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  1. Why it’s time to take a holiday

    December 13, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Do you feel like you’re not getting things done in the way you’d like to? Like you can’t come up with creative solutions, or focus your energy on a tough task? It doesn’t even feel like it’s simply the Christmas party hangover or the Kris Kringle list you still have to get round to shopping for. You feel… well, worn out. You could really, really use a holiday about now.

    Science is on your side. Research shows that long periods of work without sufficient time to recharge has a negative effect on thinking. When you are worn out, tasks that you used to do quickly and easily become really hard. The temptation is to tell yourself to press on, whereas really you need to give your brain – and your body – a rest.

    We admire and elevate those who work hard, put in long hours and seem able to juggle a million things. To be able to do so is great, up to a point. Nobody can do it forever, and to keep on keeping on leads to burnout, at the expense of your own career and the business’s wellbeing.

    So if leaving it all behind for a week – or more, if you’re lucky – seems stressful, here are some signs you need to listen to your brain’s signals that you need to check out for a while.

    1. You feel less enthusiastic than usual about your job

    Science shows us that tiredness leads to negative mood.  When you are in a negative mind space, not only will you feel you have lost your joy at work, you will be more critical of others and more irritable. Before you lash out or say something you regret, take some time off. If you can use it to spend time in a different place, so much the better. Plan visits to the beach, the mountains or even a park with the kids. Research shows that spending time in a different environment has measurable benefits.

    1. Everybody else is taking time off

    Practically speaking, it can make sense to be away from your desk when everybody else is. Getting things done is difficult when you keep getting email autoreplies and voicemails from your customers and suppliers. Setting your own out of office message (or at least limiting the time you’ll check and respond to messages to once a day, if you must) can give you the time to recharge and get it all in perspective.

    1. You’re running out of good ideas

    You are taking longer to solve problems and to come up with creative solutions. You can see your productivity is dropping, so why not take some free time to fuel energy, creativity and focus. When you come back relaxed and refreshed, you might well find the tasks that seemed insurmountable are quite easy.

    1. You will have time to socialise and meet new people

    Social experiences can be both motivating and a wonderful way of networking. That guy you meet on the beach, the woman on your mountain trek can spark your curiosity about others and what they do, or even lead you to your next collaboration. Get out there and see what happens.

    1. You will have the opportunity to get back to nature

    Instinctively we know we feel calm when we float in the ocean, look out over a valley still covered in morning cloud or walk in a forest. The science behind this feeling tells us that our blood pressure is lowered, our stress hormones drop and our endorphin levels are higher. Surfer Mick Fanning, who has just spent time in remote Alaska after a tough and tragic year, describes it like this: ‘I felt I’d just run out of fire, like I needed to restock the wood’.

    Fanning describes having no phone calls, Instagram or email, allowing him to live in the moment. Leaving work at work is hard, but if you are thinking about it while you are supposedly taking a holiday, the benefits are lessened considerably. So switch off the work devices to make the most of your time off.

    Studies show that performance increases after any break – a few minutes to make a cup of tea is good; a long holiday after a tough year is great. If you’re still not convinced, consider this: Australians had over 100 million annual leave days accrued in 2016, representing a huge cost on the books of employers. These are like a debt to employers. So a holiday will help balance the books as well as balance your mind.

     


  2. How to use No to boost your chances of success

    November 10, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    You are in your one-on-one meeting with your boss, and she asks you to take on a project. You hear yourself say, ‘Sure, I can do that’. And then the voice in your head says, ‘I’m already overloaded. How will I fit in one more thing? Maybe if I work back all week. Oh no, I have to do that other thing too. Why did I say yes?’

    Sounds familiar? It seems we all have an inbuilt desire to please, and that means we often say yes when we really should be saying no. The project is just not a good use of our time right now. How do we say no to those up the hierarchy without sabotaging our prospects? We want to shine, to be noticed, to get that promotion. Can we learn to say no in a way that makes us look better than saying yes?

    Do the groundwork

    Work to your goals. It’s no good saying yes to everything that comes along until your plate is full, and then regretting that you genuinely have no capacity to do that one thing that will really help you to shine. You should have a good understanding of your personal, team and organisational goals. If what you are being asked to do is not in accordance with those goals, you need to say no.

    Say something like, ‘That sounds really good, but it’s not in line with my priorities right now’.

    Use the power of no to gain respect

    Think about when you have offered somebody an opportunity and they turned it down. The chances are that if the refusal was polite and unambiguous, you respected the fact that the person was busy, and didn’t say yes and then fail to deliver. It’s a far better situation for both parties. The person asking for your time is not left frustrated when you delay or do a sub-standard job, and you free up your time to focus on the tasks that are aligned with your goals.

    Say something like, ‘Although usually I would jump at the chance, right now I have too much on my plate to do it justice. But another time I would welcome the opportunity to do it.’

    Keep your options open

    If you really are saying no because you don’t have the time, say so. Goals change over time, and perhaps you will be able to work with that person or take on a similar project at another time, so don’t close the door. If a project is irresistible, ask your manager to go through all your tasks with you and see if some could be delegated to another person or put on hold while you work on the high-priority project. Your ability to plan and prioritise will be appreciated, and you may be surprised at how flexible you both can be.

    Say something like, ‘I would really value the opportunity to work on the project. Do you think I could make a list of the tasks I have to do in the next [week/month/quarter] and go through them with you? I’m hoping you can help me to reprioritise so that I can fit this in
    as I really want to do it.’

    Stop and think

    Last, but perhaps most important: stop and think before you answer. It’s okay to say, ‘Can I get back to you on that?’ Give a deadline;  be it in 15 minutes or by the end of the week. You gain respect by giving your considered answer rather than saying yes and then backtracking. It shows that you have thought about not wasting the other person’s time too. Your answer can be ‘not now’ rather than no. But remember to get back to them by the deadline, demonstrating that you value their time and that you are able to manage your own.

    Say something like, ‘That really appeals to me. Can I check my schedule and get back to you
    by the end of the day?’

    Do you have an example of when saying no worked out really well for you? Let us know in the comments below.


  3. Time Management 101: Recognise and eliminate your time wasters

    November 3, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    It seems we have never felt as swamped by our responsibilities, at work and at home, as we do now. There’s even a new noun for it: ‘overwhelm’.  We’re constantly being asked to do more, be more and have more. Twenty-first century technology contributes to the feeling that we are expected to be ‘always on’. But how much of this busyness really works for us?

    In November we are focusing on time management and productivity skills. The first step to controlling our time rather than being controlled by it is recognising our time wasters and working out a strategy to overcome them.

    Most of us are aware that we waste time on social media, are caught by the person who chatters too much in the office kitchen, attend multitudes of meetings with no clear purpose, and spend time on tasks that seem urgent or important at the time, but ultimately don’t make much impact.

    Here are some time wasters that may be familiar, and some ideas for managing them.

    1. Being controlled by technology. We could most likely legitimately spend the entire working day responding to emails, instant messaging and texts. Set aside a fixed time when you read and respond to emails – and stick to it. Let colleagues and clients know to contact you by phone if a matter is really urgent. Reciprocate by not copying in anybody who does not absolutely have to receive your emails. And keep them short. If what you have to say runs for more than a couple of paragraphs, edit it down to the essentials and create an attachment that contains the detail.
    2. Failing to prioritise tasks. Many of us spend huge amounts of time on tasks that don’t get us, our team our or company where we are focused on going. Create a to-do list, and rank the tasks with reference to company, team and individual goals. Then work systematically on the tasks with the highest impact. This can be tricky, so it’s worth checking in with your team leader that you are on the same page about goals and how best to align your efforts with them.
    3. Focusing on being busy, rather than being productive. This is related to failing to prioritise. We can answer every single email, attend loads of meetings and take copious notes, and format all our documents beautifully, but if our efforts are not focused on productive tasks they are not good use of our time. Concentrating on high-impact tasks and leaving the rest for a quieter period makes for good time-management. The upcoming holiday season, which in most organisations sees the pace slow down, is a good time for updating the filing system or rearranging the work space.
    4. Not delegating where possible. Many of us – especially those with a perfectionist streak – hang on to tasks that could be done by somebody else. This is particularly difficult for new managers. Empowering team members and trusting them to do the job is in the best interests of all of you. Be clear about what the task is and when it should be accomplished by. It may not be perfect the first time, but by empowering team members you are freeing up time for tasks only you can do.

    Over the next couple of weeks, try these strategies.
    Keep a note of the time you save and let us know
    how much more productive you are able to be.


  4. Work–life balance? I’ve forgotten what that is

    October 20, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    The average working Australian spends 50 hours a week at work – excluding the time we spend on our phones and laptops after hours.

    We’ve all heard about work-life balance, and we all think it’s a good idea. But very few of us report having struck the perfect balance between the time and attention we pay to work and to other aspects of our lives.

    Technology and the ‘always on’ world we live in make separating work and the rest of our lives increasingly difficult. We want to be connected, but perhaps not so much when we’re out to dinner, it’s 9 pm and those messages are from the project manager. But this is the reality for globalised enterprise.

    So what can we do to achieve better work-life balance?

    First, policies for mobile phones and other devices need to be clear and understood by all.  Employers and employees share a real concern that too much work will eventually be negative for even the most dedicated workaholic. The workplace needs a strategy for dealing with the intrusion of work into personal time via electronic devices. Agreeing times when employees are available and when they are not is an important first step.

    Other useful ways to keep the balance are:

    Take proper lunch breaks, at least a few days a week. Get out of the office and take a walk, go for a run or organise a team game with colleagues. The benefits of both exercise and sunshine on our mental health are well known.

    Set times away from work when you do not think or talk about it. If you find your mind drifting towards last week’s meeting or the latest targets, gently take your thoughts elsewhere. Engage in an activity that demands your full attention so that you don’t have the mind space for thoughts of work. Engaging a different aspect of your brain is an excellent de-stressor.

    Take holidays. Get away if you can, and if not, spend time at home with friends and family who have no connection to work. A week away can make an enormous difference to your energy levels and help you reconnect with what matters to you.

    Eat well and exercise. It seems obvious, but most of us don’t do enough of it. Regular meals, enough fruit and vegetables and less coffee, alcohol and fatty, sugary mid-afternoon pick-me-ups make us more resistant to stress.

    Do nothing. As well as working long hours, you may be trying to cram too much into your free time. Remember what it feels like to lie on the grass and look at the clouds, or to go for a walk to nowhere in particular.

    Say no. When you are already too busy, the urge to take on more seems irresistible. Recognise when you are becoming stressed, and skip the next thing. Identify people who can help you get things done, and ask them to help out.

    Negotiate time off to reward performance. When a team has put in many extra hours or has achieved a significant goal, an afternoon off tells employees their time is valued and their efforts are worthwhile.

    Try these strategies and see if you feel more balanced. Then let us know.


  5. Team meetings that run perfectly: follow the 5 Ps

    August 11, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    You probably spend a lot of your work day in meetings.  According to software company Atlassian, on average we attend a staggering 62 meetings a month, for a total of 31 hours. And we find half of them are a waste of time.

    Whether time in team meetings is time well spent or time wasted depends on the five Ps: purpose, planning, preparation, participation and P.S.

     

    Purpose

    A meeting needs to be the best way to use the hour or so it takes. Make sure the purpose is clear before the meeting begins, and start by stating what you hope to achieve in the time allotted. Be specific by saying something like, ‘We have an hour to decide between x and y, hear a report back from Z, and to revise the tasks allocations for the week.  By the end of the meeting we should have our decision and a list of seven tasks.’

    Planning

    Send out an agenda if you are responsible for running the meeting, or ask for one if you’re not. Be clear about what the outcomes should be, invite those who need to be part of the decision-making, and leave out those who don’t. Arrange the agenda items so that the most important items, or those that involve the entire team, are dealt with first.

    Allocate a time to each item and move o when the time is up. This way you will cover everything and avoid the team leaving feeling cynical and sour about wasted time. Have a designated note taker who will pay attention and record decisions

    Preparation

    Read the agenda before the meeting. Think about the issues and consider what you will contribute. Do your research before the meeting if items on the agenda are a mystery to you. Having to explain to one team member what the rest already know is a time waster, and a poor reflection on you.

    Make sure you have any reports, facts, statistics or examples with you, as well as any items to be handed to team members. Take along extra copies of the agenda. If you use a whiteboard or projector, make sure they are set up before you start.

    Participation

    Make the hour count. Concentrate and participate. Leave your laptop and devices outside the room (unless you ABSOLUTELY must be contactable, in which case switch to silent and leave the room to answer calls). Don’t ramble, and don’t introduce a topic that isn’t on the agenda. If it’s really, really important, mention it and set up another time to discuss it.

    If others are not participating, ask them for their opinion. Most importantly, don’t do other work, or daydream, or start side conversations. That merely demonstrates disrespect for others in your team.

     P.S.

    Following up after a meeting is perhaps the most important step. It’s a good idea to have the note taker record actions and decisions and who is responsible for them, and distribute them to all the meeting participants straight after the meeting, or at least by the next morning. Put a deadline against as many actions as possible, and then get them done. That way your team meetings will become surprisingly productive.

    Do you have tips to share about making time in team meetings productive? Let us know.

    Find out about Challenge Consulting’s tailor-made team building workshops here.


  6. What to say in a performance review

    June 9, 2015 by Penny Robertshawe

    Performance reviews are an opportunity to get some feedback on your work over the past year, but they’re also your chance to have your say on how you think you could become a better professional. Here are eight ways to do so:

    1. What you like about your job

    Tell your boss what you like about your job. It helps them to understand who you are and how to keep you motivated and happy. Happy employees are more productive and contribute to a healthy workplace culture.

    1. What you want to learn about

    Let your boss know what you’re interested in learning about. It helps them to plan where you might fit in a growing company. Employees who are continually learning continually increase their value in a business.

    1. What you would really like to work on

    If there is an upcoming project that you want to be a part of, tell your boss about it. It shows your interest in what is happening in the business. Employees who work on projects that they are interested in are more passionate about their work.

    1. Where you see yourself in the future

    Tell your boss where you see yourself in the future with the company. It shows that you are goal orientated and are keen to be a part of the business in the long term. Employees with a vision for the future are motivated towards achieving their goals.

    1. How you would like to contribute to the company’s success

    Let your boss know what you would like to do to contribute to the company’s success. It shows that you are a team player and that you’re dedicated to common goals. Employees who want to contribute have a high morale.

    1. What support you need to do your best work

    Tell your boss what support you need to do your job well – be it training, new technology, better communication, an extra pair of hands or anything else. If you don’t tell them, they may not think to offer support. Employees who speak up about what they need are more likely to get help.

    1. What isn’t working

    Be honest about what isn’t working – be it a process, procedure or a type of technology. Managers who aren’t working with the systems may not be aware of inefficiencies and appreciate insights from the ‘trenches’. Employees who give feedback can help to streamline business processes.

    1. What ideas you have for improving practices

    Suggest solutions for what is not working. It shows that you’re creative and insightful. Employees with ideas for improving practices show their leadership potential.


  7. Keeping motivated when you are a Leader

    May 19, 2015 by Jenna

    Leadership takes on many responsibilities; it can be very busy and even tiring at times and therefore motivation levels can fluctuate. However, in this role you need to be able to keep yourself motivated because in turn it keeps the rest of your team motivated and thriving in the business.

    It starts with keeping in check your own personal motivation – your passions, continuing to challenge yourself with various projects and remembering why you committed to these goals in the first place. What you are trying to achieve?

    Sometimes the quickest way to lose motivation or even exhaust your level of motivation is to spend all of your time and energy trying to motivate and please the needs of your team. The truth is motivation is personal and you cannot force it upon others. Instead, leading by example through your own motivations, you can inspire others to motivate themselves and drive them to perform better. It’s showing the way towards success.

    Methods for self-motivation can include:

    • Learning new skills – What is needed for your current role? Where can you obtain these skills? Is there anyone who you can consult with for direction or advice?

    • Taking appropriate leave breaks to relax & rejuvenate – Clearing your mind of distractions (and resting), taking the time to find out more about yourself or pursuing a personal goal or hobby.

    • Spending time developing a self-improvement plan and setting goals – Where do you see your role developing in line with your business goals? Where do you see your team going and what do you need to do to help guide them there?

    • Investing in courses and training that can lead to growth and development – Are there any conferences within your local area that are providing information on areas of development? Have you looked into local educational institutions and what courses they provide? Are there any online resources that you could review outside of business hours?

    Building your own motivation by developing our skills and abilities also provides the knowledge and insight to pass on to others. If others within your team are seeking your advice or direction, you can provide recommendations and information on what you have looked into previously, helping direct others toward their future success.

    Make sure to also keep following up on your personal progress and what motivates you, whether it is every month or six months. That way you can help keep your motivation levels consistent and on track.

    If you are currently in a leadership role, what motivates you? More importantly, in what ways do you keep your drive and motivation consistent?


  8. Bad Habits Leaders Should Avoid

    May 12, 2015 by Jenna

    When you look up the term ‘leadership’ or ‘leadership roles’, you will find many articles on what to do to become a great leader. It is also important to be aware of bad habits that can hinder progress.

    I know I have been guilty of at least two of the items listed below, but the first step is being aware of these habits so that you can find the ways to improve your leadership performance:

    1. Taking credit for others’ ideas and contributions – We all know the famous term, there is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’. It is very exciting when members of your team make a contribution that takes the organisation in a positive direction. However, the biggest failures one can make as a leader is to neglect to recognise and acknowledge individual and team contributions. If you are taking credit for someone else’s work, chances are you will start to notice your team working against you and not for you because they do not feel appreciated or valued.
    2. Using a position of power to control and intimidateothers — This autocratic style of leadership will often leave the team with a low level of autonomy. This can prevent creative ideas being presented as team members feel they do not have the right to contribute.
    3. Blaming others when things go wrong – It is important to recognise with the team when mistakes are made and that they have negative consequences in order to assess better solutions for the future. However, singling people out, pointing fingers, or making others carry the full weight of the failure is not reaction a leader should take. A leader needs to stand by their team no matter what, accept responsibility of when things go wrong, keep track of team members and progression, and have an ‘open door’ for team members to approach if they are experiencing struggles on tasks.
    4. Clinging to traditional methods and old ideas –In order to thrive in society most leaders need to think outside the box, take risks when needed and use innovation to be one step ahead of competitors. While traditional methods may have worked in the past, if you find you are constantly using the same strategy when the rest of the world is changing, you may fall behind. This includes those that refuse to learn new skills and tools to keep up with today’s market. If you are not trying to learn and adapt, you will fall behind.
    5. Failing to keep promises – Leaders who make promises but do not follow through risk loss of personal credibility, trust and the goodwill of others. If you have let down your team more than once, it can often take a long time to earn that trust back.
    6. Actingalone – Leaders who do not consult, collaborate or solicit input from others often fail to make enlightened decisions. Leaders also need to make sure they delegate tasks within the team appropriately so that they can stretch their teams’ abilities.

    Failing to effectively manage issues – Leaders who dismiss the need to address, manage and resolve issues, place themselves and their organisation at risk.

    What are some of the experiences you have learned in a leadership role? What were the learning curves that you have experienced?


  9. Tips on how to effectively lead teams

    May 5, 2015 by Jenna

    Leading teams requires great commitment and looking outside of yourself to meet their needs. We have provided some tips below to help set you on the right path to a great leadership experience: If you are new to a leadership role they might help guide your way and if you have been at it for a while they may serve as a useful reminder.

    1. Brush up on Your Communication Skills. Having clear and precise communication is important, and being honest and open with your team helps build a level of trust. Making sure all staff understand what the goals and expectations are and giving them the opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas for feedback is important.

    2. Be Committed to Your Goal. Not only should you be explaining the importance of the company goals to your team, but you need to show by example that you support the goals as a leader. This involves setting out the tasks, having follow-up meetings and making sure that your team is on track with what needs to be achieved.

    3. Give Verbal Recognition. Verbal recognition for efforts and praise show your support towards the staff member’s accomplishments. It also boosts morale and positivity that encourages a mutual support among team members.

    4. A Team Leader Should Lead by Example. A great leader is someone who shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty or dig in to help when the team requires additional support. Someone who can encourage team members to take risks and support them when they do.

    5. Invest in Staff Careers. To ensure your staff are up to date with the skills they need for their role, you may need to invest in training, invest time mentoring or finding the right mentor, invest time to discover what they really need and want in order to do a great job.

    6. Resolve Conflicts. Any conflict within the workplace needs to be handled promptly and assessed by leaders as soon as it arises. Appropriate measures need to be taken to find resolution or negotiate a mutual agreement. Whether it is conflict in a task or between co-workers, leaders must step up to the plate to take action and problem solve the best way that they can.

    7. Teach Adaptability. The effective team manager should teach adaptability and flexibility to all their team members. This results in better communication, a greater sense of empowerment among staff and a faster exchange of information.

    8. Build Pride in Your Team. Positive reinforcement on success is a proven way to keep staff motivation high and build pride in your team. It will increase productivity amongst the team and encourage drive towards goals. You are also creating a positive working environment that employees are happy to be a part of.

    9. Give Your Staff New Responsibilities. Just as you have developed into your role of leadership, your team are looking for development opportunities. It is important that you help them by giving them the opportunity to take on new responsibilities as the opportunities arise.

    Have you lead teams during your career? What were your first experiences when it came to leading teams? What did you find was most successful? What did you learn from the experience?


  10. What are the next steps after gaining a promotion?

    April 28, 2015 by Jenna

    You have worked hard to get your promotion, now you have to set yourself up for success in your new role. Preparing to take on more responsibility will make the transition process run smoothly and will help set you up for future success.

    So what are the next steps after you receive the promotion? What can you do to keep yourself on track?

    1. Get clear expectations. The first thing you need to do is really understand your new role. What does the organisation expect of you? What does your manager expect of you? And what do you expect of yourself? Clarifying these expectations sets up a path to follow.

    2. Set your goals What do you want to accomplish and why? Set personal and career goals both short and long term so you can measure your progress on the path. Don’t be afraid to share your goals or vision with management and get their buy in as well,

    3. Talk to your boss. Get to know your manager and determine how you will work together. How and when will you communicate and what will help you succeed beyond the job description. These things are critically important to your mutual success.

    4. Focus on building relationships. You may have moved to a new department with new peers or report to and a new manager. The relationships with the people around you are part of that job! Invest time in building relationships with your new peers, people in other groups, your boss, your customers, and if you are a leader, your team. It makes your working environment more positive and productive if you have a level of rapport with your team.

    5. Learn what you need to learn. Remember you are new to this position so you cannot know it all on the first day! It is part of our development to learn new skills. Take notes, ask questions, request feedback to make sure you are heading on the path towards success. The earlier you set yourself up to understand the requirements and expectations of the role, the easier it will be to settle into the position and start delivering.

    6. Celebrate! Of course you deserve the time to celebrate your promotion and share the excitement with others. Take some time for yourself and those closest to you to celebrate your progress and accomplishments. Celebrating builds your confidence and awareness, and it sets you on the right path for even better performance.

    Sometimes we tend to rush from one project to the next without fully understanding what we have achieved. Every accomplishment is a stepping stone on the path towards your future. Show appreciation towards those who helped get you get to that next stage.

    If you have been through a promotion recently, what steps did you take to continue to perform at your best and show that you were the right one for the job?




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