Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for November, 2011

When is the FIRST time I need to think about this?

It’s 9:30 pm, and I’m working in my office, thankful that I have a really tight daily and monthly planning system to keep me on track. I’m one of those people who plans well. In turn, my system takes good care of me. Even during times like this week, when I have a high volume of work on my plate, I have a handle on what’s done, and what needs to be done. I may feel stress because there’s so much to do, but I’m still feeling in control, instead of my workload spinning inside my head.

Here’s one quick and powerful planning tool I use, that you can use immediately! Keep in mind I said “planning” tool. So it’s used when you have some time to plan ahead. Seriously, nothing saves time and increases effectiveness like good planning. So here’s the tool. Simply ask yourself: When is the FIRST time I need to think about this? Then make a note in your system to prompt you to act when the time comes.

Some preparation is brief and simple. For example, you may need to attend a meeting, with no to little preparation needed. So, when’s the first time you need to think about it? Probably the day before the meeting, just to offer yourself a heads up or to gather your materials.

Other meetings, events, presentations, or travel may require a great deal of preparation. When you ask yourself, “When’s the first time I need to think about this,” the answer could be one week, two weeks, or even a month or several months before an event. For complex preparations or projects, you may even break down your project plan and begin asking yourself this planning question for each specific project component in order to best manage or implement the project.

Most likely, when you come across the note in your planning system or calendar for the first time, you may not be in a position to take action immediately. So whenever possible, answer the question with time to spare. Never set yourself up to discover an urgent note or task in your system without any flexibility to deliver.

To recap this quick tool, as you plan your month— look at each event, meeting or deadline, and ask yourself: When is the first time I need to think about this? Place a note/reminder in your system on that day. Then relax. Let go of it. Your system will remind you with time to spare.

A beneficial approach: What if obstacles didn’t exist?

When we’re exploring a new goal, or a creative or strategic initiative, it’s not unusual to lose steam as we feel a wall go up with anticipated obstacles written on it. That wall—or thinking about possible obstacles—will sometimes stop us in our tracks.

I want to share this cool and simple exercise that has helped me and many of my clients eliminate the wall of obstacles, in order to more fully explore the feasibility of an approach or solution. I call it the “What if??” exercise. It helps us explore further by simply asking: What if the obstacle didn’t exist?

Here are a few examples of obstacles that may come to mind in the following scenarios: a possible reorganization, a costly yet important purchase, or a recommendation for change to a less-than-open manager.

– We couldn’t possibly structure the department that way, because it will affect our most seasoned employee.
– This software purchase isn’t worth recommending, because we don’t have the budget to support it now.
– That would never happen because my boss doesn’t like change.

Watch what happens when the “What if?” is applied to the above anticipated obstacles. Notice the questions that might be generated by this approach.

– What if the affect on your seasoned employee was not an obstacle? What might the new departmental structure you were considering, look like? How will this structure contribute to your departmental objectives?

– What if money was not an issue? Who might be involved in researching the benefits and costs of the software you’re considering? Based on your experience, how do you see the purchase increasing efficiencies?

– What if my boss was open to exploring the idea further? What would he/she have to hear to consider the idea seriously? How will this change benefit my manager and our team?

Instead of asking: What if the obstacle presents itself? Ask: What if the obstacle didn’t exist? Explore further by eliminating the wall of obstacles and visualizing a clear path. Generate more questions, or a need for more data, and take action. Explore the business case, clarify the feasibility for success, and make informed decisions.

Too many initiatives may hinder success.

I wrote the following entry two years ago, and unfortunately, I’m not seeing any progress as it relates to the topic. I’m in the midst of writing an article for our local newspaper about the trend of exhaustion that’s hitting our workforce. With that in mind, along with the volatile availability of new technology, and fierce competition, I was compelled to repost. I’m observing this becoming a more acute problem in today’s Western work environment. What can be done?
Too many initiatives may hinder success.
November 16, 2009 at 11:15 pm · Filed under Uncategorized · Edit

Both locally and globally, organizations are currently being called upon to compete and survive during economic uncertainty and risk. Organizations are launching multiple new “raising the bar” initiatives to upgrade products and services—all designed to differentiate a company’s or agency’s ability to compete and survive now, in order to thrive in the future.

But here’s the rub. Employees only have a finite amount of energy and strategies that they can offer their organizations, above the day-to-day demands of their jobs. It’s not uncommon to see stress levels high, and morale low, due to additional job responsibilities put upon employees who have survived a downsizing. For leaders, the ability to effectively activate accountability and sustainability around multiple initiatives becomes a challenge as—like their employees—they find themselves stretched to the limit.

So if you’re a leader, my recommendation is to consider the feasibility of slowing down just long enough to assess the number and complexity of the new “raising the bar” initiatives in progress in your organization. More importantly, assess the progress to date on each initiative. If you find that one or more of the assigned projects are significantly lagging, you may want to establish a top priority and offer the vision, the plan, and incentive to succeed at one initiative at a time.

When feasible, realigning your organization’s goals based on realistic timeframes and a regard for your employees’ bandwidth will create a more motivating and engaging environment. Motivated and engaged employees are what’s really going to help an organization survive now and thrive in the future.