The good people at Know how non profit are soliciting how-to guides. I sort of said I’d do one. But then I thought I could post a quick guide here, and see if they wanted it too. It’s about How to make your job easier, which is also the title of a workshop or seminar I offer.
Make decisions early
Leaving options open can seem like a good idea. Not getting committed too early gives flexibility. Well, perhaps. But only up to a point. Delaying decisions often just turns out to be a drag on your energy and systems. Anything unresolved squats on your psyche, triggering stress and putting a brake on your freewheeling. Think of the practical downside too. If you haven’t, for example, decided whether your conference is going to be in Bristol in September or Birmingham in October, you and your staff are even now missing opportunities to advance whichever one you eventually go for.
And of course, if you delay too long, you risk having to make a rushed decision when whatever it is suddenly becomes urgent. In productivity guru David Allen’s fine phrase, decide what to do when it shows up, not when it blows up.
Gather the low-hanging fruit
That is, go for easily attainable tasks that give you quick wins and a sense of progress. If you can’t see any low-hanging fruit, create it. Break tasks down into the smallest, practical, do-able steps. Sorting out next year’s budget or reshaping your communications strategy can sound formidable, off-putting and energy sapping. So don’t think of it that way. Split such projects into phases, and determine the next steps to take each stage forward. That way you create easy wins that you can tackle even when energy levels and time are low. Make it all low-hanging fruit.
Stop doing things
Because you’ve always done certain things is not a good reason to carry on. In coaching I often ask non-profit managers if they agree that when someone working to full capacity takes on an extra project they must drop an existing one at the same time. Many agree with the principle, but then start saying, “it’s not always practical….. ” Listen to yourselves, people. If it helps, start the opposite of a to-do list—a not-doing-any-more list—to remind yourself of what you’ve given up.
Play to your strengths
Know what you as an individual are good at, and what your staff and colleagues are good at. Then concentrate on improving those skills. Waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. As the late, great Peter Drucker argued, it takes far more energy and far more work to improve from incompetence to low mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. You cannot build performance on weakness.
Learn to type
If you use a keyboard on a regular basis you should be touch-typing. Really. It is painful to watch highly-paid people searching for keys, constantly backspacing and cursing. The intrinsic challenges of your job are probably hard enough. Do yourself a favour and develop the skills to do the mechanical things quickly, effortlessly and accurately.
If you can’t learn to type, find workarounds wherever possible. Use a digital voice recorder for notes, a touch screen for getting around online. Whatever, get to do it well. You wouldn’t be impressed with a plumber or joiner who couldn’t handle their basic tools. Why are knowledge workers different?
Find out what kind of timewaster you are
Ask your team to tell you honestly about the ways in which you waste their time. Another wonderfully simple but far-reaching piece of advice from Peter Drucker. ” Effective people have learned to ask systematically and without coyness, ‘What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?’ To ask such a question, and ask it without being afraid of the truth, is a mark of the effective executive.”
If you can’t do this, don’t despair. On the positive side, you have just identified what the military call a target-rich environment – a whole area of managing for you to productively engage with.
Create a brain-dead task list
It’s getting to the end of the day, after a string of back-to-back meetings. Or you’ve just delivered a challenging presentation, or had a long session with the accountant. You’re zonked, your brain is mush. So what do you do? You pull out the list you always have with you of significant but low-wattage tasks. You could be purging dormant files, transferring dates from your organiser, or ploughing through some routine phone calls. The key is to make sure that your task list is complete in itself – for instance with the names and numbers you need to call. Anything you get done in such unpromising conditions will feel like a bonus, and help recharge your batteries.