Here is a reprise of one of my most popular blog posts.
The selections were made by the Harvard Business Review Staff.
Illustration credit: peshkov/Getty Images
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‘Tis the season for “best of” lists, so we looked back at our year in Management Tip of the Day newsletters to share some of our favorite quick and practical pieces of work advice. Here’s our top 10.
Is there a tip or other advice we published this year that changed the way you think about work? Or an article that you found especially useful? We’d love to hear from you. Please let us know in the comments.
Don’t Just Have a To-Do List — Timebox It
The only thing worse than having a long to-do list is not knowing how you’re going to get everything done. Timeboxing can help: It’s a way of converting your to-do list into blocks of time on your calendar, so you have a plan for what to do and when. Start by looking at your to-do list and figuring out each task’s deadlines. For example, if a promotional video has to go live on a Tuesday, and the production team needs 72 hours to incorporate your edits, then put a hold on your calendar at least 72 hours before Tuesday. Repeat for each item on your to-do list. If you work on a team where people can see one another’s calendars, timeboxing has the added benefit of showing people that the work will get done on time. But the biggest advantage of timeboxing might be that it gives you a feeling of control over your calendar — which can help you feel happier at work.
Adapted from “How Timeboxing Works and Why It Will Make You More Productive,” by Marc Zao-Sanders
Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
To make good decisions, it’s important to think critically. And, yet, too many leaders accept the first solution proposed to them or don’t take the time to evaluate a topic from all sides. To guard against these mistakes, there are several things you can do to hone your critical thinking skills. First, question your assumptions, especially when the stakes are high. If you’re coming up with a new business strategy, for example, ask: Why is this the best way forward? What does the research say about our expectations for the future of the market? Second, poke at the logic. When evaluating arguments, consider if the evidence builds on itself to produce a sound conclusion. Is the logic supported by data at each point? Third, seek out fresh perspectives. It’s tempting to rely on your inner circle to help you think through these questions but that won’t be productive if they all look and think like you. Get outside your bubble and ask different people to question and challenge your logic.
Adapted from “3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking,” by Helen Lee Bouygues
Tips for Giving a Persuasive Presentation
When you need to sell an idea at work or in a presentation, how do you do it? Five rhetorical devices can help — Aristotle identified them 2,000 years ago, and masters of persuasion still use them today:
- Ethos. Start your talk by establishing your credibility and character. Show your audience that you are committed to the welfare of others, and you will gain their trust.
- Logos. Use data, evidence, and facts to support your pitch.
- Pathos. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Wrap your big idea in a story that will elicit an emotional reaction.
- Metaphor. Compare your idea to something that is familiar to your audience. It will help you clarify your argument by making the abstract concrete.
- Brevity. Explain your idea in as few words as possible. People have a limited attention span, so talk about your strongest points first.
Adapted from “The Art of Persuasion Hasn’t Changed in 2,000 Years,” by Carmine Gallo
Are You Still Stewing About That Mistake You Made?
When you make a mistake at work, do you replay it in your head for days or even weeks? This kind of overthinking is called rumination, and it can lead to serious anxiety. To break out of the cycle, there are a few things you can do. For one, identify your rumination triggers. Do certain types of people, projects, or decisions make you second-guess yourself? Notice when (and why) a situation is causing you to start overthinking things. It can also be useful to distance yourself from negative thoughts by labeling them as thoughts or feelings. For example, instead of saying “I’m inadequate,” say “I’m feeling like I’m inadequate.” These labels can help you distinguish what you’re experiencing from who you truly are as a person and an employee. Another way to short-circuit rumination is to distract yourself. When your brain won’t stop spinning, take a walk, meditate, or fill out an expense report — do any simple activity you can focus on for a few minutes.
Adapted from “How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes,” by Alice Boyes
Managers, Know When to Stop Talking and Start Listening
As a manager, you probably have to talk a lot. You want people to have the guidance and direction they need, of course, and there are plenty of situations where you need to speak your mind. But at some point, talking a lot can turn into overcommunicating. You can end up dominating conversations, which means employees’ perspectives aren’t being heard. To make sure you aren’t talking too much, listen as much as you speak. When someone raises a question in a meeting, invite others to weigh in before you. In fact, don’t contribute your thoughts until several other people have offered theirs. That way everyone is included and feels that their input is valued. You can also schedule regular one-on-one sessions with your team members to encourage open communication. Ask employees about their wants, needs, and concerns — and then hush. You may be surprised how much you learn when you’re saying nothing.
Adapted from “Don’t Be the Boss Who Talks Too Much,” by Hjalmar Gislason
Before a Tough Conversation, Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Difficult conversations are never fun, but preparing for them can help you ensure they’re productive. Start by identifying your motives. What do you want out of the conversation — for you, the other person, and any stakeholders involved? Knowing your goals is a good way to keep the meeting on track if emotions rise. Next, gather facts to support your position. If you’re about to ask for a raise, for example, write down notes on how you’ve grown in your role. If you’re going to give someone tough feedback, bring examples of their work and behavior. Be ready to defend your point of view and explain how you came to it. And think through any stories you’re telling yourself about the other person. Do you see your boss as “the enemy” because she can grant or deny your raise request? Consider what your manager will care about in the conversation, and use that to plan how you’ll address her concerns.
Adapted from “4 Things to Do Before a Tough Conversation,” by Joseph Grenny
Set Healthy Standards of Work for Your Team
When employees feel constantly busy, so busy that they barely have time to breathe, it diminishes their creativity, drive, and job satisfaction. Managers need to take the lead in creating healthy standards for their teams. Here are some things to try.
- Set an example. Let your team see you taking lunch breaks, leaving the office on time, and working flexibly. And don’t send emails or other messages late at night — it signals that employees should be working at all hours.
- Plan extra time. Research has found we’re overly optimistic about how long a task will take. Encourage your team to block out extra time each week to finish up lingering projects. This will help people free up space on their to-do lists (and in their brains).
- Increase workload transparency. Talk to employees about their workloads to get a fuller sense of what they’re working on. Use what you hear to think about whether the team needs more resources or should stop doing certain kinds of work.
Adapted from “Preventing Busyness from Becoming Burnout,” by Brigid Schulte
To Run a Good Meeting, Get the Basics Right
Plenty of meetings are a waste of time. They’re unfocused, badly run, and way too long. But improving your meetings isn’t rocket science — work on getting the basics right. When planning a meeting, know why you are scheduling it in the first place. Having a specific goal in mind will help you create a useful agenda. Next, decide who truly needs to be there, considering the key decision makers, influencers, and stakeholders. If certain people should be in the loop but don’t need to attend, you can ask for their input beforehand and update them afterward. Open the meeting by clearly laying out its purpose and focusing people on the task at hand. As the facilitator, your role is to get attendees to feel committed to the outcome. When the meeting is over, take a few minutes to reflect. Did everyone participate? Were people distracted? What worked well, and what didn’t? Use your reflections (ask others for their thoughts, too) to keep improving for next time.
Adapted from “Why Your Meetings Stink—and What to Do About It,” by Steven G. Rogelberg
Don’t Brush Off Positive Feedback — Study It
Most of us remember critical feedback. Because it’s jarring and threatening, it tends to stick in our brains. But positive feedback is an invaluable way to learn about your strengths and growth areas. Create a space (digital or physical) where you save the praise you get, anything from thank-you cards to written notes in your evaluations to comments in email threads. When you get mixed feedback, tease apart the positive and negative aspects, and put the positive ones in your kudos folder as well. Set a time in your calendar to periodically review and reflect on what you’ve saved. Ask yourself: What patterns or themes can I identify? How could I use my strengths in new situations? What else can I learn about my strengths, and who might provide that perspective? It may feel immodest or uncomfortable to bask in the positive feedback you get. But think of it like this: Someone has gone out of their way to highlight what you’re good at — so use it.
Adapted from “To Become Your Best Self, Study Your Successes,” by Laura Morgan Roberts et al.
Your Employees Want to Feel the Purpose in Their Work
Instilling purpose in your employees takes more than motivational talks, lofty speeches, or mission statements. In fact, if overblown or insincere, those methods can backfire, triggering cynicism rather than commitment. To inspire and engage your employees, keep two things in mind. First, purpose is a feeling. You could tell your team that their work is important, but how can you help individuals feel it firsthand? Think about ways to show people the impact of their jobs. Perhaps you could bring a customer in to share a testimonial, or send a small team into the field to experience the client’s needs for themselves. Second, authenticity matters — a lot. If your attempts at creating purpose do not align with how you’ve acted in the past, employees will likely be skeptical, and they might be left feeling more manipulated than inspired. Making the pursuit of purpose a routine, rather than a one-off initiative, will show employees that you’re serious about it.
Adapted from “Helping Your Team Feel the Purpose in Their Work,”by Dan Cable.
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