Many managers have a small circle of “usual suspects” that they trust to handle key projects or initiatives. But relying on these key people too often – and constantly piling special assignments onto their regular duties – can wear them out and make their performance suffer. Take a step back and think about how to expand your talent pool to get the results you want and ensure that no one is being stretched too thin.
Map out your committees, task forces, and other special assignment groups to see if you have a “usual suspect” bottleneck. If the same names keep coming up again and again, it’s time to prioritize assignments, consolidate teams, and, most importantly, add other people to your list. Think of other employees who might welcome new assignments. Are there some high potentials who aren’t being fully challenged? Can you find other people to trust outside of your circle?
Adapted from “Good Managers Look Beyond Their ‘Usual Suspects’” by Ron Ashkenas.
Offering big rewards for innovation can produce a flood of ideas – but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Too many projects can overwhelm the pipeline, leaving you unable to execute and demoralizing employees who keep walking away empty-handed. Try using low-powered incentives (e.g., 10% of an idea’s value) because they produce a healthy number of small ideas, which are easier for a company to act on. Because true breakthrough ideas are so rare, the best approach is to focus on increasing the variety of ideas – and to weave smaller-scale incentives into a culture that encourages experimentation and doesn’t punish failure.
Some companies even reward failures that are informative. Steps like these help employees get over the fear of failure and think beyond the “acceptable” innovations that they think management wants to hear.
Adapted from “Don’t Offer Employees Big Rewards for Innovation” by Oliver Baumann and Nils Stieglitz.
Most people have a time of day when they’re most productive, which means that if you calibrate the day’s activities to the right times, you can maximize your efficiency. Many people can get a lot done between 9 AM and 11 AM, but not so much at 3 PM (except for night owls). Think back to yesterday and the day before. At which points did you feel at your most energetic?
Once you’ve identified these high-potential hours, guard them. Block them off of your calendar, so people can’t schedule meetings during this valuable time. Use these hours for high-priority projects and tough decision-making, for tasks that require willpower and complex thinking.
Adapted from “When to Schedule Your Most Important Work” by Ron Friedman.
The relationship with your manager is key to your happiness at work. If you’ve accidentally made your boss angry, don’t try to hide from her. Take the lead and resolve the problem. Here’s how:
- Don’t retreat. Resist the urge to avoid your boss or sweep the conflict under the rug. That will only build up tension. When you’re feeling calm and rational, go see your boss to clear the air.
- Get input. Instead of gossiping, talk the situation over with a trusted friend or colleague to get perspective. Rehearse what you want to say, and have your friend point out where you sound defensive or insincere.
- Own the mistake and offer a solution. Even if it’s not entirely your fault, your boss will appreciate you taking responsibility for your part in it, and trying to resolve it.
- Remember your boss has more going on. Your boss may be reacting disproportionately for reasons you can’t see in the moment. Try to understand her perspective.
Adapted from “Don’t Hide When Your Boss Is Mad at You” by Karen Dillon.
An assistant can reduce the burden of email in ways automated systems and inbox filters can’t. He or she can review messages, reply to calendar requests, and ensure top-priority emails get answered right away. Before you delegate your email, ask: How much skill and discretion can you expect? What kind of relationship do you have with this person? You should trust his or her judgment about priorities and comfort with coming across personal emails. Then find a system.
Technological solutions mean you don’t have to share your password, or every single message you get. Make sure to specify whether your assistant will reply to emails as you. Draft template replies he or she can use. Agree on when and how often the person will review your inbox. And systematize folders and labeling, so it’s easier for the assistant to flag email that you should personally read and handle – and vice versa.
Adapted from “How to Delegate Your Email to an Assistant” by Alexandra Samuel.
We’re all too busy — and we’re proud of it. We want to do it all, have it all, and achieve it all. It’s no wonder why we backdoor-brag about being swamped: it’s code for being successful and important. But in the long run, all this motion leads to burnout.
The antidote is to pursue less: design your life around what is essential and eliminate everything else. Disciplined prioritizing can leave you with work-free weekends, more thinking time, and time with friends.
- Set up a personal quarterly offsite. Here’s a simple rule of 3: every three months take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three months.
- Add expiration dates on new activities. Not every new activity has to become a tradition.
- Say no to a good opportunity every week. This is counterintuitive, but if we don’t do it, we’ll never have enough time to figure out what we really want to invest our time in.
Adapted from “Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy” by Greg McKeown.
It can be daunting to ask your boss for a new assignment or to try to land a deal with a major client. But you can succeed if you approach the negotiation in the right way. Don’t let fear of the competition cloud your judgment. Often, if other candidates are being interviewed or six vendors are vying for the contract, we’re tempted to lower our demands. Don’t decrease your value — think about the skills and expertise you bring to the table that others do not.
To conquer your fear, the most important thing is to be well-prepared. Make a list of what you want from the negotiation and why, and then study your counterpart’s motivations, obstacles, and goals, so you can brainstorm creative solutions that will work for both of you. Find data to help you make your case, and build trust by listening and asking questions. All of this will help you keep your cool.
Adapted from “How to Negotiate with Someone More Powerful than You” by Carolyn O’Hara.