Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It is time to hit the “PAUSE” button! Simple Steps for Becoming a Better Listener


Have you ever had a lovely conversation with someone you just met, but you can’t remember their name?   Have you ever asked someone a question and could not recall what their answer was?   Did you ever retell a story but your version was very different from the original story’s details?  If so, you might have a problem with your listening skills.  These days we are constantly bombarded with instant information, short anecdotal stories, and lightning fast changes in topics.   Are we no longer allowing ourselves to be present in our own lives?  Are moments in our life just to be thumbed through like posts on Facebook?  What would happen if we all just decided to hit the “PAUSE” button from time to time? All of these distractions add up to deficient listening skills.  Parents are often getting reports from teachers about how their child seems distracted and is not paying attention in class.  After years of working with young students, I believe distracted minds can sometimes be a learned behavior. For example, we have access to hundreds of television channels and digital on-demand media to watch anytime or anywhere.  Anyone can skip/fast forward/reply anytime through anything that begins to bore them.  Patience is no longer required.  The bottom line is that we are getting very familiar with receiving information in short bursts.  Therefore, we are learning that we only have to pay attention and listen for short bits of time.  All of this adds up to a very bad habit.  We are blessed to have instant access to information, but we simply cannot depend on that to listen and record for us.  Take a few moments to review some tips on how pause and be a better listener:

·        Make eye contact during your conversation.  Watching facial expressions and hand gestures can help you stay engaged in others’ words. 

·        Decide to be present in the moment.  You are unlikely to live this moment again, absorb it while you can.  Choose to be conscious of the smells, sounds and feelings of where you are.

·        Be optimistic, in every conversation, meeting, task or class, identify the positives points in each situation.  It will change your perspective on life and you might learn something new.

·        Learn to enjoy silences in life.  Meditation or sitting quietly for moments in the day can make you appreciate the background sounds in life that you are missing.

·        Take notes. In certain situations such as phone conversations, lectures or meetings, the act of recording key words can help you concentrate and follow along.

·        Listen to your biofeedback.  Being tired or hungry can really impact your ability to pay attention. If you know that you are not a morning person, schedule according to when you are the most aware.  Make sure you are physically prepared by be nourished and hydrated before class or a meeting.

·        Remain calm!  When you are anxious or upset, your mind is racing and your ability to hear and recall small important details can be impaired.  Remember to take deep consistent breaths and focus on listening for critical content. 

Breaking a habit is never easy, but this one is worth it.  There are so many reasons why to become a better listener.  Hit the pause button on life now and then and you might notice a lot that you have been missing!  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Manage Projects at Your Own Risk!

A project is a scope of work with a defined end that incorporates three basic factors, time, budget, and quality.  When it is time to set the parameters of these factors, a project manager has to be aware of the   inherent risks within each.   To be the project manager means that you assume all responsibility for the project.  And if the project fails, you are ultimately accountable.  Therefore, you have to be fully aware of all the risks to avoid seeing your project go off the rails! 

The “project manager” title means that you will be at the core of the entire project’s activity.  It will require you to know all that is going on and all that is not going on within your project.  It is the “unknowns” of a project that keep a project manager up at night.  After the ink on the project charter has dried, it is time to start conducting some risk identifying.  Analyzing risk is a lot like communicating in a project, do it early and often.  A risk management plan is a companion to your overall plan and should be considered and revised throughout most stages of your project.  I would even argue that it should be examined before putting together the project charter.  If you are lucky enough to have time to conduct a feasibility study about the potential project, then you would have already identified the more obvious risks before your sponsor blessed the project.    

After you have sat down with your project team and played several rounds of “worst-case scenario,” take your collection of risks and make an action plan for mitigating them. 

Tips for risk mitigation:

·        Assign a probability to each risk factor.  Those factors 80% or above of happening would require more tracking than those with a lower probability.

·        Make sure you have back-up personnel to your core project team trained and ready to jump in the game, if required.

·        Make checklists for project tasks to make certain nothing is left undone and for your records.

·        Check in with your team regularly for status updates and document the meetings.

·        Avoid project fatigue by having off-site or outdoor meetings (donuts help too).

·        Delegate appropriately to qualified personnel or sub-contractors.  Verify their skills before implementation of the project begins.

·        Have an appropriate communication plan.  For example, don’t send an email when the team prefers and responds better to text updates.

·        Make quick decisions about changes and make sure to communicate those changes pursuant to your change management system.

·        If you do not directly supervise your project team, meet regularly with their supervisors to head off any possible delays due to work conflicts or bad job performance. 

·        Document everything! Your project file should have minimally a schedule, calendar, contacts, organization chart, definitions, plan, budget, risk log, risk and mitigation plan, meeting minutes, and answers to any frequently asked questions about the project. 

·        Know what scope creep within your project looks like and extinguish it fast!  There are many factors and ways that a project can be influenced to change its scope.  Identify those and keep one eye on them at all times so things don’t get out of control.

·        To avoid scope creep and find more risks you had not thought about, meet regularly with your stakeholders. 

·        Say “no” to adding or gold-platting to the scope of the project, especially if it impacts the time, budget or quality.

The reality about projects is that there are always going to be some surprises.  I have found that the more people involved in the project tend to increase possible risks.  The best advice I can give for making sure your project runs smoothly is to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.  In the end, there is nothing that your project cannot survive if you have taken the time to analyze the risks and communicated how to manage them if they should happen. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Implementing Time Management Tips by Changing your Perspective

Many times, the time management tips we hear about can require planning and time to actually implement into your daily work schedule.  There are ways around this.  Saving time in your day can be as simple as changing your perspective about your daily tasks.     

The alarm goes off and from that minute on, you are racing the clock until you are due at work.   You rush through your day trying to cram as much accomplishments into a finite amount of time until your head hits the pillow at the end of another hectic day.  Here are some tips that you can implement today to make for a better tomorrow:

Out the Door:
Designate a space by the door for a landing pad.  It can be a milk crate, basket, coat rack or a small table.  This landing pad will always be the home base for your bags, umbrellas, coats and keys to grab on your way out the door.

In the Door:
After dropping off your keys at your landing pad, remove any books, papers or lunch materials that need your attention and take them into the house and leave your bag at its landing pad by the door.  After your work is completed or lunch is packed for tomorrow, place those items back into the bags by the door.  Have a lunch that requires refrigeration?  Leave yourself a post-it note on the fridge and/or door to remind you to take it with you.  A small framed chalkboard/bulletin board works well too to give you reminders at a glimpse.

In the Car: 
Store a notepad, post-it notes and a pen in your car console.  While waiting in traffic, make a reminder or to-do list of tasks you want to accomplish today or within the week.  You can also use your smart phone’s note-taking application this will also allow you to use your calendar function to schedule these tasks with assigned due dates.
Purchase a second charging cable or portable power supply for your phone so that you are never in a position where you miss a scheduled event or an important reminder. 

On the Desk:
The surface of your desk is prime space and sacred for keeping your mind on-task.  If there are piles of paper everywhere, you are unknowingly distracted.  Additionally, the amount of space at work you can claim as your own is usually small but important to you.  Give it the respect it deserves by creating a filing system for papers to have a process coming across your desk, addressing them and then filing or sending them to their appropriate place. 

Throughout the Closet:
One of the biggest selling points of an apartment or home is the bedroom closet.  With that in mind, assume the perspective that the square footage of your closet is in high demand and can have a high price tag. Honor it by optimizing the square footage and purging your closet of under-utilized and out-of-style clothing, shoes and accessories preferably twice a year.  The advantage of doing a full clean out in January and June is that you know what clothes you wear the most and what has yet to be touched.  Live in the present and donate what is not useful to you now.  That said, when you have finished optimizing your closet space with clothing that fits you and makes you feel confident, take out your basic structural pieces.  Pull out your timeless and classic pieces such as a pair of khaki and black pants, button down shirts or and neutral shoes that go with everything.  Make sure those pieces our visible and build outfits that coordinate with them.  If you do not have enough room, assemble an idea outfit and snap a picture of it for future reference.  Doing this on a weekend will save you time during the week and eliminate that 10-15 minutes of staring into your closet wondering what to wear. 

When implemented, all these tips can return valuable minutes to your day allowing you to enjoy less stress and be more present.