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Article of the Week: Three Subtle Ways You're Stealing Time From Yourself Every Day PDF Print E-mail

By: Nisha Ahluwalia, BusinessInsider.com

The clock strikes 3 p.m. Suddenly, you realize you’re not nearly as far down on your to-do list as you planned to be.

You think "Ugh, who’s stealing all my time?" But let’s get real, no matter how busy you are, the only person sapping your productivity is you. The truth is, it’s easy to get into routines where you mindlessly waste the precious minutes of your day.

These unconscious habits might seem harmless — or even, ironically, like they’re actually boosting your productivity — but ultimately, they slow you down, distract you from doing your work, and leave you scrambling to catch up by the end of the day. Fortunately, there’s a way to overcome every bad habit. So if you’re serious about upping your productivity game, it’s time to ditch these three patterns and replace them with ones that work (pun intended).

Bad habit #1: Slow-motion mornings

When you arrive at work first thing in the morning, head straight for the snack pantry, stop by your friend’s desk to discuss the latest episode of whatever you just watched, and then plop down in your chair to sort through your inbox, you might think that you’re just easing your way into the work day. But with that routine, you might not find your flow until an hour in or longer — and that’s not a productive way to get your day going.

The fix: Go straight to your desk, do not pass go

So, when you first step through the door, don’t get too comfortable — get working. And yes, that means delaying your morning coffee chat. If you don’t have time to make a cup before you head to the office, try picking one up before you get to the office so that you can head straight to your desk and knock out a few quick tasks, allowing you to set the stage for success. (Of course, avoid picking it up from a place like Starbucks where you’ll lose all your time waiting in line.)

If you really want to maximize your efficiency, jot down your morning to-dos before you even get into the office. Even taking 10 minutes at the end of the day — or, if you take public transit, during your morning commute — can help you dive into productivity mode right off the bat.

If you struggle to get down to business right away, you may want to try standing up at your desk instead of sitting. It doesn’t take a specially outfitted desk — you just need to find an elevated surface to place your computer on. Many people find that it naturally launches them into action — you feel focused, energized, ready to conquer your to-do list. If standing's not your thing, try putting your phone out of reach, or changing up your to-do list strategy, or seeing if listening to ambient noise helps you.

Once you make some headway and reach a good stopping point, reward yourself with a mental break and grab that second cup of coffee. If you bump into a colleague who wants to dish about the podcast you both listen to, go for it: You’ve earned it.

Bad habit #2: Sitting through too many meetings — literally

Few things are more frustrating than having a day so filled with meetings that you don’t have time to get anything done. But here’s the secret: You probably don’t have to be in all of them. And if by some chance you do, well, then, you need to make them a lot more effective.

The fix: Stop following the meeting herd — lead the efficient pack

In an effort to clear their inboxes, plenty of people blindly accept invitations without thinking about whether or not they actually need to go, but prioritizing your precious time is key to productivity. If a seemingly non-essential invite comes through, there’s nothing wrong with politely asking the organizer if you need to be there or letting her know that you need to tackle some other urgent items instead. You’d be surprised at how accommodating people are when you directly communicate your position. No one wants a disengaged multi-tasker clacking away at her keyboard in protest instead of paying attention to the meeting’s leader.

But sometimes, due to pressing deadlines or simply office politics, there’ll be meetings you can’t get out of. In those situations, if you’re able to, get out of the conference room and organize a walking meeting. This is especially effective for recurring check-ins or one-on-ones, less so for large gatherings, but if everyone is game, it can work for four or five people as well. Making meetings mobile keeps the energy levels high and the ideas flowing, while giving all participants involved a much-needed break from laptops and phones.

Bad habit #3: Hiding behind your keyboard

There’s something about using a computer as an intermediary that makes a lot of people feel more comfortable weighing in on sensitive issues or sharing honest opinions. And often, communicating through an online chat system or email just seems like the quickest way to get things done.

The fix: Get in front of your team

The keyword here, though, is seems. Sure, typing out a quick question and clicking send may be a couple of seconds faster than walking over to your teammate’s desk, but think of all the confusion that can result from only communicating through writing. (Anyone who’s ever felt momentary panic after receiving a text that says nothing but “OK,” knows exactly what I mean). If you’re trying to problem-solve or have a deep, multi-faceted conversation through email or chat, you risk getting pulled into a thread of back-and-forth misunderstandings.

Kill the never-ending email chains once and for all by resolving to sort things out in person whenever possible. It might feel a little intimidating at first, but nine times out of 10, talking things through face-to-face will be quicker and less painful. And the good news is, the more you do it, the easier it’ll be.

Whether you find yourself constantly running out of time — or you just want to step up your ability to get things done — it’s worth keeping those little time-sucking habits in check when you can. If you want to win the productivity game, you need to make the most out of every moment you have.

Who knows? If you use these small changes as a launching pad, you might even become the office badass who gets a ton of work done, plays a role in major accomplishments, and still has time for the after-work happy hour.

Article of the Week: Top Three Mistakes You Make In Meetings PDF Print E-mail

By: Andy Ellwood, Forbes.com

Your hot lead turned into a hot opportunity and you finally have the big meeting on your calendar. You’ve prepared and planned for how it will go and have DJ Khaled blasting in your earbuds as you arrive at the restaurant. All You Do Is Win. Until you don’t. And you don’t even realize there are things you’re doing to sabotage yourself until the meeting doesn’t go quite as well as you thought it did and you have a tough time getting back on this person’s calendar. 

There are three mistakes people make all the time that put themselves at a sincere disadvantage when they don’t have to be. 

You Get A Head Start: When meeting someone anywhere besides an office, there is the temptation to go ahead and be seated or order something. Don’t do that. Wait at the front for whomever you are meeting and maximize the time they’ve given you in their schedule by being with them from them moment they arrive. I recently was meeting someone new at a busy coffee shop, walked in a couple minutes early, and stood by the door. I waited for 5-10 minutes before I got a text that said “I’m here.” I hadn’t met this person, so I wandered back looking for someone who was looking for someone. When I spotted myself being spotted, I walked over to see that they’d already ordered. So I set my jacket down, went back up to the counter and ordered my coffee. By the time I got back to the table, it was 20 minutes into our meeting time and we had to rush through the pleasantries that could have taken place while we waited in line and found a seat together. It might feel awkward standing up front being the person waiting for the person, but that person you’re waiting for will appreciate it. 

You Distract Yourself: This tip was originally found in a junior high Miss Manners lecture, but has worked even better for me in business than it has in dating: Always, if there is a seating choice, choose to face the wall and let the other person face out into the room. This is seen as a sign of respect in the dating context, but is a true competitive advantage in a business meeting scenario. While you are focused on the person across from you and what they are saying, they have the entire restaurant full of distractions behind you to also deal with. While you listen intently, they may lose focus and tip their hand a little too quickly. 

You Do A Midwest Goodbye: There is nothing more awkward than saying goodbye multiple times because you don’t know how to cut the cord. Growing up in Texas with parents from the Midwest, this was a charming ritual. You said goodbye in the kitchen after dinner, goodbye at the front door a few minutes later while coats were being put on, and then again standing next to the car when the departure was finally happening fifteen minutes later. This isn’t good for business.  When a meeting is over, let it be over and then get out of there before anyone changes their mind. A former mentor of mine would notoriously walk his clients to the front of the restaurant or coffee shop, say a concrete goodbye, shake their hand, and then excuse himself back into the restaurant to use the restroom. There was no lingering that ever happened after that. 

While not rocket science, these are all things you can control. The last thing you want is for your hustle to get the meeting to be sabotaged by your actions before, during, or after the meeting.

Article of the Week: Four Myths Most Bosses Believe About Employee Engagement PDF Print E-mail

By: Stephanie Vozza, FastCompany.com

Engaged employees are more productive, have higher job satisfaction, and are more focused on customers, according to a Gallup study. But what exactly does "engaged" mean?

Boston University professor William Kahn coined the term 25 years ago, but there still isn’t a widely accepted definition. What does exist, however, is a lot of frustration and myths surrounding the idea, says Rodd Wagner, vice president of employee engagement strategy for the consulting firm BI Worldwide and author of Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They're Real People.

"Once in a while, you will hear someone say he’s ‘engaged’ or ‘disengaged’ at work, but not often," he says. "Even after two decades of HR using it, it’s not part of the natural vocabulary among employees and, it’s now safe to say, it never will be."

The problem goes to the core of the relationship between the employee and the company, Wagner says. "Employee engagement is what the business wants; it’s strategic with a return-on-investment view," he says. "Happiness is what the employees want. If they each look out for the other’s interest, the bargain works exceptionally well. It’s human nature to reciprocate what we do for others."

Whether you strive for engagement or happiness, Wagner says there are four myths that leaders need to know:

Myth 1: There's no proof that happy employees will do anything great for your company.

Happiness is associated with hard work, says Wagner. Nine out of 10 happy employees agree with this statement: "I feel an obligation to work as hard as I can for my organization," while just six out of 10 unhappy employees agrees with the same statement, according to a study from BI Worldwide.

The study also found that 93% of happy employees agree with the statement, "I am willing to work especially hard for my organization’s customers," compared to just 69% of unhappy employees.

Myth 2: Somebody can be happy at work, but not "enganged".

While Wagner says technically this could be true; in practice it’s not. The overlap between those who are happy and those who are engaged is so large that there aren’t appreciable numbers of people who are happy at work and not engaged, or, conversely, engaged and not happy, according to the BI Worldwide study.

"In the vast majority of cases, engaged employees are happy, and happy employees are engaged," he says.

Myth 3: Measuring job happiness levels isn't enough to retain star performers and build a successful business.

More than half of unhappy employees plan to leave in the next 12 months, while just 23% of those who are happy at their current jobs plan to leave, according to BI Worldwide.

"Engagement and satisfaction are different aspects, but deep in the fine print the research overlaps making them statistically identical," says Wagner. "If you ask someone if they’re satisfied at work and then if they’re engaged at work, you’ll see a furrowed brow. They’re the same."

Myth 4: Empployees might be happy because they are lazy.

Leaders often believe that employees are happy because they’re talking to their work friends, enjoying the free cafeteria food, and driving the company car. But this kind of "happiness" doesn’t equate to working hard on behalf of the company.

"This is a terrible assumption about human nature from the anti-happiness crowd," says Wagner. "They have a picture of a happy employee sitting on the back porch with their feet up reading magazine for 40 hours a week. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ as Jefferson wrote it into the Declaration of Independence is not a hedonic sleeping in; it’s a purpose-driven happiness."

In proper conditions people like to work, whether that’s building airplanes or running a hotel, and most want to make a greater contribution as long as they’re not being yelled at and stressed out, says Wagner.

While there are bad employees who will try to get away with doing as little as possible, they are rare. "We shouldn’t build the rules of an organization around the worst employees," he says. "There’s a misguided belief that if you spoil people, they’ll play hooky. It’s just a really terrible assumption and there’s an insult built in there; ‘You can’t be trusted to work hard if we don’t watch you.’"

One of the advantages of concentrating on happiness at work is that it needs no definition. "Ask someone, ‘Are you engaged at work?’ and you may well get the question, ‘What do you mean?’" says Wagner. "Ask someone, ‘Are you happy at work?’ and you will get a real answer. No one ever says, ‘What do you mean by ‘happy?’"


Article of the Week: National Small Business Week Celebrates the American Entrepreneurial Spirit PDF Print E-mail

By Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA

What creates two out of three new American jobs; produces close to half of our nation’s goods and services (nonfarm private GDP); and can be found, coast to coast, in every small town, big city and rural enclave?

The 28 million small businesses that propel our economy forward and define our national entrepreneurial spirit.

To be American is to have the freedom to innovate, take risks, create, transform and put in the hard work that has led to the successes – and failures – that define human progress. From May 1-6, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will recognize and honor the critical and  life altering contributions of America’s moms and pops, manufacturing enterprises, Main Street retailers and entrepreneurs during National Small Business Week.

Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation setting aside one week to “recommit to advancing these vital enterprises, and celebrate their contributions to our collective American story.” As Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said, it was small businesses that powered our recovery after the Great Recession.

This year’s National Small Business Week, themed “SBA: Dream Big, Start Small,” will include special events in Atlanta, New York, Denver, Phoenix, San Jose, Oakland and Washington, D.C.

Tune in all week for live-streaming, beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday as we officially kick off the week and join me at @MCS4Biz on Twitter or Instagram, and #DreamSmallBiz.

America is one of the few countries that gives entrepreneurs a seat at the President’s cabinet table. This allows the SBA to provide an amplified voice for small businesses and represent their divergent interests.

The SBA also offers an extensive national network of small business lenders and counselors that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Many innovators with great ideas and great potential do not begin with great wealth, so they need a great government partner to support their success.

The SBA offers the “three Cs” to help aspiring entrepreneurs start up and scale up by making counseling available, providing more choices and chances to secure capital, and by helping them seize market opportunities to commercialize their ideas. These risk takers will help make our lives more productive, safer, healthier and benefit society overall.

Capital: SBA fills gaps in the commercial lending marketplace so success in the small business sector is based on merit, not family wealth. To inquire about a small business loan, click here.

Counseling: SBA provides free consultation and advice to help Main Street succeed. To find a counseling center near you, click here.

Contracts: SBA levels the playing field with big business by helping small businesses capture new revenue and new customers by winning government contracts, joining corporate supply chains, and exporting beyond our borders. To learn about contracting opportunities, click here.

This year, during National Small Business Week, we recommit ourselves to those fearless entrepreneurs who plan well, work hard, and dream big. Every business starts small. Many of today’s most recognized brands were once small businesses until they found an SBA counselor, lender or investor.

I came to this country as a 5-year old immigrant who didn’t speak a word of English. Today, I serve in the cabinet of the President of the United States. My story is possible only because of America's promise and its entrepreneurial spirit. I'm proud to lead an incredibly talented team assembled from across the country ready to serve you.

Success in business comes one small step at a time. So dream big, take that next small step today, because the next great American success story could be staring back at you in the mirror.


Article of the Week: The Best Sales Managers Always Possess These 3 Skills PDF Print E-mail

By: Ian Altman, Forbes.com

I have the great pleasure of working with top performing sales professionals in a variety of industries. Often an organization will reward their top salesperson by making them the sales manager. I can tell you that rarely is the top salesperson great at managing salespeople. The attributes of great salespeople are not the same as the attributes of a manager. Across industries, the best sales managers always possess these three skills.

Passion For Mentoring

The top job of any sales manager is getting the most from your team. Some managers believe that the best thing to do is have a weekly meeting asking the same questions over and over again. They beat up their team and say things like, “You’ve gotta close more business.” Surprisingly, that doesn’t produce great results. Just wishing or demanding results doesn’t actually work (I know – what a shocker!).

The best managers take pride in developing the talent of their team members, a positive trait illustrated beautifully in Jim Schleckser’s new book, Great CEOs Are Lazy. Great managers actually love saying things like, “Chris is actually better selling to this type of client than I am.” They spend more than half of their time coaching professionals on how to be more efficient and effective. When they attend sales calls, they don’t take over the meeting. Rather, they observe and then privately provide constructive suggestions after the meeting. This takes incredible discipline. Candidly, when I managed sales professionals in my prior businesses, I sucked at this part. I always jumped in and felt it was my job to win the deal for us. My business growth was limited to moderate success until I learned how to better mentor my team members. Eventually, though they occasionally brought me in to help with an opportunity, they learned how to grow business on their own.

Mentoring involves structured role playing using a tool (any tool – not just Same Side Improv), regular training and skills development, attending actual customer meetings, discussing account strategy, and working with team members on their business plan to achieve their goals.

Quick To Acknowledge Success

The top managers have another common attribute. They are the first ones to acknowledge success, and the last ones to take credit. They don’t throw their team members under the bus. They don’t throw out frequent threats. Rather, when something goes wrong, they immediately look to take the blame. They put their team members first.

Of course, privately, if a team member keeps making the same mistakes, is not putting in the effort, or is failing to produce results, then they will layout a plan to help make the person successful. You can make someone accountable and still be on the same side as them in the discussion. Everyone wants to succeed. Top managers layout shared goals of success, and a mutually agreed upon plan to get there. I’m still great friends with salespeople who didn’t work out. They’ve often used that experience to build a successful career moving forward.

Follow A System To Avoid Chasing Rainbows

If the top managers know their job is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their team, then they know that they need to follow a common process to make that happen. While top managers embrace individuality, the foundational process or system needs to be consistent across the organization. It is easy for individuals to get excited about a given opportunity and form a personal attachment to the account. Top managers follow a consistent process to capture objective information so they can, together with the rep, evaluate the opportunity without getting caught in emotional arguments.

The top managers establish the key steps in the sales process, carefully define what makes a good prospect, and identify which criteria qualifies an opportunity worth pursuing or killing. They encourage team members to focus on areas that play to their strengths. The top managers encourage focus from their team members, and ensure that everyone follows the same process. Let’s face it, how could you effectively manage a team of people if each team member were following their own system?

Does this mean creating a team of robots? Not at all. In fact, the best of the best narrowly define a small set of conditions that everyone must follow. They encourage each person to put their individual style into the process. Yet, the data points, process, and steps are consistent across the organization. This consistency allows them to quickly know which opportunities are worth pursuing and they can avoid chasing rainbows.

Put It To Work

Here are steps you can put to work today to get more from your team (and they’ll love you for it).

1. Establish regular role-play (we call it Improv) sessions where your goal is to provide constructive feedback and mentoring. Always start with what is working, and limit suggestions to one or two areas for the greatest impact.

2. Catch your team doing things right. Each day, find at least one item each team member is doing well and publicly recognize it in the organization. Positive reinforcement is magical.

3. Institute a consistent process for qualification, sales steps, uncovering the truth, and which opportunities you do and do not pursue. Once the rules are set, your team will be empowered.

There are many attributes of the best sales managers. These three attributes are shared by all of the best ones. Follow just these three steps can produce better results for you and your team in the year ahead.

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