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Quick, practical management tips and ideas from HBR.org
Updated: 13 hours 9 min ago

Break Up Your Day with Chores When Working from Home

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:39

When you’re working from home, you may find yourself feeling distracted by your looming personal responsibilities. You don’t have to push aside nagging thoughts such as, “I really should put in a load of laundry,” or, “Isn’t it time to walk the dog?” — you can use these impulses to your advantage. Physical chores may provide welcome relief after hours of video conferences and thought work, and you can build them into your schedule. For example, if you’re having trouble starting a slide deck, decide ahead of time that you’ll walk the dog as soon as you get the first three slides done. Weaving these responsibilities into your workday can help you feel more productive both personally and professionally, leaving you feeling more refreshed and energized for the days ahead.

This tip is adapted from “Is It Even Possible to Focus on Anything Right Now?” by Maura Thomas

Be Transparent and Reassuring in Times of Uncertainty

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:33

As the pandemic continues to disrupt business as usual, managers must grapple with overwhelming uncertainty about the future. But even when you don’t have all the information, you should be transparent with your team whenever possible. Think about your employees’ perspective, and consider what you would want to hear if you were in their shoes. Allay their anxiety as much as you can — and be honest about what you don’t know. You might say something like: “I wish I could tell you exactly what’s going to happen. We’re giving you updates as soon as we can.” At the same time, don’t sugarcoat bad news. You may be tempted to gloss over information that won’t be well received, but that won’t help anyone. Affirm the your team’s capabilities, and use positive, inspiring language to motivate them. Acknowledge that there will be hard times ahead, but also say something like: “I believe in each and every one of your abilities — and I believe even more so in our joint capabilities. We can get through this together.”

This tip is adapted from “How to Talk to Your Team When the Future Is Uncertain,” by Rebecca Knight

Focus Your Writing with These 3 Tips

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:31

Writing under deadline pressure is always a challenge, but all that last-minute tinkering ultimately won’t help much if your larger message isn’t clear. Replacing the word “purchase” with “buy” would be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead, take a step back and follow these three tips. First, ask yourself: Do I get right to the point? You need to lead with your central message to focus your reader’s attention. Give enough detail to contextualize your main point and cut the rest. Second, make sure your topic sentences — the first lines of each paragraph — give the reader a sense of what’s coming. These lines shouldn’t just be descriptive (I met with the client at his office in Boston), they need to communicate the most important information (My meeting with the client focused primarily on plans for future growth). Third, use active voice, not passive voice, whenever possible. Jack made a mistake is better than A mistake was made — unless, of course, you don’t want to tell on Jack. If you use these three strategies during the writing process, you shouldn’t need to do as much last-minute tinkering in the future.

This tip is adapted from “3 Ways to Make Your Writing Clearer,” by Jane Rosenzweig

Leaders, Don’t Just Respond to the Moment — Plan for the Future

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:29

When you’re in the midst of a crisis, it can be hard to think past your short-term response. But, as a leader, your primary focus needs to be on the long term. After all, it’s your job to lead your people into the best possible future. To be able to do that, you need to delegate. Trust your people to handle the immediate response, and provide them with support and guidance to make tough decisions. Your time should be dedicated to planning for the future. You need to anticipate the obstacles that will arise in the next weeks, months, and even years, and set a course for your organization accordingly. If you can focus on what lies ahead, rather than what’s happening now, you’re more likely to emerge from the crisis stronger than before.

This tip is adapted from “Are You Leading Through the Crisis … or Managing the Response?” by Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus

Design Your Meeting Agenda Around Questions

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:28

A good agenda is the first step to any successful meeting. If you want to make the best use of everyone’s time, turn your bullet points into questions that drive to the outcomes you’re looking for. For example, instead of a general topic like “Budget Problems,” try a specific question like, “How will we reduce our spending by $100,000 by the end of the fiscal year”? Or replace an item like “Strategic Planning” with a challenge like, “What is the key market threat we need to be aware of, how could it affect us, and what can we do to anticipate?” Preparing these questions before the meeting will make it easier to determine who should be there and how much time you’ll really need. Ultimately, a questions-based approach to your agenda can bring focus, engagement, and better performance to your meetings. And if you can’t think of questions to ask, maybe you don’t need that meeting after all!

This tip is adapted from “How to Create the Perfect Meeting Agenda,” by Steven G. Rogelberg

How to Answer Tough Questions About the Crisis

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:27

In these times, leaders and managers are often being called upon to answer especially difficult questions that you may not know how to answer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t provide a helpful and honest response. For example, if someone asks you about the future of the company, avoid a canned answer like, “I assure you we’re doing everything in our power to weather this storm,” which could come off as dismissive. Instead, listen for what’s behind the question. People under stress are often unable to communicate as clearly as they’d like. You can acknowledge the question that was asked, but say something like: “I suspect some of these questions are rooted in concerns about job stability and how a recession could impact the company. Let me tell you how we’re beginning to think about these things.” Don’t take it personally if people’s questions come off as angry or frustrated. Think about the stress that they’re under, and show compassion. Even if you can’t alleviate the uncertainty of the moment, you can still provide a sense of solidarity and stability that will go a long way.

This tip is adapted from “How to Answer an Unanswerable Question,” by Ron Carucci

Reach Out to Those Casual Friends You Miss

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:03

On an average day, we interact between 11 and 16 times with casual acquaintances — think your favorite barista or the colleague that you always see at the microwave in the break room. Now that we live in an era of social distancing, these once-common interactions have disappeared, and we no longer have physical reminders that we are part of a wider social network. Reaching out to show someone that you’re thinking of them will make you both feel a bit closer during this challenging time. First, think of the right way to reach out — is it a text, a phone call, an email, a Facebook message? What will put the least amount of pressure on the recipient? If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. Think about this interaction as similar to smiling at a colleague in the hallway: Sometimes you might stop and chat, and sometimes you might not. Instead of expecting a reply, enjoy the knowledge that your message is likely to deliver a little hit of happiness for the recipient. Set an expectation for a short and simple conversation — it will help avoid the feeling that socializing is another item on your to-do list. And if you do end up talking, share something about yourself — maybe a photo of your pet or child doing something funny — to help build positive rapport. It may feel awkward at first, but reaching out to an acquaintance will create a spark of joy for both of you while you’re out of each other’s sight.

This tip is adapted from “Why You Miss Those Casual Friends So Much,” by Gillian Sandstrom and Ashley Whillans

Be Extra Nice to Your Colleagues Right Now

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:01

When you’re under constant stress, it’s not always easy to be patient and understanding with your coworkers. But being judgmental doesn’t help anyone. How can you find — and demonstrate — empathy for your colleagues when you’re emotionally depleted? First, accept that we’re all coping with the coronavirus crisis differently. For example, you may find it helpful to pay close attention to the news, for example, while a colleague prefers to limit the amount of information they take in. Also, be generous in your interpretations of others when they send a terse email or look grumpy on a video call. It’s more than likely that their mood has nothing to do with you or work. Do your part by being honest about what you’re feeling at the moment and clearly communicating your needs. And remember that your coworkers are likely suffering in ways that you don’t see or necessarily understand. Don’t try to compare suffering. Instead, lean into compassion, empathy, and kindness.

This tip is adapted from “What Your Coworkers Need Right Now Is Compassion,” by Amy Gallo

Adapt Your Marketing Strategy During the Pandemic

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:00

The coronavirus crisis has led to radical shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviors. How can you adjust your marketing strategy accordingly? For starters, you’ll need to change the tone of your messaging. Feel-good content that alleviates anxiety and promotes solidarity will help your brand meet the moment. Find ways your company can help respond to the crisis, such as donating to food banks, providing free products for medical personnel, or continuing to pay employees while your doors are closed. People will remember brands for sincere acts of good in a time of crisis. Keep your finger on the pulse by closely observing conversations on social media, community sites, and e-commerce pages, and adapt your messaging accordingly. Finally, think hard about which marketing channels you’re using. For example, with the spike in digital entertainment, you may want to put more dollars toward ad-supported video streaming and mobile gaming.

This tip is adapted from “Brand Marketing Through the Coronavirus Crisis,” by Janet Balis

Should That Item Really Be on Your To-Do List?

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 03:00

Not every project or task you take on requires your immediate attention. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself a few questions to help you prioritize your to-do list. First, why is this task necessary? If there’s no clear answer, it’s probably not urgent. Second, what would happen a month from now if you don’t get this done? It’s tempting to barrel through your list for the sake of crossing things off, but before you spend time on a task, visualize its future impact on you, your stakeholders, and your business. If you don’t see a long-term impact, consider passing. Third, are you the right person to do this task? If not, consider whether you can delegate to someone else. Finally, did you agree to take on this task for the right reasons? You may have told yourself, “People will think I’m rude if I say no,” or “My direct reports are too busy to do this.” If you said yes for the wrong reasons, chances are you’re the wrong person for the job.

This tip is adapted from “If You’re Overworked, Learn Which Tasks to Hand Off,” by Sabina Nawaz

Make an Impact in Virtual Meetings

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:59

A video conference isn’t just a meeting over video — it’s an entirely new experience and requires us to adapt our perspectives, habits, and tactics. Here are a few ways to adjust to this new norm. First, every presentation coach will tell you that direct eye contact helps to reinforce your point. In a video conference, this means looking at the camera, not your colleague’s faces on the screen. Of course, it’s challenging to focus on your camera for an entire meeting — especially while others are talking — but the more you practice, even for brief moments, the more comfortable you’ll become. Next, use a slightly louder-than-usual voice, because in addition to being audible, strong voices convey authority, credibility, and confidence. Be mindful of your background as well. Cluttered rooms make you seem disorganized, so find a spot where the background is simple and professional. And pay attention. Your professional reputation can suffer if it looks like you’re distracted. Close your email, turn off notifications on your phone … and don’t forget that you’re on camera.

This tip is adapted from “How to Elevate Your Presence in a Virtual Meeting,” by Joel Schwartzberg

Prepare for Your First Meeting with a Potential Mentor

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:57

Mentors help us perform better, advance in our careers faster, and even experience more work-life satisfaction. Once you’ve found someone who you think can fill this vital role, it’s important to prepare for your first meeting. Focus on two goals: Determine whether this person is really the right mentor for you, and find out whether they’re open to the idea. To make it go smoothly, pick a time and place that’s convenient for them. Whether you’re getting together in person or virtually, show up prepared and aim to make the meeting low-pressure and comfortable. Spend time getting to know the person. Be sure to share your career goals, but spend most of your time listening. Toward the end, if you’re feeling positive, make a clear ask, such as: “I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Would it be okay if I followed up with you again in a month, after I make some progress towards my goals?” No matter what their response is, say thank you, and follow up over email to say thanks again.

This tip is adapted from “How to Build a Great Relationship with a Mentor,” by Mark Horoszowski

Keep Your Perfectionist Tendencies in Check

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:56

Perfectionism can hold you back from the excellence you’re striving for. You might be paralyzed by decision-making, for example, because each choice feels monumental. Or you might feel morally obligated to over-deliver. Or you rigidly cling to habits that no longer serve you. To mitigate these self-destructive tendencies, start by developing self-awareness and systems to hold yourself accountable. For instance, to stop yourself from ruminating over decisions, set a rule, such as, “Once I have thought about this three times, I will make a call and get on with it.” To tone down your tendency to over-deliver, pick a few areas where you’re okay just meeting expectations. And weed out the habits that no longer serve you by regularly reviewing the opportunity cost of your day-to-day commitments. You may find that some daily practices — such as your workout regimen, your meal schedule, or your morning routine — are actually draining your energy, not helping to restore it.

This tip is adapted from “Don’t Let Perfection Be the Enemy of Productivity,” by Alice Boyes

Working Parents, Help Each Other Recharge

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:55

It’s not always easy for working parents to communicate their own needs, but it’s worth discussing with your partner how you can each make time for self-care. Before having the conversation, take a few minutes to make a list of what would most benefit you. Is it taking 15 minutes after work to decompress before jumping into child care responsibilities? Maybe it’s enjoying a couple of hours on a weeknight to read a novel. Choose one or two things that are feasible and would truly recharge you. When it’s time for you and your partner to talk, make sure you’re both free of distractions, relatively calm, and not overtired. During the conversation, remember that you’re playing for the same team. Use “I feel” statements that focus on your own experience instead of accusatory “You always” statements. Listen to your partner’s needs, and be willing to make concessions. You’ll both benefit if you approach the conversation with empathy and an open mind.

This tip is adapted from “How to Communicate Your Self-Care Needs to Your Partner,” by Jackie Coleman

Be an Emotionally Supportive Colleague — Without Prying

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:54

Research shows that employees who bring their authentic selves to work perform better and report greater job satisfaction. But what if a colleague doesn’t feel comfortable opening up? How can you support them? It can be as simple as asking, “How are you?” and following up if you get an “I’m fine.” You might say something like, “I know you said you were fine when I asked earlier, but I felt like something may be off, and I just wanted to check in again.” Then follow their lead on how much — or how little — they want to share. Don’t force the issue, even if you still suspect they’re struggling. Instead, focus on creating the conditions that would make anyone feel safe enough to be vulnerable, such as honoring confidentiality and respecting someone’s decision not to open up. You might say: “I respect your privacy. I’m here if you want to talk — and I won’t pry if you don’t.” This will signal compassion and support in a non-imposing way and model how to build a more open, trusting environment for everyone.

This tip is adapted from “Be a Colleague That Others Can Confide In,” by Deborah Grayson Riegel

4 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Big Data Project

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:52

Up to 85% of big data projects fail, often because executives don’t accurately assess the project risks at the outset. Before investing in your next big data initiative, ask these four questions to determine its chances of success. First: Is your data valuable and rare? Not all available data is useful, nor is it unique or exclusive. Second: Can employees use the data to create solutions on their own? You need to decentralize decision-making in order to encourage people to autonomously initiate, create, and adapt solutions. Third: Can your technology actually deliver the solution? You can have all the data and ideas in the world, but if your technology can only deliver a prototype or a non-scalable solution, your project will fail. And finally: Is your solution compliant with laws and ethics? Even if it’s legal, if users find your solution to be “creepy,” the project is doomed from the start.

This tip is adapted from “Use This Framework to Predict the Success of Your Big Data Project,” by Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter

How to Onboard to a New Job When You’re Remote

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:51

Acclimating to a new job is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult when you aren’t in the office. If you’re onboarding remotely, you’ll need to be proactive. Try to schedule a lot of brief check-ins with colleagues to mimic the short, informal interactions you’d have in person. Share what you’re working on, but also make sure to ask them about what they do. It’s hard to understand your new office’s culture from home, so pay close attention to their words in order to pick up on workplace style and jargon. Try to identify people who can help you grow in your role and who could even serve as mentors. Ask for help when you need it: In person, people might pick up on a quizzical expression, but that’s harder to see in video or phone meetings. Finally don’t hesitate to introduce yourself as new when you join meetings or digital forums, like Slack. It might feel uncomfortable, but most people want to welcome and help you — they just need a more explicit reminder. Taking these early steps will set you up for success down the road.

This tip is adapted from “Starting a New Job — Remotely,” by Art Markman

Make Remote Meetings Inclusive and Accessible

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:42

Working remotely and in crisis mode can cause even the most well-intentioned managers to inadvertently fall into patterns of bias and exclusion. There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re continuing to prioritize inclusion, starting with remote meetings. First, recognize that speaking up in a virtual meeting may be more challenging than during in-person meetings. Send information in advance so everyone is prepared to chime in. Begin meetings by acknowledging everyone in the room and recognizing the unprecedented situation we’re all in before you dive into agenda items. Your team will appreciate it if you say something like, “This is hard for all of us.” In smaller meetings, check in with each person individually. And be sure to record and share the link to key meetings, so that employees who were unable to attend can retroactively engage with the materials. Taking these extra steps will make your meetings inclusive and accessible to everyone on your team.

This tip adapted from “How to Be an Inclusive Leader Through a Crisis,” by Ruchika Tulshyan

Working Parents: Bring Old Routines into Your New Normal

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:30

With schools closed and child care largely unavailable, being a working parent is more challenging than ever. How are you supposed to make it work? The good news is you don’t have to reinvent your schedule. In fact, it’s better not to. Stick to old routines as much as possible. Maintaining your regular schedule will give you a firm foundation to support both your work and family responsibilities. Create a weekly calendar that lists these routines at a high level. Next, break them down into tasks, and block off time for each one. Set boundaries around your work time, and if it’s possible, assign shifts to different family members for tasks like meals, chores, and child care. Be sure to schedule breaks and unstructured time to unwind and connect with your partner and kids. This is going to be a marathon, and it’s important to prevent burnout. Building on your existing schedule, rather than starting from scratch, will help you do your best to stay productive at work and present at home.

This tip is adapted from “A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents,” by Avni Patel Thompson

Ask These Questions If You’ve Been Laid Off

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 23:12

Unemployment has spiked in recent weeks and will continue to for some time. If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, or if you’re worried that you might be, make sure to get the information you need from your employer. This means asking your boss and HR the right questions, such as: When will I receive my last paycheck, and what will it include? What exactly happens to my benefits? Will I get paid for unused vacation time? It’s crucial to ask about severance and health care packages — and don’t assume you can’t negotiate the terms. And while it may be tough to think about the future, do what you can to make getting the next job easier. This means asking your boss if they’ll be a reference for you later, and asking HR for copies of your performance reviews, which will help you update your resume. While they may seem small, these steps will help you clarify the future and regain control.

This tip is adapted from “7 Questions to Raise Immediately After You’re Laid Off,” by Susan Peppercorn

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