their race to the top.
If you ask for help frequently, and you give help infrequently, you are the Selfish Taker persona. The Selfish Taker rarely pays generosity back. In the short run, they may see their star rising because it looks like they are accomplishing so much. But, in the long run, those that they are taking advantage of figure out that they are just pawning off their work and will eventually stop helping.
If you ask for help frequently and give help frequently you are a Giver-Taker persona. Giver-Takers are very productive. When they ask for help, their motivation is to learn and grow. When they give help, they are creating space for the person who asked for help to also be productive. And because they have a reputation for helping, they generally have a wide circle of contacts who have a high level of respect for them.
This week, I challenge you to assess yourself on the asking for help continuum. Which of the personas are you? How can you move more toward the Giver-Taker persona?
Every job has a process – whether it is well documented or not, effective or not, enforced or not. And, whether you are the kind of person who likes process or not, you still follow a process. For those of you who get itchy when talking about a process, we might also call it guidelines. You have some set of guidelines you use to get yourself from point A to point B each day.
I have a saying that I say frequently to my team: trust the process.
What I mean when I say it is that, when you question why something is the way it is, you must trust that the process handled it appropriately, and therefore there is a good reason for it.
Trust that there are rules and guidelines in place to help get each process from point A to point B in a manner that results in the best possible solution given the situation.
Trusting the process doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. To design a process you can trust, there are a few guidelines you can follow.
Apply the rules at decision points
First, make sure the rules or guidelines that are applied at decision points are at the right decision points. In other words, in any process there are going to be critical decision points and not critical decision points. In order to be effective, rules should only be applied at the critical ones.
Make the rules specific to the audience
Next rules or guidelines need to be tailored to the people who will use them rather than being too general. Many times, rules get designed – or I should say over designed – because the designer wants to cover every possible scenario that could ever occur. This dilutes the importance of the rule and inevitably people start to ignore it or have trouble understanding how to apply it in their situation.
Make sure the rules stand up to scrutiny
Good rules in a process are built on a foundation that stands up to scrutiny. The reason that rules are put in place is because:
So, think about your process and the rules or guidelines that help ensure that you can trust the process. Are the rules at the critical decisions points.? Do they help navigate situations where there isn’t a clear right answer? Are they specific enough to give direction or have they been diluted to try and account for every eventuality?
Building in rules that allow you to trust the process will make everyone involved more efficient.
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