Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5 keys to making more time at work

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Regular readers will know that I occasionally return to the subject of time and time management. I get a lot of feedback about the Talascend blog. This obviously delights the team here; engaging people is the point of the exercise. Most of the comments and e-mails are about the specifics of the blog topic each week, but there is one recurring question that I always find disquieting, and it comes up over and over again. How do you find the time to write the blog?

Using you calendar for tasks
will help you  get things done
So many people seem bemused that there is time in a working week for anyone to read a blog regularly, let alone write one. The blog takes an hour to write and two minutes to read. It’s usually about 500 words. I bet they write longer e-mails in the course of any given day.  So what’s the big secret?

The answer is setting time for things and abiding by it. Nobody ever asks how people find the time to go to Church. It’s Sunday morning; you always go Sunday morning. You went the last 200 Sunday mornings and you’re going next Sunday morning. Substitute any other form of religious practice and the point remains the same. You acknowledge the importance of something to you, you allocate it time in your schedule and you respect the time allocated.

What stops you from accomplishing things in a lot of cases is that other things can needlessly stop you from focusing on respecting the time you’ve allocated.

Here are my 5 tips to create time in your week.

1. Dump ‘busy’ as a measure of value
In so many teams I have worked in, busy has been the measure of value. This is absurd. Nothing irritates me more than when someone I work with tells me how busy they are. Busy is basically a function of incompetence. You’re not busy, you’re disorganized. Showing off about how busy you are is like boasting you’re incompetent. You’ve been given a workload, which you’ve accepted; from this point forward, the easier you make it look, the more points you get. When you let people know you’re up to your eyeballs – you look bad, not good. Don’t fall into this trap. Allow yourself to spend time on things that could make you seem to less enlightened colleagues like you have time on your hands. It’s their mistake, not yours.

2. Understand urgency and importance.
You can see the blog from two weeks ago for this.

3. Manage your e-mail, don’t let it manage you.
Have you got the Outlook pop-up that appears every time you get a new e-mail in the corner of your screen? The one with the person’s name and the subject line? Turn it off. How can you possibly be expected to focus when you are allowing your boss, colleagues, friends or mother to tap you on the shoulder every two minutes? Very few of us have the discipline to ignore something interesting. But in most cases, any e-mailed communication you receive can wait until you’ve finished the task you’re completing. A key benefit of e-mail is that it is not the chosen form of communication for urgent matters (not among serious people anyway.) So anything you would actually need to drop everything for is unlikely to arrive by e-mail.

4. Your boss can wait.
Don’t be at the beck and call of your boss. If you have an interactive relationship with your boss on a daily basis, make sure you’re letting yourself prioritize them appropriately in your overall agenda. If you’re automatically jumping them to the top of every list, just because you report to them, you’re going to screw up your priorities. Your boss pays you to do your job well, not to be around whenever they need you. I was in a meeting recently when a junior colleague quietly showed me their cell phone buzzing with the President of their division calling. They asked if they should go and take it. I said no, absolutely not. He looked puzzled.
‘Won’t he be annoyed that I’m too busy for him?’ He said.
‘I think he’d be a lot more annoyed if you were never too busy for him,’ I said.

5. Use your calendar for more than meetings.
Your Outlook calendar is your key to getting things done. There is no written rule that says it’s just for meetings. Believe me, my hour for blog writing is in my calendar and I respect it as if it were a meeting with the Chairman. During this hour, I am unavailable by e-mail or Skype. I will answer the phone, but unless it’s an emergency, you will be politely asked for a time when I can call you back. My calendar is open for anyone internally to view, so they can check to see what I’m doing before they call me. You put your dentist appointment in the calendar because you want to remember to go and it’s helpful for your colleagues to know where you are. Why not put your paperwork in there too?

My hour is up. The blog is done. I have two phone calls to return and I don’t know what’s waiting for me in my inbox, but if the hour I’ve just spent focused on this task turns out to have cost me anything, I’ll be very surprised.

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.

NEW - Listen to the Podcast version here...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The death of Facebook. It's not beyond imagination...

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Paid social media advertising doesn’t impact sales enough to warrant significant expense. That’s the conclusion reached today by GM, who pulled $10m of advertising spend from Facebook.

The move is mildly embarrassing for Facebook on the eve of their long anticipated IPO, but I don’t think anyone there will be leaping from the window ledge anytime soon. Other than making the Winklevoss twins’ morning cornflakes taste slightly better, it is unlikely to affect the company’s valuation.

GM is pulling out of paid advertising
But it should.

It is another straw placed gently on the back of the distraction advertising camel. Facebook, much like Google, is essentially an advertising company. The social functionality exists only to collect data and drive advertising revenue, just like Google’s search engine. The fact that it’s free to the user is the source of its popularity. But make no mistake, you are not the customer, you are the product. The staff, managers, executives and share holders are in the game to sell you to advertisers for a lot of money.

I’m not objecting to that in principal, I’m objecting to it as a long term strategy for these companies.

Sophisticated consumers, empowered with technology are simply tuning out the messages that companies like GM have been paying so much money for. It’s not just the simple mechanics of it all – skipping through ads on your DVR, ignoring phone numbers you don’t recognize. It’s also a function of automatic behavior driven by ad-saturation. Who opens e-mails that are clearly unsolicited now? Who isn’t throwing the junk mail straight in the trash? Do you even notice the ad banners on the news site you’re reading anymore? Did you click on any today?

There are better ways to engage with potential customers than waving something bright and shiny at them and luring them to your tent with clever catchphrases and good looking people.  

Marketing is different now. If you want to engage people, you have to make a contribution. You have to be able to show them some evidence that you’re worth their time.

‘Content marketing’ is a phrase still best known to those of us inside the marketing discipline. Some of us call it ‘Inbound Marketing’. At Talascend we call it ‘giving stuff to your customers for free to encourage a conversation.’

Cash is not necessarily the currency of customer engagement any more.

The problem for Facebook and Google is that they depend entirely on old fashioned distraction advertising revenue for their income. While this remains the case they are driving their unstoppable juggernauts toward a cliff face.

They would argue that nobody has made a bigger contribution to our lives than Facebook or Google and I’d agree with them. These two fabulous and innovative companies have made my life easier and more fun and I don’t have enough backslaps and thanks to dish out to Mark and Larry and Sergei et al. Here’s to you all and well done. I’m glad you’re billionaires. You deserve it.

But how will the businesses you’ve built sustain their growth and profitability when they depend so entirely on yesterday’s advertising practices?

GM aren’t pulling out of Facebook, only the paid ads. They will, says the usual Marketing execu-mouthpiece, remain committed to distributing content through Facebook, they just won’t be paying for it thank you very much. They have found it to be ineffective.

What GM has discovered will surely not differ substantially from what others will discover. GM afterall is one of the largest advertisers in the US and you can bet on the fact that they have a lot of very smart people using a lot of very clever technology to be sure they’re right about this. Even without the statistics they have access to, all logic tells me that GM are absolutely right. Others will follow.

Facebook’s ad revenue is not keeping pace with its growth. Facebook’s profit fell off in the first quarter of this year and its revenue growth rate is now slowing down. The numbers aren’t impressive anyway. Facebook generates just $3.50 per user in advertising revenue. If it has to increase the presence of ads to increase engagement from advertisers it risks losing product (us).

Everyone’s always looking for the potential death of Facebook. This is it. Content marketing is the future, distraction advertising is the past. Facebook, for all its youth and modern identity is operating a fundamentally old fashioned model and if GM’s decision turns out to be the first of many, then we’re seeing the first major crack appear in the Facebook machine.

I'm asking you... do those companies who spend millions on advertising banners on Facebook get your business?

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Urgency vs Importance - the key to business sanity

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

I want my lunch. It’s 12.30pm, and I want my lunch.

Two distractions in the last hour have stopped me  from completing this blog (which was the job I gave myself the last hour before lunch to complete.) The blog is important, the interruptions were urgent (although neither turned out to be important). But what could I have done differently? They were urgent. It’s not always easy to make the distinction between urgency and importance. Stephen Covey, a clinical psychologist and expert in organizational psychology, uses a simple diagram that was something of a revelation to me when I was first shown it by an old boss. It is a set of four boxes. The diagram divides all of the tasks and responsibilities we have into four categories, called ‘Quadrants’. Covey calls them I, II, III & IV. (Pictured.) As a basic definition, an urgent task is one where speed is the most pressing factor. An important task is one that has a significant impact on the business and your role in it.                                                             
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly prioritizing things in this way. For example, calling a client to confirm a start date for your candidate may be the most important thing on your to-do list, but it is not as urgent as finding the contact lens that has just fallen on the floor. The contact lens has no significant impact on your job in the long term, but it must still be done first.

For a sales person, writing the Meeting Report from yesterday’s visit is very important. Everyone appreciates the need to fully document our interactions with key customers. The knowledge accumulated from these visits contributes significantly to our understanding of our customers and potential customers. It is more important to develop this long term understanding than it is to place one single person. But you still make the call to your customer to confirm that start date first, because it is more urgent.
At first glance the answer to all this might seem simple. Spend as much time as you can in Quadrant I, avoid  everything in Quadrant IV and spend what time you need to Q II and QIII as necessary. But the reality is much more complex than that. You might think that a CEO would spend all of his time in Quadrant I and a clerical worker would spend all their time in Quadrant IV. But it’s not the case. Whatever your role, you have urgent and important tasks. The receptionist who greets the big client visiting the office is performing a function of significant importance and urgency. The first impression could make all the difference and this interaction will be their first encounter with anyone at Talascend – it’s very important. As to urgency – imagine your client left standing there for 5 minutes while your receptionist finishes some new hire paperwork.

Balancing importance and urgency in your day to day tasks is the road to sanity in time management,  falling into the common pitfalls, will send you hurtling in the other direction. Basics first. Spending all your time in Quadrant IV will get you fired – and quite rightly. Activities like surfing the net, making personal calls or going to get coffee are not the things careers are made of. But QIV has its place, and more of that later. Quadrant III is the deception Quadrant. This is where time is sucked away. A lot of things in this quadrant are masquerading as urgent when they are actually not. Badly planned meetings, phone calls that are twice as long as they should be, some types of paperwork etc. Interruptions are the most common sources of distraction in QIII like the two I ran into in the last hour. 

It’s difficult. 

If a member of your team says ‘Can you come and help me with this?’ you need to go and help. If it turns out not to be important or urgent – that’s going to cost you. Good time management will ensure you don’t spend too much time in this quadrant, as will clear communication. A friend who works at Google insists that you can control distractions to some extent. If he speaks to an external vendor who might have something he is interested in, He will ask them to call back between 2pm and 3pm. This is also his open office hour for his staff’s minor issues. It allows him to schedule distractions.’ I know I’ve got to have these  conversations,’ he says, ‘At least this way I know when they’re coming.’

Spending all your time in Quadrant I will send you to some kind of institution. Nobody can do it. Quadrant I tasks carry inherent elements of stress (deadlines and pressure mostly) and to be done well need to be balanced with other tasks – even, surprisingly, a little bit of Q IV. QIV is closely linked to QI. In between two urgent, important tasks like finishing a board report and doing a press interview, a friend of mine at Amazon.com always takes a break, he says he will wonder out of his office, get a diet coke and spend five minutes talking to a colleague about football. Even if it means being a little late. He will do a better interview that way. What he’s doing is visiting QIV to help him do a better job in QI. If we don’t plan to spend a little appropriate time in Q IV, we will end up there anyway. Because that’s where we run when we burn out. Spend six or seven hours on any given day focused entirely on something demanding, and you will not be productive for the last two hours. It’s too late to take a sensible break then – you’re done. You’ll end up in QIV – walking round the parking lot, leaning back in your chair with your fingers pressed to your temples trying to re-motivate yourself. If you’d only planned to spend twenty minutes that lunchtime sitting in the kitchen with your iPod on reading a newspaper, and walked outside for a Starbucks for 15 minutes late afternoon – you’d have been fine. You might even have got a couple of extra hours out of your day.

This brings us to QII. QII is your source of sanity and control. Here lies  strategy and planning. Not spending enough time in this quadrant is the reason productivity falls apart. This is where you manage your time in all the other quadrants. Obviously, it’s easy to sacrifice the important in favor of the urgent. Nobody is going to lean over your shoulder and tell you to stop making sales calls so that you can sit quietly for an hour and make a list of things you want to accomplish over the next 12 months. That’s not how a business works.  But every successful business person from Donald Trump to Sir Alan Sugar is on the record saying that it is vital that you make time to do this. Stopping to check that you’re doing the right things is essential – even though it means stopping. 

Most sales and recruitment people are bad at this. It’s because we believe there is nothing more important than picking up the phone and selling. There are metrics to be hit, targets to achieve and money to be made. Surely the best way is to just get on with it? No. It isn’t. What we’re really doing when we do this, is driving our car around aimlessly hoping to stumble back onto the right road, rather than stopping and getting the map out. Chances are the fastest way to get there is to stop. As Yogi Bera said, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there.’ A sensible amount of time planning your week will make that week more productive, even if it means productivity time is spent on it. If you just throw yourself headlong into unstructured and unplanned activity – it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you’re going to spin your wheels without progress – costing you much more time than the  planning would have taken.

At the end of the day, all of this is about forming positive habits. Warren Buffet says that the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken. A sobering thought, but it’s equally true that good habits are self perpetuating and that the smallest positive impact of good time management on your day to day working life will make your life easier, and motivate you to do even better. Ultimately, nobody can manage your time for you. The right answer could be different for everyone. Understanding the difference between urgency and importance and planning time to carry out tasks accordingly is a starting point.

Now it's lunchtime.

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.