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Leadership

Seriously - Clean Up!

“A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.”

You might disagree with this and believe that a cluttered desk or work environment is a sign of genius, creativity and self-expression. It’s not.  

It is a sign of inefficiency, laziness and bad manners.  

If your office looks like a garbage dump, it doesn’t matter if you can prove that you could find anything that you are being asked for in less than 5 minutes - it still looks like a garbage dump!

First of all it is not “your” office - it’s your company’s office and therefore represents your company. Don’t make your office an extension of your living room. It is a place to work, not a place where you express yourself and try to show off your personality. If you need to do that write a book or start painting.

Second, no matter how much you personally believe in chaos theory - it is not efficient. This goes back to the basic rule of “touch every item only once” that I have already discussed in the “zero inbox” section.

If your desk is cluttered with paper (and even worse with all kinds of other stuff) you will, even if you intend otherwise, touch many items more than once. You won’t finish necessary tasks and you will waste time. You read a document - maybe just half of it - and put it back on the pile. You will inevitably read the beginning of the same document over and over again until you remove it from your desk.

Don’t just keep it there - read it (if you must), act on it, get rid of it!

At the end of the day you should have an empty desk or at least a neat desk knowing exactly what to start with the next day.

Do not start a “mystery pile”, “to do later”, “read when I have time” etc. - you will never do it, mess up your desk, distract yourself with all the stuff you still have to do and sooner or later get demotivated because there is no way you ever get done.

Besides your cluttered desk also take care of the rest of your office - there is no reason why your office should not look perfectly organized and clean every day.  Don’t store stuff in your office, don’t get more and more shelves for all your “important” stuff.

I believe in the zero cabinet office - I have one small container for personal files (that can be locked) - and that is all.

No additional papers, no folders, no stuff.

(this is an excerpt of my book “Rise to the top!” – you can get it now at Amazon)

Always work from a list.

This might be one of the more obvious rules to follow as most of us already use some kind of self-organization, task management or to-do list approach.

Or at least we should do that, surprisingly few people stick to it however, trying new ways of organizing themselves and losing sight of the goal by trying out dozens of new task, project, to-do management Apps before they realize that they probably should put finding the right tools for self-organization on their to-do list.

But if you already found your way of organizing yourself and it works for you just keep on doing it – but if you have trouble getting things done, you find yourself keep putting stuff off or just plain forget about it then make sure that from now on you work from a list.

A list is helpful in prioritizing your work. It can help you to identify that most annoying thing you have to do first thing in the morning and it will help you identify that other thing – the most important item on your task list for your manager.

It will also help you to focus throughout the day. You have to handle many disruptions every day and the list helps to keep your head free to deal with these minor or mayor disruptions without losing focus.

So how do you organize your list?

This is up to you. But make sure you do not start to make this a complicated method of collecting everything you ever wanted to do. Focus on the day ahead of you – sit down in the morning and make the list. Do not start some elaborate task management system with days, weeks, months and years – this will only bog you down and frustrate you because there is still so much to do and lets face it in your job all these tasks change continuously anyway.

Focus on this day – create your list in a simple way. If you want to use your smartphone for this – fine, as long as the App gets out of your way and makes it easy to work with the list. The only thing you actually have to do with the list is adding items during the day and checking items off as completed. I prefer to use a simple sheet of paper for this as it is the fastest and easiest way to manage my list.

(this is an excerpt from my book “Rise to the top!” - if you want to read more on how to be organized and become a great manager and leader in your organization please get my book)

Why the human race never will achieve its full potential... Meetings.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.”

(Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”)

Most Meetings in today’s corporate culture are the biggest waste of time ever. People got so used to meetings that they use them as a placeholder for an actual social life. As if their motto is: “If you can’t meet with friends arrange for a meeting at work”.

Don’t get me wrong – meetings are not evil, meetings in itself are not unnecessary; but the way we organize and manage meetings is just terrible.

Meetings are often too long, have no clear agenda, too many people are invited and the decision and action to be taken as the result of the meeting are not defined.

There are only two kinds of meetings you ever need to organize or attend:

First – hold a meeting to get a decision you cannot make on your own (for whatever reason).

If you don’t have a decision to make where you need the agreement of others do not call a meeting! It is as easy as that.

If you need a meeting for agreement or support from others make sure that only those people are invited, don’t accept delegation to non-decision makers from anyone you have invited. Ensure that before the meeting the goal of the meeting is clear; provide a fixed agenda and a suitable time slot. Very seldom is there the need for a meeting longer than 15 minutes. Don’t accept the 30 minute default time slot that Microsoft Outlook offers you – arrange for exactly the amount of time you think you need – if it is 12 minutes make an invitation for 12 minutes (by the way, short meetings will ensure that people focus, are on time and actually show up).

Second – hold a meeting to get information (e.g. a project status or simply a review meeting)

Again only invite people who actually can contribute to the topic in question. If you have to invite more than three people the meeting will lose focus – try to split up if possible (even if this creates additional meetings for you). Make sure you let everyone you invited give you their information in a focused manner. Do not ask for “death by PowerPoint” (30 presentation slides in 30 minutes will put everyone in the room to sleep, guaranteed) but rather encourage more lively ways of presenting the current status, situation, progress etc.

Even for bigger projects do not hold meetings longer than one hour – it is better to meet on a regular basis and keep each meeting as short and focused on specific topics as possible. Do not let everyone present all the progress he has ever made – just the things that actual changed since your last meeting (see also “Don’t tell your life story!”).

A meeting should never be a platform for your team members or others to sell themselves - do not encourage show-off behavior.

Start every meeting on time! Do not accept the “let’s wait 5 minutes rule” – that way you teach people that it is ok to be late to your meetings. Take 5 minutes after the meeting to prepare a quick email to all participants about the results and decisions taken – do not ask for corrections or amendments.

If for any reason a follow up meeting is necessary schedule it immediately with everyone there and make sure you have everyone’s agreement.

Although some people might say that for common courtesy the following behaviors are not acceptable, you should stick to them to encourage everyone to be more focused and productive at work:

  • If you are invited to meetings that are unfocused and are wasting your time speak up and make clear that you cannot accept this. Show that you are impatient.
  • Even if you are not the organizer of a meeting do not accept late beginnings – take over the role of the moderator and start the meeting (you already know the agenda and points to discuss from the invitation, if not do not attend!).
Don’t network – Work!

Many people will tell you that to be successful as a manager you have to build up a network and spend much of your time maintaining this network.

I disagree with this notion and believe that networking for the most part is a waste of your time!

Instead of spending hours and hours at business lunches, informal meetings, pre-meetings or even drinking coffee with co-workers, managers and people completely unrelated to your position -you should just work.

You will get so much more work done than the managers who spend half their time networking. This real work will shine through when it comes to reviewing your performance and contribution.

Networking can replace hard work at the beginning of your career. It is easy to move up in the organization as long as your relative responsibility is low. As soon as your contribution to the organization becomes visible however, networking will not help you to get ahead. You will be judged by your work and not your “friend status”.

And while we are at it – social networking based on popular services like Facebook or Twitter are as much a waste of your time as real life networking. Just don’t do it!

Some of these social networking tools might be helpful to organize your contacts or aggregate relevant industry news – but make sure that this is how you are using them. If you start sharing your favorite YouTube videos, funny presentations and other unnecessary status updates you are wasting your time and don’t get anything in return.

Use a more professional oriented service like LinkedIn or Plaxo for organizing your contacts and use Twitter as a news aggregator by following the news outlets that are important to your current job role (this never ever includes the “Joke of the Day”).

Use these tools only when necessary – if you have found a better system for contacts and news aggregation, use that system.

Remember that whatever you publish on any of these services is by definition public. It will be read by your team members, your manager, your future employer and everybody else.

All this said I believe it is important not to confuse networking with healthy relationship building.

Remember at work, you should strengthen the relationships with these three important groups:

  • Your manager
  • Your direct reports
  • Your top performers

These are the people that will get you ahead because they either support you with their own hard work or because they directly judge your performance.

Make sure you take some time out of your busy schedule and ensure that you are on the same page with these three important groups of people at work.  They must understand your motivation and your goals so that they are able to follow you (remember they also want to follow the rule: “Do that other thing” – this they can only do, when they understand what you expect of them).

Don’t go to any social events at work if you can avoid it. Go to the ones that you organize yourself for your team, but leave early. Go if your boss invites you, but leave early. Whenever you have an all hands event and you don’t have to give a speech or presentation – don’t go. Spend your social time with the important people in your life (your family, your friends) and keep a professional relationship with your co-workers and employees.

Don’t network – just work!