Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: organizational skills

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to organizational skills.

2016 in Review: The Softer Skills of Work

2016 in Review: The Softer Skills of WorkYesterday we shared some of 2016’s top articles and tools about training and development so you can start setting your technical skills development goals this year. While these skills make it so you can successfully complete a project, recruiters and clients alike are looking for more than your abilities. They want to know how personable you are and how advanced your “soft skills” are.

How important is it to keep these skills refreshed? Every member of Eagle’s Executive Team touched on it in 2016:

These skills include everything from basic workplace etiquette…

…to proper communication in various situations.

Finally, and possibly most importantly for a busy IT contractor, is time management. Everybody can always improve in this area, so we encourage you to check out at least one of these posts:

How to Be Productive at Work? Master Your Sunday!

This post by Karin Eldor first appeared on the Monster Career Advice Blog

How to Be Productive at Work? Master Your Sunday! Sunday has two different identities: there’s #SundayFunday and then there are the Sunday Blues.

Well, I’m campaigning to create a new image for Sunday: #SuperSunday.

The timing is actually perfect. With Labour Day having come and gone, September has become the new month for turning over a new leaf and having another go at your New Year’s resolutions (author Gretchen Rubin has even coined September the “other January”). Maybe it’s the back-to-school vibe and back-to-work feeling — likely both — regardless, it’s nice to get a second chance to make those resolutions work.

And does this look like one of your resolutions? Be more productive.

It seems many of us are still learning how to be productive and take control of our days — and one of the ways to do this is by mastering your Sunday.

If you flip Sunday on its head and make it more about looking forward to the week ahead rather than dreading it, your entire perspective changes. (Pro tip: start to perceive Monday as an opportunity to make changes during the upcoming week rather than counting down the minutes to Friday).

It starts with feeling refreshed, rebooted and reorganized enough on Sunday, that you don’t head to work stressed and already overwhelmed by the massive to-do list you need to tackle.

Of course there are the obvious Sunday activities, like doing the laundry, getting groceries, and watching football or Netflix.

Below are the other important tasks to check off your list, which you should try to finish before Game of Thrones starts.

The Sunday success plan

1) Map out your week

Sit down with a calendar and task list, and map out all your deadlines, checkpoints, meetings, and appointments.

Take it even further and block off your gym time and/or sports activities for the upcoming week. This will help ensure that your fitness plans don’t fall by the wayside.

The other key thing about this practice is that once complete, you’ll be able to see where you have some breathing room and can schedule social activities. Conversely, this will help you visualize your challenging days that are chock-full of deadlines; as a result, you might need to plan ahead in order to complete your tasks on time.

I once heard someone say this and I am compelled to share: If something is not blocked off in your agenda by the time you get to the office Monday, it’s not happening that week. So as ruthless as this sounds, it’s important to be disciplined. Of course this doesn’t apply to projects your manager is assigning for that week, as it’s challenging to give that kind of pushback. But it does mean that if a friend texts you to go for coffee, it will have to be shifted to the following week if there is simply no wiggle room between events.

2) Reach out to contacts

Networking is one of those “always on” activities. Sending friendly “How are you?” emails to former colleagues, mentors or even a previous manager that you had a great rapport with is simply good practice — and there’s no better day to do it than Sunday.

You want to avoid only emailing contacts when you need them, so keep cultivating your relationships by touching base every now and then. (BTW: no need to email them every week…)

3) Read up about your industry

Sunday morning is a great time to sit with a hot drink while tackling your favourite magazines and/or papers. Or even all the articles you bookmarked throughout the week and finally have time to get to!

This helps you keep abreast of industry movers and shakers, and any disruptive news you need to know.

4) Work on your hobby

Make time on Sunday to dedicate to a passion project. Studies show that hobbies are important in order to be successful as they help you relax and unwind, which leads to greater creativity.

A recent article published in Quartz magazine, fittingly titled “If you want to be a better person, find something to do outside of work,” makes a strong case for having a hobby: “Hobbies are of central importance to our psychological well-being.”

The article quotes a recent study by Kevin Eschleman at San Francisco State University, which found that workers recovered more quickly from the day-to-day stress of their working lives if allowed to indulge in hobbies in their free time. The Quartzarticle also mentions that Google has a 20% rule, which allows employees to spend 20% of their work time pursuing projects of their own choosing — a perk that leads to more fulfilled and productive employees.

So whether your thing is painting, gardening or playing sports, allow yourself time to dedicate to the personal activities that energize you.

5) Work out your body and/or mind

Speaking of hobbies, perhaps yours is weightlifting, yoga or meditation. Dedicate some time to your deadlifts or downward dog — it will help revitalize you and will make you feel less guilty about all the food you indulged on all weekend.

6) Make time for a digital detox

Whether you go device-free for 10 minutes in the morning or during your mindfulness / fitness session, it’s important to let go of your digital reliance at some point throughout your Sunday. So make a habit of either not checking into your social media feeds for a determined amount of time, not checking your email all day (Meep, is this even possible?!?) or best yet, being away from your phone completely for a couple of hours, at least.

In France this is known as “the right to disconnect” — and you can also exercise this right when it comes to evenings and weekends!

7) Plan your meals

OK so the idea of cooking for the entire week might be totally overwhelming — I get it. At least prep your menu so that you can get the ingredients in one shot when you do go grocery shopping. Planning your lunches in advance is efficient, healthy and a cost savings.

8) Write your Monday to-do list

In the same vein as mapping out your week, take a few minutes to write your Monday to-do-list, so that you’re ready to tackle the new day and week the second you arrive to the office.

It’s also a great way to do a “worry list” — i.e. a brain dump of all the minutiae on your mind, which might be keeping you up at night.

Sunday strong

Many of these habits are important for every day of the week, but especially on Sundays. It also goes without saying that getting enough sleep is key in having a successful, productive week — so make sure to decompress before going to bed by reading (not your email though!).

By flying through your daily to-do lists and feeling more productive, Mondays will feel less manic — and even enjoyable.

Getting Started If You are Overwhelmed and Disorganised

Kevin Dee By Kevin Dee,
Chairman of the Board at Eagle

This post first appeared on the Eagle Blog on August 25th, 2016

Getting Started If You are Overwhelmed and DisorganisedMany people find themselves in this situation … overwhelmed and unsure about how to dig out from under the pile!

I could talk all day about good time management practices but when you are in this position you just need some help.

“Time is what we want most, but what we spend worst.”  William Penn

  1. Make something happen.  Inertia is addictive, and the more you become paralyzed by your situation the worse it gets.  So pick something that is important and just get it done!  Focus entirely on getting that one thing done and ignore the other things on your plate.
  2. Once you have one thing off your plate … remind yourself that you did it!  You had a success.  Do NOT get overwhelmed again … pick another thing. and get that done.
  3. Choosing the things to get done can also be paralyzing … so don’t overthink it.  Remember you were getting nothing done before, so this is significant progress.
  4. Complex tasks can be tiring, and completing them one after the other can be draining.  Mix things up a bit by adding in smaller (still important tasks) in between the larger ones.

Completing work gives a sense of accomplishment, and provides a little relief to that “overwhelmed” feeling.  However, it is only by taking control of your day that you will feel in control, and relieve that stress.

“Procrastination is the foundation of all disasters.”  Pandora Poikilos

So … the long term solution is to get organised!

  1. Create  a To Do List (or several To Do lists … all the tasks you NEED to do.
  2. Prioritise your work … what is important and what is urgent!
  3. Organise your calendar so that you have time set aside for the work to be done.  Create meetings with yourself so you won’t be interrupted.
  4. Delegate what you can … if possible.
  5. Ignore what you can … not everything is important.
  6. Be very focused on getting stuff done … rather than worrying about how you will get it ALL done..
  7. Use the triage method of organising  your work, just like the hospital.  The most urgent (and important) items get done first.
  8. Get help!  Whether it could be advice and guidance from your management, ideas and tips from your colleagues, or training on time management from wherever you can get it!

Life is too short to be living under such stress.  If you apply your skills in an organised manner you may well surprise yourself at how much you can achieve AND how good you feel about those achievements.

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”  George Patton

Good time management practices could probably reduce workplace stress significantly!

The Importance of Being Organised at Work

Guest post by SmartPA providers of virtual assistants and admin support

The Importance of Being Organised at WorkIf you aren’t aware of it already, which we really hope you are, organisation is key when it comes to any form of work. If your job requires you to use IT in any way, shape, or form, the amount of organisation you need is much greater than if you didn’t use IT. If you rely entirely on external clients for your work, the amount of organisation increased again.

For example, a retail job requires a lot of skills already (time keeping, prioritising, motivation), but wouldn’t require you to keep your emails in check.  If you worked with computers, but not with clients, you would have to worry about keeping emails in check, but not about keeping a client’s phone number safe. If you’re lucky enough to work with computers AND with clients, you have a huge amount of responsibility, which requires a huge amount of organisation.

Keep tabs on your clients

A major part of being a successful IT contractor is keeping in touch with your clients. It’s no good winning work only to lose your client’s email halfway through it.

Keeping your client’s information safe and organised is much more important than keeping, say, your desk organised. You can tidy up a desk in five minutes, but failing to treat a client’s personal info with respect and care can lead to lost work, a bad reputation, and even a lack of work for you to do.

There are several simple ways to ensure that your client’s info is stored safely.

Create a client contact sheet. Make a spreadsheet or table of sorts, which includes your client’s name, contact number, email, address, or any other information you may need. It may not be as easy to update as an Excel spreadsheet, but it’s likely you won’t be losing it any time soon. Even better, implement a smaller version of this contact sheet into your diary, in case you need a client’s details on the go.

Spreadsheets are a lifesaver. If you’re a dab hand with Microsoft Excel, use it to your advantage (many find this software difficult to use, and we can’t say we blame them). It takes a lot less time to use than writing everything out by hand, and can easily be updated (writing out a client’s contact details only to have them change a few months on is going to lead to a lot of scribbling out).

To decrease the likelihood of you losing a client’s info even further, why not do both? It won’t do you any harm, and could save you money, time, and stress.

Be efficient with your emails

If your job entails receiving and writing emails very frequently, your inbox can be from being neat and tidy to having hundreds of unread emails in the blink of an eye.

If this is the case for you, there’s no better time than now to deal with it all; as aforementioned, the number of unread emails can rise scarily fast. Leaving them for too long, as well as being massively confusing and off-putting, may mean that important emails are lost amongst a sea of takeaway offers and petitions.

The majority of most people’s unread emails consists of subscriptions or newsletters, or offers from various shops. If these are becoming a problem for you, open the email, and find the ‘unsubscribe button’.

Next, aim to delete any emails sent before a certain date, ensuring that you don’t delete anything important, of course. If you’ve not rid yourself of emails for a while, you may find that you have emails from months (and even years) ago that are no longer of any concern.

After all of that, you should (hopefully) be left with a fairly bare inbox.

There are also a number of apps and websites available that make cleaning out your inbox seem like a game of sorts, if you feel like that would work better for you.

It’s all well and good having a clean-up, but it defeats the point entirely if you let it build up again within a week.

Aim to set aside 15 minutes or so each day, perhaps at the start, where you delete any unwanted or dealt with emails, reply to anything needed, and generally organised yourself. This way, you won’t have to spend the day darting back and forth from your email, unless your job involves receiving emails on the regular. If this is the case, what better reason to start being more email savvy?

The oldest organisation tips are often the best

If in doubt- keep a diary. It can be a lot more fulfilling to use than keeping tech-based tabs on everything. Buy a multi-functional one, and you may have the opportunity to plan a timetable or schedule of your week, write a to-do list, keep clients’ contact info safe, and have a space for general notes and doodles.

As well, ensure that any receipts, proof of payment, or any other important documents are stored safely, regardless of if they’re physical or online. It may seem like a pain, but you’ll wish you had when a client insists they’ve paid for something when they haven’t.

Even with all of the tips and advice in the world, no one’s perfect. It could be that you’re extremely busy, struggling to balance work and a social life, or that you simply feel a bit overwhelmed as of late.

If you’re still struggling to keep yourself organised, you may perhaps benefit from a virtual assistant, or another form of admin support.

Outsourced virtual assistant services such as Smart PA, can be of massive help to you with a number of tasks including bookkeeping, managing email, and even online research. Never be ashamed of seeking administrative support of any kind- even the most experienced of businesspeople and workers will struggle occasionally.

So, if you’re feeling like you could use a hand, you’re a quick Google search away from perhaps finding the admin assistance that changes your business for the better.

How to Stay Focused and Manage Your Time (Video)

Staying focused and avoiding distractions while working on a project can be a challenge. You may be trying to multi-task, resisting the urge to browse social media, answering a constant stream of emails, or dealing with a phone that keeps ringing. There are plenty of time management strategies that help you get around these distractions and this video from Mridu Parikh digs into some tips to tackle the last item – phone calls.

According to Mridu, struggling with phone call distractions as soon as you sit down to do some work is something everyone has experienced. While not everybody will relate to her examples, her solutions can be applied by absolutely any professional. Do you have any more tips?  Share them in the comments below.

The Benefits of a Personal Assistant

No business is too big or small to use a PA, and with recent technological development with the internet, the new era of PA’s has come in the form of virtual assistants. Virtual assistants work remotely from their own home but undertake the same duties a normal PA would, and this can offer a cost effective alternative for smaller business who need help. So, what does a PA do?  Some of the duties a personal assistant may undertake include email and calendar management, organising transportation, call handling, research and event planning.  As an independent contractor, you might also use a PA for basic bookkeeping and invoicing your clients.  If you are trying to build an online personal brand, PA’s can also help with managing your social media profiles.

The Infographic below by Smart PA looks at some of the duties of a personal assistant and how they might be able to help you.

What is a PA
Infographic
created by Smart
PA
providers of virtual assistants and admin support

Those Critical “To Dos”

If you have a busy job, there are always a ton of tasks to be completed. You can just arrive at your desk first thing in the morning, go like crazy all day and still have tons of stuff to do when you leave at night. Most people operate in that manner. No real thought, no real system, respond to the emergency in front of them and “just doing the best I can!”

If you want to be successful though, that strategy is not good enough.  In this crazy world To-do listyou MUST focus on the RIGHT TASKS in order to be productive.  If you let your day drive you then you will:

(a)    miss critical task deadlines;

(b)   waste your time (and your client’s money) on non-critical tasks;

(c)    lose all sense of control of your job.

The solution to fixing this is easy: Take charge of your day! To-do lists are extremely helpful and should be your first step, but they can also grow to the point where you have no way of identifying the “high return”, “must do”, critical tasks.  Here are a few different ways you keep on track of the most important tasks:

  • Highlight the important tasks on your to-do list with a marker
  • Plug your critical “To Do” items directly into your calendar
  • Use your large to-do list to create a smaller daily to-do list.  Once it’s created, focus only on the tasks you plan to do that day
  • Put a reminder in your calendar twice daily to check your list. It’s easy to stray off course putting out fires or doing less important tasks that are more comfortable.

If you take control of your day and prioritize your tasks, you get a chance at winning the battle. Being more efficient on projects means you’re getting projects done on time (or faster), saving your client money, creating time for more contracts, and securing valuable references. There are no losing factors!

How do you take control of your day?  Share your suggestions in the comments below.

10 Tips to Better Manage Your Time

One of the most powerful things you can do for your career, and even for your life, is to drive your day rather than have your day drive you. Basically that means consciously deciding how to spend your time rather than it just happening. That does not mean “work, work, work” but it might mean consciously deciding to nap, play or just “chill out”!

Here are 10 tips for taking control of your time:

  1. Be a BIG Calendar user and plan all of your time.
  2. Block off time in your calendar for meetings with yourself and treat them like any other meeting (be punctual). That could mean blocking off time to work on a specificAgenda project, to call recruiters, to work on your resume, or to do your accounting.
  3. Build regular commitments into your calendar in advance.  That can include your monthly meeting with your client or Project Manager, the end of month/start of month progress reports, or the semi-annual resume update etc.
  4. Use To Do Lists. You can use electronic lists, paper lists whatever works for you.  They should contain any significant task (or group of tasks). eg. “Follow up on my 10 recent applications” might be there as one entry but isn’t complete until all are done. Some people advocate one big list, others suggest multiple lists.  You may want one list for each of your projects plus another geared towards business development.
  5. Prioritise your tasks. Work on the high return items first. There is a good sense of accomplishment in ticking off those completed tasks!
  6. Manage your phone and email, do not let them manage you! Just because the phone rings you do not have to pick it up. Use your caller ID to know if it is important! Just because an email lands in your desk you don’t need to read it right away. It is far more effective to process email in batches at a time that works for you and your job.
  7. Multi-tasking versus multi-threading! You cannot be efficient when you do two things at the same time. Having said that, reality is you will have several tasks “on the go” at the same time. The trick is to be totally focused on the one you are processing for the time you are processing it. Then focus on the next task. This way you can keep several tasks moving forward at the same time, but deal with them effectively.
  8. Build time into your calendar for thinking/strategising/organising yourself. Some people like to do this last thing in the week to be prepared for the following week and others do it first thing in the week. Do what works for you.
  9. Build in your socialising/networking time. Avoid the ad hoc “water cooler chat” but allot time to build and maintain relationships. This way time does not get eaten up by idle chatter you are consciously managing it.
  10. Revisit your time management methods every now and then and certainly if you change jobs. It can ALWAYS get better!

Good time management can actually enhance your life by giving your more time for those things that are important in your life. If you want to golf 4 times a week then figure out how you can do it, plan it into your schedule and make other things fit around it!

How to Remain Successful When Your Plan Fails

It’s easy to talk to people and find articles offering advice and stressing the importance of creating a plan. You need to plan your career. What’s your plan for your next contract? You obviously have a project plan. Do you have a life plan? The Talent Development Centre definitely is a great place to look for these articles.

A topic commonly avoided with this advice, though, is the fact that sometimes plans don’t work out! What if the world changes on you? Your client goes bankrupt? Your project is cancelled? Your priorities change? What if you are just not achieving the targets that you set for yourself?

So, what if your plan fails? The answer: Make another plan!

  • Learn the lessons from the first plan.
  • Make sure that you understand why the plan failed and address those issues.Making a Plan
  • Don’t keep doing the same things.
  • Don’t use it as an excuse to accept failure, rather use it as a motivator to do better!
  • Ask yourself HARD questions, and give yourself honest answers.
  • Did you believe in the first plan? If you don’t believe a plan is possible then don’t bother! You will NEVER succeed at a plan if you don’t believe it is doable.
  • Did you do everything in your power to meet the plan? Did you work hard, avoid deviating from the path, focus on the task, get advice and help as needed?
  • Were there circumstances beyond your control?
  • What could you have done differently? Better?
  • What should you have NOT done?
  • Who can help you to meet your plan? Are you engaging them?

At the end of the day, a good plan is the roadmap to reach your goal, whatever that goal is, be it personal or professional. Missing a plan is not the end of the world, BUT it means you need to either plan better or execute better.

Have you had a plan crash and burn before?  How did you handle it? What did you learn?  Share your experiences with our readers below.