Author: Amanda Kelly

Amanda Kelly

About Amanda Kelly

Amanda Kelly is a technology and communications consultant based in Seattle. When not at work, she’s reminding her German Shepherd puppy that chasing the ball is only half of the game of fetch. Amanda can be reached at www.sound-strategic.com.

5 Time Management Myths

The French sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” That may be, but the reality of the work world is that your time is a critical resource that must be used efficiently for greatest success. With the amount of press that the concept of improving productivity through improved time management receives, it’s easy to think that everyone else is making small tweaks to their workday that result in massive breakthroughs in productivity.

time management tips

This is not necessarily so. To help you break free of striving to master time management practices that don’t deliver what they might promise, here’s a list. Kick those myths to the curb!

Myth #1: There’s a magical finish line where everything is done, once and for all.

For better productivity, lose the idea that all your tasks will ever be all finished. You (and your team) are never going to be or have unlimited resources.  A better way to look at “reaching the end-goal” is to make sure you’re on top of prioritizing the work that needs to be done, making deliberate choices that move us toward the most important outcomes.  Productivity will never be measured by what’s left undone. Your focus is better spent on the quality of tasks accomplished, rather than the quantity of tasks completed.

Myth #2: Making a to-do list will make you more productive.

Stop thinking so much about creating to-do lists. They won’t save the day.  In fact, this kind of list keeping can often be a way you trick yourself  into thinking you have accomplished something when in fact your tasks are as numerous as ever.  In fact, the Harvard Business Review’s Daniel Markovitz states, “Stop making to-do lists. They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration.”

To-do lists in and of themselves do nothing to further a project or task. They are in fact only intentions rather than scheduled commitments. Markovitz suggests, “Take your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar. (Don’t forget to leave time to process your email. And leave some empty space—one to two hours—each day to deal with the inevitable crises that will crop up.) In essence, you’re making a production plan for your work.”

Myth #3: Don’t be distracted by emails, calls or sudden deadlines.

Emails, phone calls, meetings, notifications: These are indisputable parts of today’s working world. Even calling them “distractions” minimizes the importance of this kind of collaborative work. Instead, think of them as “obligations.” The ability to respond to colleagues in a timely fashion, be on hand for in-person interactions, or occasionally reboot your schedule comes with any job. Being an effective time manager means you manage your schedule well enough to be flexible and responsive in a way that makes sense.

For example, if your manager likes to email new ideas and goals late at night, know that and prepare yourself for some response time first thing in the morning.  Conversely, if you know your best writing or coding time is first thing in the morning, book some morning time on your calendar and then attend to calls and emails. Managing the flow of communication is an essential tool for your time management toolbox.

Myth #4: A perfect time management system exists.

There really is no single magic bullet for managing your time more effectively. So many factors—from your company’s culture to management timelines to your own inner clock—affect how and when you are able to get your work done. The best way to improve time management for yourself, and for your team, is to make small, incremental changes. Begin with short-term goals: practice adding executing or planning time into your calendar, set aside one day a week to return calls or non-pressing emails, or even book a free hour for sudden meetings into every afternoon. Over the course of a few weeks you’ll see what changes work best for you and your team as you implement them. Then, adjust accordingly.

Myth #5: Undivided focus is king.

One of the most cited time management tips is that successful outcomes come from hours and hours of completely focused, uninterrupted time. The reality is that creativity and productivity responds best to routine. The best way to achieve a large goal is to break it up into manageable pieces and complete those tasks on schedule. Always plan some extra time beyond what you think you’ll need. Try to get into a rhythm of work that suits your internal clock, and be consistent about achieving daily goals.

There are a lot of rules, types and best practices around how to manage time effectively. Don’t fall for the fact that there’s a best way to manage your time, and stay rooted in realism. Find what works for you, and master it.

Tell us a time management myth you’ve turned on its head. What’s your favorite trick?

Related stories:
7 Productive Ways to Think About Time Management
7 Essential Time Management Strategies
17 Reasons Why Time Tracking Makes You a Better Project Manager

4 Tips for Leading a Project Kickoff Meeting

Your project’s kickoff meeting is like opening night for a new production. The stage has been set, scenes have been cast, the players are all in place, and the project story is ready to unfold. It’s important to have a meeting that’s well-organized, informative and motivating—something that addresses priorities, nurtures teamwork and generally rallies the troops.

project meeting

Here are five tips to make the most of your next project kickoff meeting.

1. Consider your setting.

If you’re planning a meeting that introduces people from different teams for the first time, make sure the space is easy to access and gives people plenty of time to settle in before you get started. If the team knows each other well, allow for some chit chat before you begin reviewing your agenda. When colleagues are skyping in from overseas or across the country, choose a time that considers the span of time zones (not easy). Be prepared and remember: The perception you set for your team today will yield productive dividends tomorrow.

2. Stay high-level.

When setting your agenda, be more big-picture, less micro-detailed. Specific task assignments are less important than establishing clarity and excitement among the project team.

The main goals of your kickoff meeting are to:

  • Present the project and team to stakeholders and each other.
  • Create enthusiasm and understanding about the vision and goals of the work.
  • Build credibility within the team.
  • Promote communication.
  • Set expectations.
  • Get started.

The kickoff meeting is less about specific role-related actions, and more about getting everyone on the same page and generating energy and enthusiasm.

kick off your meeting
3. Agenda setting

The project kickoff meeting is your greatest opportunity to set the tone for your entire project. If you can establish an atmosphere of communication, transparency, preparation and momentum building, you have more than met your goal for this first meeting. Your agenda should include the following:

  • Introductions and welcome: Welcome all participants (and remember to introduce yourself). Give an overview of your agenda and material; if necessary, initiate introductions among team members who haven’t worked together before.
  • A high-level vision and project overview: Explain the purpose of the project, expected goals and deliverables, and the vision for why this upcoming project matters.
  • Roles: The kickoff meeting is designed to bring everyone up to speed, not cover every specific task and action item. Conveying a sense of how you expect teams to work together (and the tools they will need) should be enough. Make sure the whole team has been included on one distribution list for future communication (email and/or within the project management tool).
  • Collaborative project management tools: If you use project management software, address the way the teams will be collaborating in the platform—from simply calling out where the project lives in the tool, to discussing where to send bugs and how to communicate road blocks and unexpected schedule challenges. A lot of organizations use their project plan to run their meetings so the teams have a visual of where the work will live. And, a lot of this might already be integrated into your company culture but it never hurts to review, especially for the new folks.
  • Next steps: Let the group know what the first calls to action are. Is everyone’s work already in the project management tool; do they have to open their own tasks and estimate their work; will they get a “ready, go!” email from the team lead, or what?
  • Questions: Keep your Q&A session high-level, i.e., questions that relate to the project and the team. You don’t want to get sucked down a rabbit hole of task specificity that turns into a public one-on-one discussion between you and an individual.
  • Say thanks. Let everyone know you are grateful to have them onboard, and look forward to what will be produced. Saying thanks is not just polite—it creates a considerate team atmosphere, makes people feel like they matter and sets a tone of professionalism and civility.
project meeting
4. Empower

The project kickoff meeting gives team members a chance to know each other, understand project vision, and it sets a tone for success. You can empower team members by giving clear directions for next steps, and a simple way to begin using their project management tools. Getting your project team, stakeholders and company leadership excited to begin will serve you well as the project moves away from being an idea to being a working project with schedules and challenges. Shared perceptions and a common vision will serve you well for the long haul.

Give us your secret sauce for kickoff meetings.

Related stories:
10 Tips for Effective Meetings
Kill the Status Meeting?
8 Signs You’re Ready for a Leadership Position

5 Unusual Ways to Prioritize Your Work

Have you ever woken up completely certain that you would spend the day firing on all cylinders, knocking down your to-do list, only to find that by the end of the day you’d been spinning your wheels while the critical work remains undone?

Thomas Edison once said, “Being busy does not always mean real work. Seeming to do is not doing.”  While that sounds a bit like Yoda, it is true that there are better ways to prioritize and accomplish critical tasks. Some are more unusual than others. Here are a few to get you started:

1. Slow down. You’ll get more done
8942954

Have you ever sent a response email or text so quickly that you forgot to include the important details? Part of staying on top of things is not to rush from task to task (or even rush the task you’re doing), but rather to be thoughtful and correct in your actions. You can get to this state by paying attention to what is—and is not—working, and prioritizing projects accordingly.

Try this: For a few days, take stock of what you do in a day and jot it down. What regular actions are most comfortable for you? Any obvious time-wasters? A thorough inventory of how you work and what comes most easily gives you the opportunity to become more effective. Take time to look at your practices, habits, and ideas objectively. This will help you rededicate focus where it’s needed, and move forward more productively—which actually saves you time in the end.

2. “Busy” is bad business.

Narrowly met deadlines, speedy responses to emails, racing to meetings—while you might feel like you’re accomplishing the most on the “busiest” days, the opposite is likely true.

In a recent article in Scientific American titled Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,” scientists discovered valid reasons to take a breather from being on. “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

So the next time you’re tempted to work through lunch or stay up late working on the app update, remember that your work quality decreases if you’re on overdrive. Instead, prioritize downtime into your work weeks: an afternoon walk; lunch with a friend or co-worker; read a book, see a movie, take a nap, daydream. Your brain will thank you, and reward you for it.

3. Cut the cord—the perfectionist cord.
prioritize

The Free Dictionary defines perfectionism as “a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.” One of the most critical skills needed to prioritize effectively is being able to separate the important from the less important, and knowing when to call a task done. For perfectionists, it can be hard to let go of work because it’s never “good enough.” But being able to recognize that a task is complete and it’s time to move on is a habit worth honing. For example, if you’re toiling away on work that has a review process, and you’ll see it again for a revision, ask yourself if it’s good enough to pass one. Sometimes “good enough” is a great cutting-off point.

When everything feels critical, create a system for managing important and less important work and then try to allocate time accordingly. If you know you waste too much time on formatting your presentation slides but like things “just so,” try another tactic. Look for a colleague you can practice on, or someone to help you with your slides. (You don’t have to do everything yourself.)

4. Be honest. Learn to say “no.”

Successful, ambitious people like to be involved. This means possessing a tendency to say “yes” to being part of special projects, initiatives, you name it. Watch out for this. Being an avid yes-person can be frustrating and unproductive if you haven’t been thoughtful and analytical about your end goals. For starters, be realistic about your bandwidth. If you don’t have time, squeezing something in isn’t going to do anyone any favors.

Being honest doesn’t always mean saying “no” right away. It also means taking time to think offers through. When you do, make a list of the kinds of projects you want to be part of, and why. If you use a project management tool, see what your schedule looks like if you add the extra work. Matching up requests for your time with your strategic goals makes sense.

5. Forget multitasking.
swiss army knife

Priorities rise to the top of the list because they are, well, priorities. That’s why it’s important to be focused, and not kid yourself that talking on the phone while answering email will lend anything to your call or your correspondence. Moving between a couple of tasks is more likely to decrease your productivity, because your brain’s attention gets taken up with switching gears, keeping you from being completely “in the zone” for either task.

Between wasting energy switching gears, losing time over thoughtless mistakes, and losing focus on priorities, multitasking is not a real win for productivity. Instead, set aside scheduled time (say, once an hour) to check email, make calls and take a break. By staying focused on one task at a time, you’ll achieve better results and use your time more effectively.

Tell us one of your favorite and oddball tricks for prioritizing work.

Related stories:
How to Be Productive When You’re Overwhelmed
5 Ways to Survive a Project That’s Up a Creek
5 Ways to Identify Your Personal Strengths and Apply Them to Project Work

7 Productive Ways to Think About Time Management

You’ve probably heard the story of the professor who demonstrated the importance of prioritizing tasks by filling a jar with big rocks, and then asking his class if the jar seemed full. He then added gravel, then sand, and finally, water. The jar never overflowed. That’s because one of the key tenets to filling a jar—and effective time management—is to put the big rocks in first.

time management

If thinking about improving processes for managing time and prioritizing projects makes you feel about as excited as loading rocks into a jar, you’re not alone. From waiting until the last minute to work on a presentation, to answering every email that comes in immediately, there are as many ways to bungle effective time management as there are forwarded videos.

With some practice, the following tips can help you become more creative—and successful.

1. Identify the big rocks first.

Every day, look for the two or three most crucial tasks that need to be completed. Put everything else aside until you’ve completed all, or most, of them. Accomplishing the most critical tasks in your day early on gives you the freedom to finish less important tasks later on. At the beginning of the week, write down what you think your most critical goals are. Dedicate the first hour of every day to putting those big rocks (most critical goals) in the jar!

2. Be mindful.

Distraction is the enemy of effective time management. When you’re getting started on your biggest rocks, silence your cell phone. Close unnecessary browser windows. Take a deep breath. Make yourself accountable for at least an hour of focused, mindful attention to your task. Set a timer if an hour is too long. Developing a habit of mindfulness can take time, but pays handsome rewards.

3. Get in your zone.

If your work time ends up as a half-hour of staring at a blank document and surfing the web, you’re not alone. Many successful professionals say that the number one enemy of their creativity is finding time and feeling inspired. (Creativity applies to developers and sales people just as much as it does to writers and designers.) Remember that inspiration is more likely to visit if the door is consistently open, and you show up for any resulting brilliance. Scheduling time to create—no matter how unintuitive that sounds—through better time management will help you get in the zone faster. The more daily practices you create around setting mindful habits for doing your work, the more likely you’ll have successful results.

4. Create habits.

The best way to develop any habit is through repetition. If a certain task makes your stomach seize or your mind wander, see if you can make that one of your biggest rocks for 90 days. Set a timer, and commit to just getting it done without any self-bargaining or distraction. Chances are, over the course of a week or two, your most dreaded task will morph into something more manageable.

5. Organize weekly.

The more you streamline your processes and lessen your distractions, the easier it will be to make time to concentrate, thinking strategically and be more creative. Take a few moments to unsubscribe from email lists you don’t want any more. File documents. Finish off those two-minute tasks, Wipe down or clear off your desk. Eat a snack if you’re hungry; make that long-delayed appointment. By eliminating unnecessary distractions (otherwise known as time-sucks) from your daily rounds, you’ll free up more mental space and increase focus on work that matters.

6. Let freedom reign.

However talented your DNA, even the brightest, boldest minds can get bogged down in the minutia of day-to-day tasks and duties. If you have a goal in mind (get promoted; finish writing a brief; develop a killer app), you need to allow for mistakes as well as successes. This translates into setting aside time every day or week to “just do it.” For an advertising writer, that might look like brainstorming tagline ideas without judgment or worrying about client protocols. For a software designer, that might be giving yourself permission to write some crappy code before getting it right. Knowing you have scheduled time to play makes less creative tasks easier to manage.

7. Let it go.

There’s a time for work and a time to play and rest. The analogy of the airplane oxygen mask is actually pretty apt here. You need to take care of yourself before you can truly shine at work! An important part of your ongoing responsibilities as a team member, manager or leader is to be as sharp and productive—and engaged—as you can. No one runs at 100 percent all of the time. That’s why time away from work is an important part of job performance—it re-energizes you. So, when you say you’re away from the office, really be away. The return on your investment will be well worth it.

Tell us about some of your more creative time management tricks.

Related stories:
7 Ways to Juggle Multiple Project Tasks—and Get Things Done
5 Steps to Getting a Project Done
How to Be More Productive With Your Time: Q&A With Laura Vanderkam

7 Ways to Improve Team Performance

Mae West once said “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” Real success is built from a combination of talent, innovation, effort and commitment. Here are seven factors that positively influence team performance, and tips for incorporating them into your workplace.

team performance
Support innovation.

To stay ahead, innovation is required. The most successful businesses are those that remain flexible and innovative and build on current successes without consistently overtaxing their teams. It can be difficult to demand innovation and creativity, but you can help set up a workplace that supports them. Ideas flow more readily in a relaxed and agile work environment.

Allow team members to work when they feel most productive, whether that’s the middle of the night or 5 a.m. Encourage regular breaks and informal brainstorming sessions. Celebrate breakthroughs, and don’t get hung up on attempts that didn’t succeed.

Leadership matters.

Innovation comes from inspiration. Teams must be led by managers that go beyond balancing budgets and schedules. The strongest leaders set goals, priorities and roles for their teams, and encourage each team member to achieve their personal best while keeping strategic goals in mind.

Leaders must be clear on vision, know where the team is going and have a clear idea of how individual efforts lead to accomplishing important strategic goals. If done well, leadership can create a culture of continuous improvements to productivity. Leaders should be open to new ideas and willing to take risks in order to reach higher performance levels.

teams
Hire the right people.

Hiring well can be the single greatest factor in contributing to a company’s success. The right person will bring not just a particular skill set or knowledge base, but will be a solid addition to drive forward your company’s vision and values. That’s why it’s important to include vision and values during the hiring and interview process. Ask the right questions that get at the information you need to know. And make sure the appropriate people get looped into the process.

Research shows that candidates who interview with their potential team mates and high-level managers have more success right out of the starting gate. Thinking in terms of retention and innovation and how this person will fit before sending the job offer will result in a collaborative team whose skills and vision meet and strengthen each other.

Keep learning.

Productivity is increased when team members have all the skills they need to succeed. If you identify someone with great enthusiasm who lacks practical skills, encourage them to take an online course or be mentored by a colleague with more expertise. Be sure your team knows that skill development is expected, and that no one should rest on their laurels. Letting employees stretch their wings and take on new and different roles creates a culture of support for learning and innovation. Have a graphic designer interested in writing copy? Give him/her a chance to brainstorm with the marketing department. A project manager with a flair for event planning? Offer the chance to be part of planning the company picnic. Small changes to roles can fuel enthusiasm.

Streamline processes.

The start of a new year is a great time to step back and take a look at process integration in the workplace. Streamlining processes between teams and departments can go a long way towards maximizing productivity. Part of any process integration effort should focus on breaking down obvious silos and barriers in order to help groups and individuals feel more connected to the greater whole.

Part of innovation and enhanced productivity comes from fine tuning existing processes and roles. Ask your team for their thoughts on ways to streamline processes, and encourage brainstorming around process alignment.

teamwork
Build commitment.

Use your company’s leadership around vision and values to build employee commitment. A competitive business plan and strategy are important, yet a company culture that celebrates innovation and dedication to that vision and strategy will do as much to motivate employees.

Recognize team members who go the extra mile and are willing to take risks on implementing new ideas. Clear communication is paramount. Team communications should be transparent and factual. Employees whose ideas and concerns are listened to and acted upon by management will feel connected and part of the decision making process. Feeling part of goes a long way toward building commitment and dedication.

Get the team involved in managing resources.

When you involve appropriate team members in the resource allocation process, you create a spirit of collaboration on important decisions. Plus, you probably get more accurate outcomes when recourses are being managed by the person who is most knowledgeable in their area.

Prioritize project resources based on what is most critical to the company’s mission; always stay focused on strategic vision and planning. If team members propose a change in priorities, and have access to metrics to back up their case, hear them out. By including teams in resource allocation can go a long way toward company-wide buy-in for decisions.

 
If you found this article helpful, there’s more. Learn how to take your project management skills to the next level. Download the eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”

5 Practical Habits for PMs

 

Related stories:
5 Ways to Set Your Team Up for Success
The 6 Basic Human Needs That Influence Team Success
10 Killer Interview Questions for Hiring Project Managers

7 Ways to Use the Holiday Season to Advance Your Career

Thomas Edison famously said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” This is true. But your productivity—and the type of work you do—can differ from season to season.  December is a great time to focus some of your work energy into taking stock of where you are and where you want to be in the New Year.

career advancement

Here are seven tips for using the holiday season to boost your career (and, in the spirit of giving, boost the career of your teammates, too).

Thanks

December is always a good month to express gratitude to those who have been a support over the past year. From the team mate who makes sure you leave work early on Tuesday to get to soccer practice, to the client who emailed kudos to your manager, take the time to say thank you and mean it. Share a coffee gift certificate or funny thank-you note with someone who has made a difference in your working world in the past year. What you give is less important than sharing a sincere expression of appreciation that fits your personality.

Strategize

Take advantage of year’s end and get into some focused reflection and inspiration. Don’t forget to make it a group activity. Gather your team to talk about what worked well during the past 12 months, and what could be even better in the next. Spend an afternoon allowing colleagues to brainstorm ideas for improvement—anything from new client markets to suggestions for better team collaboration. These exercises are bound to improve teamwork and increase productivity in the new year, too.

Network

Take advantage of any company or professional festivities and spend time with colleagues outside of the work environment. If networking is difficult for you, go with a co-worker or a friend/spouse/partner. It’s always easier to move around a room if you have a safe home base. Use the relaxed mood of the party atmosphere to really get to know colleagues. Take a deep breath and introduce yourself to executive members, or to those you think could be useful mentors. Make sure to eat something before you go and limit your alcohol. Connections made in December can be turned into working lunches come January.

career moves
Strengthen

If you have a professional relationship that has challenges, see if you can get everything out on the table before breaking for the holidays. Commit to a positive change. If you’re a manager, take a moment to check in with team members and make sure no discord is being dragged forward into the fresh start of a new year. If issues seem unsolvable, make a plan. This can be as simple as reassigning tasks. Or, it might require involving input from HR. Whatever the issue, face the problem and take real steps toward strengthening and improving professional relationship. The effort will be appreciated and it will help your whole team enter the new year with positive energy.

career goals

Organize

Get the new year underway with a clean, well-organized working space. Block a morning off on your calendar and dig in. Bring cleaning materials, boxes for donations and a shredder. Make piles of paperwork and shred and recycle everything unnecessary. Sort the keepers. Take one area at a time, and set aside a box for donations if your office has turned into a collection zone for dusty knickknacks. Taking the time to tidy up during the holidays will make you ready to hit the ground running in January. The extra space will add to the belief that anything is possible.

Prepare

December is a great time to get started organizing taxes for next year. While April is still a few months off, if you make headway now, you won’t have to face tax deadline despair come spring. Make sure expense receipts have been entered, that you have a place for charitable donation receipts, and take the time to make a spreadsheet for personal expense documentation. You might not have all the information you need just yet, so make room for what’s to come and fill it in as it does. Having a process and system in place will make organizing everything over the next few months a piece of cake.

Resolve

New Year’s resolutions don’t just apply to your personal life. The holidays are a great time to resolve to make changes in your professional life as well. Whether your goal is a raise, reducing stress or to make a sweeping career move, there are steps you can take to realize your vision. Write your resolution down, and outline practical steps you can take to make it happen. Use the buddy system—enlist a like-minded colleague or friend to help keep you accountable to your goals (best case is that you do this for each other). Set a deadline. If you know you’d like a pay increase by June, decide what you’ll need to accomplish professionally to make it possible.

Take forward-thinking steps now to create your best possible year head. Good luck!

 

Related stories:
How to Set and Review Goals Using LiquidPlanner
How to Create a Personal Mission and Vision Statement for the Year
Holiday Hotlist: How to Stay Focused, Find a Job, and Survive the Company Party

5 Ways to Identify Your Personal Strengths and Apply Them to Project Work

Does your job leverage your natural strengths?

If you’re doing work that doesn’t tap into your greatest strengths, your performance and motivation will suffer along with your career. In contrast, when you’re aligned with your talents and interests, you gain a wellspring of confidence and expertise—and you do great work with a sense of purpose. Everyone around you benefits as well.

job strengths

Workplace strengths are often defined in terms of competencies like teamwork, problem-solving or leadership. Don’t overlook the power of self-knowledge. It’s a powerful tool that can help you apply your greatest strengths to various aspects of your job—from excelling in your area of expertise, to being a strong team collaborator and effective leader. If you’re looking to advance your career, assessing and leveraging your strengths is one of the most critical things you can do.

Here are five tips to help you assess and apply your personal strengths at work.

1. Listen to what others say you’re good at.

What skills do people compliment you on? It’s quite likely that others will see strengths in you that you haven’t noticed. For example, if you often receive positive feedback on your listening skills, creativity or command of details, pay attention.

Try this: Ask a friend or colleague to spend a few minutes reflecting on what she thinks are your greatest strengths. Then, ask yourself if the perceptions ring true. Did honesty come up as strength? If so, this quality could manifest at work in the way you tell a client that their budget isn’t sufficient for their project goals, rather than trying to be a yes-person. Be sure you note the ROI for your transparency (e.g., an expanded budget; the client’s trust and more projects, etc.).  And bring it up in your next performance review.

If dedication and reliability came up as strengths, note occasions where these attributes have paid off for your team. If your team relies on you to arrange meetings and set up conferences, include event planning on your resume.

2. Know what you love.

If you were granted a wish to do anything you wanted for the rest of your working life, what would you choose? Granted, it’s an overwhelming proposal but go for it—dream big! And look at things you like to do in and out of work. For example, if you love to write but don’t get a chance to do much of it at work, explore writing opportunities in your current position (could your department use and internal blog or newsletter?). If you’re an extroverted developer who loves to talk about your product, is there a technical sales opportunity with your name on it?

Knowing where your gifts and passions lie is essential in creating a career map that plays to your greatest strengths.

work productivity
3. Find your flow state.

Contemplate an ordinary work day. What types of tasks do you most like diving into? Do you prefer team scrums or writing technical specs with no interruptions? What are you doing at your desk when the hours seem to melt away?

For example, if the hours you spend reviewing new tools for your team fly by, ask for vendor selection project work.

4. Know your relationship style.

Knowing what kind of relationships bring out the best in you, and which are the most difficult will help you navigate professional waters. For example, let’s say that one of your main strengths is executing drama-free negotiation. Ask for opportunities to serve on purchasing committees or facilitating informal mediations between team members who don’t see eye-to-eye.

team collaboration
5. Specialize.

Many job candidates rely on generalizations to find employment, such as: “I’m a people person” or “I’m an organizational wizard.” These are great attributes, but you’ll stand out more if you give specifics, like “I’m a wizard at conference planning” or “I can build out project schedules and make accurate estimations like nobody’s business.”

Here’s another example. You might have experience working on a marketing team, but you’re really, really excited about SEO. This is a unique skill, so if you master this you can really go far.  Maximizing your specialty not only helps your career but makes you more valuable to your team and organization.

Tapping strengths from a leadership position

If you’re in a leadership role, you probably know the huge benefit that comes from knowing, and tapping, the strengths of your team members. You can assign the right tasks to the right people, with the double benefit of getting the highest quality work done, as efficiently as possible. And then, everyone’s happy.

Tell us a way you’ve identified and leveraged your strengths on a project.

Related stories:
11 Ways to Build the Strength of Your Team Members
7 Signs of Strong Teamwork
7 Steps to Improve Collaboration on Your Team

ultimate pm guide

5 Tips to Get Organized for a Productive Fall

Ahh, September. Whether you’re sending kids back to school or just exchanging summer cotton for warm flannels, autumn is a great time to get organized, prepared and reinvigorated—at home and at work.

2304937

On the work front, team projects always benefit from a fresh outlook and renewed enthusiasm. Project managers can take advantage of that great back-to-school feeling to boost morale and get everyone out of beach mode and back into maximum productivity. Here are five tips to help you—and your project team—get back in the game.

1. Prioritize

Whether your goal is to get your team working as collaboratively and efficiently as possible or to get yourself feeling at the top of your game when September’s early alarm bells start ringing, few things help more than prioritization. If your own personal schedule needs some organizing, start by making a daily and weekly task list. Write it down. Divide tasks into home, work and family and be sure to build in some down time.

At work, keep your team focused on overall business goals and vision. If your team feels scattered, hold a meeting that redefines objectives and roles. Stay on top of your numbers, and be sure team members are tracking their time correctly, setting milestones and celebrating successes. Use project planning software to manage project schedules and to keep teams focused and energized about what comes next.

2. Learn

Autumn is the perfect time of year to acquire a new skill or brush up on an existing one. If you spent your summer admiring mobile websites, see if it would be possible to take a design class that takes your company’s website to the next level.  Check in with human resources to see if any professional development classes or college courses are available to you or teammates that are interested in building their core skills.

If your team could benefit from personal or professional development, research what speakers or groups might be able to hold an on-site development day. We’re accustomed to learning new things this time of year—it’s back to school time after all! Take advantage of shorter days and crisp air to help your team acquire new knowledge and skills.

3. Declutter

Offices and desks seem to mysteriously collect odds and ends. No matter how much of your work you do online, chances are small piles of paper and swag are taking over part of your workspace. Taking the time to clear away the clutter can actually help you feel more on top of things and efficient. Start small. Take a few minutes to focus on one pile of paper. Recycle, file or shred. Move on to the next.

Once your piles are gone, wipe everything down. Get rid of staplers that don’t work, or ask for help sorting through your team’s central workspace supply room. Have a work day for the whole team to see if the office is laid out to its best advantage. Maybe there are unused chairs or desks that can be moved in an arrangement that frees up space and gives you more room to think.  Having a space for everything—and removing what no longer serves—is a great way to start the fall season off the right way.

organize
4. Maximize

One trait of truly productive team members is maximizing efficiency. If you know that you’re most effective between 9 -11 a.m., be sure to use that time properly. Set those hours aside for the type of focused work that requires the most attention—writing, design or coding. You can schedule meetings, email and other types of social and administrative tasks around your best hours.

Likewise, if you’re a manager, know what time of day is best for your team members and try to work around that. If your best designer likes to create in the middle of night, support it as best you can.  There’s no one right way to schedule your work. Stepping back to evaluate what works best for you—and your team members—sets a tone of flexibility, support and makes the most of everyone’s strongest competencies.

5. Play

Back to school doesn’t have to mean all grind and no fun. Get outside in the cooler air and bright sunshine to play!  Organize a project team soccer game or outing to watch your football team (go Seahawks!). Create volunteer opportunities for your team to participate in, or offer free pizza on Fridays to colleagues after a particularly great week.

Creating a workplace culture of team spirit, fun and cohesiveness will build trust, confidence in each other and boost productivity. High morale will pay big dividends when digging in to an upcoming project deadline. Go team!

Related stories:
Hot List: Freedom at Work
6 Tips to Get Monday Off to a Great Start
Hot List: Priorities–How to Make Them and Keep Them

Tip to get organized at work.

Grab the Reins! 7 Things You Can Do Right Now to Create More Opportunity at Work

Webster’s dictionary defines opportunity as “a favorable juncture of circumstances and a good chance for advancement or progress.” There are steps you can take to maximize your abilities, taking your value to the project team—and career—to the next level. Best-selling author Shakti Gawain advises, “Create opportunities by asking for them.” The following seven tips will show you how to:

  1. Envision new opportunities.
  2. Ask for them.
  3. Be ready to take them on.
opportunity
1. Assess yourself

When it comes to opening doors to new opportunities, self-knowledge is a powerful tool. Identifying your strengths (and being aware of your weaknesses) will help you recognize areas where you can excel, and will prepare you to articulate those strengths when the time comes. Start by focusing on what you already know, such as: what comes easily to you, what you care about or are passionate about, and what part of the workday excites you. Write it all down.  A clear-eyed assessment will help you focus on growing your abilities, and strategize about improving the things you need to work on. If you have passions or skills underutilized in your current position, find a way to use them—don’t lose them. Demonstrating such skills will broaden your exposure, help you stand out and make the workday more enjoyable.

2. Stay flexible

Opportunity is everywhere. The more open you are to what life offers you, the more likely you are to recognize it. Streamlined workplaces, shifts in technology and a more agile, global workforce make flexibility critical. Be open to changing priorities, learn to compromise and look at change as a positive. Meeting cancelled? Use the time to catch up on email. Transferred to a different project? Look forward to networking with new colleagues and the potential to learn new skills. The more open you are to changing circumstances, project schedules and teams, the more opportunities you create for yourself. Plus, you’ll develop a reputation as a great team player, and people will want to work with you.

3. Forge healthy relationships

New opportunities commonly arise through co-workers and team members. The best work relationships thrive on communication, collaboration and mutual respect. Work on building solid relationships with colleagues. Listen before responding. Do what you say you will. Be a team player. Set boundaries, and when you have a concern work it out with the source whenever possible. Treat everyone with respect. Say thank you. Your value to your project team, manager and company is enhanced by great working relationships.

4. Learn. Learn. Learn.

Learning new skills (and strengthening those you already have) is critical to professional development. Improved skills make you a stronger team member, increase self-confidence and make you more adaptable to change. Use that strengths and weaknesses list of yours to strategize what you want to learn and why.

2626051

Many corporations offer a variety of training opportunities—from continuing education and professional development to a full-on graduate degree. Talk to your manager about the skills that could add value to your role and to your career path. Find out if professional development is part of your benefits package. And don’t rule out the value of informal training. Ask a colleague to walk you through a new software or project management tool or take an online course to hone your skills.

5. Be proactive—seize the day!

In behavior systems, proactivity refers to self-initiated, change-oriented, anticipatory actions. In other words, seeing what needs to be done and digging in. You’re more likely to find a new opportunity when taking on a new challenge. If you’re looking for new opportunities, volunteer to represent your current project team externally or on committees. Set up meetings with new colleagues in anticipation of changing teams. Think outside the box—what can I add to this project? What will be needed down the road?  The more you can anticipate situations and solutions; the more you’re willing to take on additional responsibilities and stay ahead of the curve, the more value you’ll bring to the workplace. And this practically lays down the red carpet for opportunities to present themselves.

7884667
6. Set goals

Goal setting is used by Olympic athletes, industry leaders and high achievers across the board. Are you feeling unchallenged in your current role? Draft a list of goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about a better future and for turning this vision into reality. When you set clearly defined goals and meet them, you’ll increase your level of motivation and self-confidence. Setting goals focuses your acquisition of knowledge, helps organize time and resources and can open doors to new opportunities by adding skills and successes to your current framework.

7. Keep trying

Thomas Edison said, “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Perseverance is critical to recognizing and seizing opportunity. Determination and a positive attitude will keep you in the game. Making the decision to find and achieve new work opportunities is only half the battle. Practice being the most collaborative team member you can be, remain excited about your goals and practice reaching them systematically. Hard work, diligence and a positive outlook will pay handsome dividends when the right opportunity knocks. Go get ‘em! What’s one way you increased an opportunity for yourself at work?  

Related stories:
Hot List: Freedom at Work
10 Tips for Effective Meetings
5 Strategies for Managing a Growing Team

Articles and tips on productivity.

5 Strategies for Managing a Growing Team

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Progress is impossible without change.” While that may be true, managing a growing team—while exciting—also presents its challenges. Teams that have settled into a successful working rhythm often feel uncomfortable adding new members, or they’re exasperated by changes to their routines. New employees may feel anxious about how they integrate into an existing team. Project schedules, team collaboration habits and employee productivity can be impacted by changing dynamics.

managing a growing team

The following five tips will help managers and project teams onboard colleagues as seamlessly as possible.

1. Channel corporate culture.

Corporate culturethe psychology, attitude and beliefs of a company—influences every area of a business. Having employees understand what your company’s culture is will create cohesive teamwork that’s sustainable as the team grows. When on-boarding employees, invest time and resources into making sure your company culture is well understood. One of the elements of a strong organizational culture is having a clear mission and vision. Be sure you go over both of these when welcoming new team members—and leave room for questions. For example, if “having a small company feel” is one of your company’s core values, make sure that your team has ample opportunity to get to know each other socially by sponsoring team lunches or activities. If your business values philanthropy, grant team members paid time to volunteer for local community projects. If it’s education and learning, offer a stipend for classes and training. Possessing a consistent attitude and communication style across all channels and at all leadership levels will solidify the feeling of belonging for team members as the numbers grow.

2. Recognize and reward.

It may seem obvious, but the happiest (and hardest working) employees are those who feel appreciated for their efforts.  When teams are small it’s easy to remember to praise people for their good work. But as the team grows, and work demands increase, these acts of recognition can fall by the wayside. Don’t let this happen. Instead, create acts of recognition. You could spearhead “great teamwork” activities like weekly pizza parties for meeting sales goals, or hang a gold star on someone’s chair for receiving a great customer comment. Send a simple team email congratulating employees that went above and beyond the call of duty. When team members—old and new—are actively receiving acknowledgment, the team will be inspired to band together. Keep your acts of recognition simple so that you can follow-through and be consistent. And make sure they align with your company culture and values.

7891704
3. Keep lines of communication open, and current.

One of the trickiest parts of using collaborative leadership while growing a team is making sure that everyone is working from the same knowledge base. If you know that you’re going to be adding new members, try this: Ask your current team to give you three things they would want to know if they were just arriving on the scene. Use open-book management strategies: Be transparent where appropriate, have clear team goals, practice conflict resolution methodologies, and encourage people to ask questions. To create a sense of team cohesiveness, keep employees engaged by really listening to their suggestions or concerns, and initiate regular check-ins with the entire team. These good practices allow for growth without too many wrinkles.

2406239
4. Manage your resources efficiently.

Teams grow because the business is growing, there’s more work to do and new skills are required. In these circumstances, one of the most valuable investments you can make is to find a social project management tool that keeps your team members organized and able to collaborate as efficiently as possible. For teams and businesses to be truly successful, each person must have a clearly defined role and goals, as well as visibility into their team members’ work status and goals. Using project planning software lets managers easily delegate tasks to the appropriate team members and prioritize projects.

5. Embrace change.

When bringing new team members on, it’s important to focus on the positive while allowing opportunities for challenges and concerns to be aired. Be sure to talk to your colleagues about the changes, and how they present opportunities. Talk to the team about who is being brought on and what skills these new team members bring to the table.  Make sure the entire team is informed enough about your company’s overall strategic vision that they can understand the decision to bring new members into the project. Ask for questions or concerns, and be sure to address them. Transparency goes a long way toward reassurance. Create opportunities for the new and existing team members get to know each other. Above all, be patient throughout the implementation process. Growth means all of your hard work is paying off!

How did you embrace change to grow your team—tell us in Comments.

7 Signs of Strong Teamwork
Good to Great: How to Be the Best Project Manager
5 Key Principles to Resource Management

Tip to get organized at work.