16 ways to work smarter in 2016

- Leadership - Jan 22, 2016

Three of the top business authors, shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year prize share their top tips on how to be more effective at work in 2016:

Andy Gibson, author of A Mind for Business:

1. Get to know your mind

Our personalities are all different, in the way we experience positive and negative events, get on with people, work towards goals and process new information. Find your comfort zone, and know when you need to push yourself outside it.

2. Manage energy, not time

When you use your mind to make decisions and control your impulses, you tire your mind out. Do the most important things first, when you feel freshest, and save the more mindless tasks for later.

3. Design your routine

Your mind adapts to the things you do frequently. Think about the skills you want to master and plan your routine accordingly. Otherwise you may end up with a mind you don't want. 

4. Keep perspective

Stress and negative emotions narrow your focus and can make you miss things.Talk things through with friends and colleagues to make better decisions and when you're stressed, check your decisions and keep asking what you've missed.

5. Stay playful

Creativity comes from the interplay between conscious, analytic thinking and unconscious, associative processes. Learn to switch quickly between serious analysis and playful exploration, to keep the ideas and innovation flowing.

A Mind for Business: Get inside your head to transform how you work by Andy Gibson is out now, published by Pearson priced £12.99

Belinda Waldock, author of Being Agile in Business

1. Take a reality check

Whether projects, plans or ideas, visual mapping helps gain immediate clarity to help identify, understand, share and review work in progress both for you as a manager, and for your team. 

Agile tools literally put the writing on the wall providing a real time snapshot and practical communication channel which will encourage collaboration and help maintain a shared understanding and perspective within a team. 

2. Cut yourself some slack

Agile is a learning based method and builds continuous improvement into our daily workflow, build in slack to give you and your teams time to improve and respond to changing circumstances. 

Create time to review current approaches and identify the blocks, bottlenecks and issues that limit productivity and performance.  A great manager empowers their team to improve their working practices by ensuring they have time and resource for growth and improvement.

3. Validate your assumptions

Being agile means to validate and test solutions early.  Releasing early solutions for feedback provides vital information to help evolve and develop an idea into a solution that meets demand and needs. 

Agile works to ensure the right thing is built, and that thing is built right through test driven development and improvement practices. 

4. Maximise work NOT done

When your growing, changing and developing there are a lot of options, but not enough time and resource to do them all, we have to make difficult choices.  Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to achieve perfection and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.  That point you reach when the amount you are investing into a solution becomes greater than the value you are creating and the costs outweigh the benefits. 

Use the Pareto Principle to optimise your work, 20% of the effort put in creates 80% of the value delivered.  Take some time to analyse your work and identify the optimum 20% that is of the most value.  Optimise the amount of ‘work not done’ to reach your objectives and improve productivity. 

5. STOP managing by exception

If you only manage and respond when things go wrong then teams, and customer relationships can quickly become disconnected and chaotic.  Without regular communications ad hoc interruptions and distractions become common place. 

Check in regularly and consistently to talk about work in progress and identify what’s going well and what could be going better before issues escalate or opportunities loose strength.     

6. Empower your teams

Empower individuals and teams to be self-organising and managing.  Encourages teams to work collaboratively and improve their performance collectively through shared metrics and a culture of continuous improvement.  Agile leaders provide their teams with the environment, tools and skills to deliver value and achieve optimum performance levels.

Allow teams to play to their strengths and identify opportunities for development and improvement.  Leverage talent and create teams that perform at their best, use agile as a tool to improve team performance and individual job satisfaction.

Being Agile in Business: Discover faster, smarter, leaner ways to work by Belinda Waldock is out now, published by Pearson priced £12.99

Graham Shaw, author of The Art of Business Communication:

1. Use metaphors to bring ideas to life

Metaphors are so rich in information that they get ideas across immediately.  Likewise similes or analogies are brilliant because they also make helpful comparisons

Just write down your key point or problem and then ask yourself; “This is rather like what?   For example when explaining a project plan you could say; “This project is like a mountain expedition and we are currently at base camp.”  People listening immediately get a picture in their minds.  This also prompts them to develop the metaphor as they make contributions to discussion e.g. someone might reply; “How long will it take to reach the summit?”

Here’s a different example. When explaining the role of a leader one might liken this to a music conductor; “When you hear orchestra members warming up the sounds they make often seem discordant. However once the conductor steps up, he or she brings the individual players together to create a wonderful music. That’s the role of a team leader.”

Therefore translate ideas into metaphors to make them easy to understand.

2. Use pictures to make your messages stay in the memory

To not use pictures is missing a big trick, especially if you want to make ideas memorable.   In 1970 Ralph Haber’s study was published in Scientific American.  He showed people 2 560 pictures at ten second intervals and then tested them by showing pictures they had seen before along with examples they had not.  People recalled with 85% - 95% accuracy whether or not they had seen a given picture before.

Are some pictures more memorable than others?  The answer is an emphatic yes.  In a subsequent study Ray Nickerson showed 10 000 images. The difference was that he used vivid pictures i.e. images he thought would be memorable.  He was right.  Amazingly he achieved picture recognition results of 99.9% accuracy.

So use pictures to make your ideas memorable.  Moreover, choose pictures that are colourful, different or striking to maximise the chances of success.

3. Sketch ideas ‘live’ – e.g. processes, diagrams and charts

There is a world of difference between simply presenting pre-prepared images and drawing ‘live’ as you speak.  The moment you make a mark on a whiteboard or flipchart, people are hooked because they are curious about what will come next. As you build ideas gradually people can absorb a lot of information. Moreover they can recall it later because of the brain’s ability to bring the image back to mind.

All you need are simple lines, shapes and symbols.  Everyone can draw circles, squares, triangles and rectangles and these can form the basis for explaining numerous ideas.  Even squiggles and doodles are memorable.

You can easily bring to life a process, business model or project plan. You could even draw metaphors as mentioned in the above paragraph e.g. a project plan could be drawn as a road. It would be easy to sketch in details such milestones, obstacles or dangers.

4. Repeat your key message to ensure they get it

It sounds simple and it is. People remember things that are repeated and the secret is to reduce your message to a short memorable phrase.  Then identify appropriate times to repeat it in your talk e.g. just after giving an example that illustrates the message.  People more easily remember things that are first or last, therefore be sure to say your message at the start and the end.

I coached a client whose message was that paying attention small things makes a big difference.  He reduced this idea to the phrase; “Small is the new big!”   He used the phrase as the title of the talk and put it in the centre of a slide.  People could then see his message as well as hear it. Once your audience become familiar with your message they will anticipate you saying it.  When they are already saying it ahead of you, then you know they’ve got it.

5. Make slides a two-way experience – ask questions to engage the brain

One of the causes of ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is that presentations are often a one-way experience.  Such a bombardment can only be tolerated for a short time. Presenters are often confronted with glazed looks as people struggle to keep up.

Instead of just giving information when showing slides, ask questions.  Questions engage the brain and get people thinking.  A great way to do this is just before you introduce a slide. Rhetorical questions work very well because you don’t necessarily want people to call out answers.

The Art of Business Communication: How to use pictures, charts and graphs to make your business message stick by Graham Shaw is out now, published by Pearson priced £14.99.

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