Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: organizational skills

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

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.

How to Tackle Large Projects

Large projects can be daunting whether it is a project at home (a renovation, a new garden, planning a big trip) or a project while on contract.

When you’re working on a client project, very often there is a Project Manager (or you are a Project Manager) so the roles and steps have already been carefully thought out. In other cases, though, especially with smaller clients, you may find yourself consumed in a complex project and unsure where to start.  If you have little or no project management experience, this can be quite stressful.

One way to get going is to remember the Eating an Elephant theory. It would be impossible to do all in one shot, but to eat the elephant (the big project) one bite at a time(the manageable pieces) would be much more feasible.

Therefore, the trick is to break the project down into manageable pieces and to work yourProject Management way through those pieces. Here are a few tips to get you started:

(a)    Don’t “freak out”.  It’s OK to panic a little but only on the inside and just to get past the initial shock.

(b)   Then start to plan:

  1. What are all of the things that need to happen?
  2. Plan a timeline. Some tasks will be dependent upon others happening first.  (i.e. You shouldn’t book hotels on a big trip until you know you can get there).
  3. For each distinct task, decide what is needed to complete it (i.e. tools, information, help, other resources etc.)
  4. Start to execute.

(c)    In essence you are creating a Project Plan just like any Project Manager, but it really doesn’t need to be complicated.

(d)   If you find you are in over your head, let the client know early on.  Perhaps it would be a good investment for them to hire a Project Manager.

Finally, the small tasks that you “bite off” need to be manageable (by your definition) or you WILL get into trouble.  Keep it simple and you will amaze yourself at what you can accomplish!

What tricks do you use to approach large projects?  If you’re an experienced Project Manager, do you have any other simple steps you can suggest to a new contractor?  Please share your advice in the comments below.

Staying in Touch With Your Network

You work hard to make friends, but it is easy to lose touch with them. You move away from your childhood home and lose touch with many or all of your school friends. You move away from the city where you went to college or university and again you lose touch with people. You get extra busy with life, raising a family, building a career, and you neglect some of your friends. It seems to happen to most of us in varying degrees.

As a professional, you work hard to establish business relationships, but in exactly the same way as with personal contacts, it can be very easy to lose touch with those people. You change contracts, move geographies, get wrapped up in big projects and before you know it years have passed since you last talked to many of your contacts.

Maintaining relationships with people takes effort, but that effort is worth it if you can Pencil and paper to keep in touch with your networkretain those relationships over the long haul. With a larger network of current contacts, you’re more likely to hear about upcoming contracts, get inside information to land the next contract, find partnership opportunities, and have a support network when working on complex projects.

Here are some ideas for keeping in touch with your network:

  1. Make lists (a good time management habit!)  You might have several lists:
    • the like-minded contractor list;
    • the recruiter list;
    • the current clients list;
    • the ex-clients list;
    • the friends and family list.

If you are really organized you might use a CRM like tool, or a contact manager.

  1. Decide your various contact strategies for these lists.
    • Holiday cards
    • Birthday cards
    • Hand written notes
    • Events
    • Dinners, lunches, breakfasts or coffees.
    • Information specific to them based on hobbies, their career, other interests or your joint history.
  1. Set aside time regularly to make sure you execute on your plan.
  2. Use your calendar to make sure you track important dates.
  3. Plug time into your schedule, in your calendar, to spend with the important people in your life.

Although you are an “independent” contractor, the truth is, success is easier to come by when you have a wide network of like-minded professionals and friends. As you get busier, it is easy to let things slip, and relationships can “go stale” pretty quickly!  Do you take time to build relationships?  If so, what strategies do you use to maintain your network?  Share your ideas with us in the comments below.

Where Did Your Day Go?

Burned out business personAre you getting the most out of your day?  Here are a few important questions to ask yourself to ensure you’re getting the most out of your day and providing the best value to your clients:

  • Do you have a To Do list?
  • Do you assign priorities to the tasks you need to complete?
  • Do you get sidetracked by other things?
  • Are you so busy that you can’t take time to help yourself?
  • When you look back on your day do you typically feel good about your accomplishments or wonder where the time went?

We are all busy and it is not atypical for you to be running full speed through the day, but are you spending your time on the right things? Manage Your Time — don’t just let the days happen!

If you REALLY want to get control of your days then DO SOMETHING about it!   For starters, refresh yourself on these past posts about To Do Lists and Calendars.  If you have any more tips, we’d love to hear them.  Leave a message below!

How to Host Productive Meetings

Independent contractors aren’t necessarily “independent” when it comes to work.  Whether it’s meeting with clients, project managers, or user groups, you’re always working with a variety of people and, as such, there’s no way to avoid countless meetings throughout a contract.

Many of us will probably agree, though, that meetings are costly.  They take up time and may not even accomplish anything, except potentially scheduling another useless meeting.

So, how can you make sure meetings aren’t wasting your time?  Let’s start by considering a few facts:

  • Meetings are necessary in any organization.
  • Most organizations are not very good at organizing, running and following up on meetings.
  • Most people who attend meetings are not 100% engaged, which wastes everybody’s time.
  • Most meetings don’t have a clear agenda, goals and desired outcomes.
  • Most meetings include people who don’t need to be there, many don’t include people who should be there.
  • When most meetings end, the participants very often walk away without another thought to what was discussed, and what was decided.
  • Many meetings result in the “genesis” of some very good ideas, but they go nowhere.

Productive MeetingAll of that considered, if you want to host productive meetings:

  1. Be very clear about what the meeting objective, together with a defined agenda and expected outcomes.  This exercise will also highlight whether the meeting is actually needed!
  2. All participants should be informed in plenty of time, armed with all of the background material necessary and arrive prepared.
  3. Everyone should understand the rules of the meeting. For example arrive on time, be prepared, phones turned off, total focus on the task at hand, input is expected and tolerance for everyone is also expected.  Group think is not expected or appreciated.
  4. Everyone should take notes, and one specific person should be assigned to take and distribute minutes.
  5. The meeting should not end before measurable action items are decided and assigned.
  6. If people are going to need to access phones during the meeting, then appropriate “intermission” time should be built in.
  7. Whoever is chairing the meeting should be skilled in (a) getting participation from the “quiet voices” and (b) ensuring the more extrovert participants don’t take over.
  8. Be very conscious that everyone’s time is precious!

Meetings solve problems, bring ideas, help companies get where they need to be, but they are expensive, so do them right! How do you keep meetings on track and productive?  What are your meeting pet peeves? We’d love to hear them.  Leave a comment below!

Self Discipline for Working At Home

Depending on your project, working from home may be an option and, depending on your client’s requirements, you may have some flexibility with your time.  It’s still important, though, to maintain self-discipline and ensure you get everything done, without giving in to those distractions.  Here’s a fun video by Matt Abraxas that gives some tips about how to stay focused when you work from home.

6 Signs Your Day is Driving You

Everybody is busy these days… maybe even crazy busy!

The question is – are you being busy doing the right things or do you let your day drive you?

Some signs that you might be driven by your day include:Business person multi-tasking

  1. You let emails and phone calls interrupt your flow.
  2. You don’t have a To Do list, or you don’t use it effectively keeping it current and prioritizing tasks.
  3. You don’t focus your time on high return activities.
  4. You just “do your job”… without thinking about it.
  5. You constantly checking the news or getting updates on the news.  (Applies to sports scores etc.)
  6. You chat/text with your friends while doing your work tasks.

If you really want to be successful then avoid the pitfalls and make your working hours count!  What do you do to stay focused and on task?  Share your tips in the comments section.