Category Archives: News November 2010

Building Bridges

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 30 years of living side-by-side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us, he took his bulldozer to the river levee, and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.” The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge — a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all — and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers met at the middle of the bridge, embracing one another. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have so many more bridges to build.”

Bridge over creek

Do you have any bridges to build?  Don’t wait…

Being The Best

In our podcasts about interviewing and recruiting, we say hiring managers will take a candidate with less skill and more good attitude over a candidate with more skill and more bad attitudes. Whilst ‘attitude’ is not behavioral, we all know what it means. In an article in Recruiter magazine, the head of recruitment at East Sussex council gives another version of this. He says: you can’t always choose the job that you have but you can choose the attitude you apply.

In what’s now being called ‘the great recession’ many of us have had to stay in jobs that we’ve outgrown or take jobs that are beneath us in order to continue to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. It’s easy to slip into mediocrity, to do the bare minimum when we don’t feel passionate about what we’re doing. However, psychologists say that attitude comes first. You can decide to be passionate about what you’re doing – even if it’s cleaning tables at Starbucks, and in setting yourself new standards and goals, your enthusiasm will rise.

Many people have been attributed this quote: If I was going to be a garbage collector, I’d be the best garbage collector in the world. Whatever you’re doing today, be the best at it that you can be.

Shorter Email: Productivity Help or Hoax?

Not that long ago, shorter email hit the radars of many web workers. The site suggests that, since email takes so long to respond to, we should consider cutting our responses down to two sentences.

There are sites at,, and that provide similar advice for those who feel that two sentences might be cutting things a bit fine (pun wholly intended).

The idea is that, whatever number we choose, we can apply the philosophy to every email we send. The sites even provide explanatory text that we can paste into our email signatures, presumably so recipients know what’s going on, and can find out more if they want to.

It sounds great, right? Cut your email replies down to a couple of sentences and everything’s peachy: you’ll plow through that inbox super-fast and be able to get onto the real work that you have to do a whole lot sooner. Productivity will soar! At the very least, email won’t be such an enormous burden…

Shorter Email in Action

Recently, I had an issue that I needed to raise with a client. I wrote him an email explaining what the problem was, why it was a problem, and proposing some interim solutions. My email wasn’t short — it totaled 350 words, including salutation and signoff.

In reply, my client sent me two short sentences. Each sentence responded to a single point I’d made in my email — his response overlooked basically all the information I’d included and the questions I’d asked. Since I work remotely, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. Had he misinterpreted what I’d written? Should I reply and reiterate my concerns more clearly? Should I tie him up on IM or the phone trying to get answers to the questions I’d asked? His email certainly seemed dismissive; I didn’t feel very confident about raising these issues again.

Later, I discovered he was applying the philosophy to his email. Had he included this link in his email signature, and had I seen it, I probably would have been more perturbed than relieved. Why? Because I still needed answers, and didn’t know if or how I was going to get them.

Shorter Email Shortfalls

Will shorter emails really save you time?

Many of us aren’t born editors, or even born writers. If you’re not adept with language, shortening your email replies may actually take more time as you select the key point in the sender’s message that you’re going to address and then try to compose a reply in two (or three, or five) short sentences.

By failing to address all the points that the sender has raised, you’ll likely prompt a phone call, IM or subsequent email exchange, so perhaps you’re simply swapping the time you used to spend responding to email to time spent on the phone.

But these nitty-gritty details ignore the white elephant in this discussion: clear communication. Shorter doesn’t necessarily mean clearer or better. If you’re managing a remote team or collaborating with distant colleagues, communication via basic means like email is often crucial to harmony as well as actually getting the work done.

When my contact failed to even acknowledge the issues I’d raised about his project at the start of the engagement, I began to wonder what kind of project manager he was going to turn out to be, and where this project was ultimately headed. That kind of contractor discomfort is undoubtedly not the kind of feeling any of us want to engender at project kick-off. At best, it will take time to ameliorate. At worst, valuable team relationships could be undermined.

Shorter Email … Where Appropriate

I’m all for shorter email, and there are undoubtedly times when we can reply effectively with a few well-chosen sentences. We all have particularly wordy contacts who like to write email-essays every time they send something through to us. But in my work, I expect there will always be emails — or colleagues — that warrant more than a few sentences.

Applying productivity tips or advice across the board in your work, without adaptation to your circumstances or needs, may do more harm than good. Has a productivity philosophy or technique ever let you down?

Image by stock.xchng user statianzo.

Good Decision Making

The Three Foundational Elements of Good Decision-Making  Decision Making die...yes, no, maybe

I think most leaders would agree that a big part of managing work is making decisions. Like most of you, I’ve worked with great decision-makers as well as some really bad decision-makers. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip once said, “Informed decision-making comes from a long tradition of guessing and then blaming others for inadequate results.”

Adams description of how decisions are made might be accurate for many organizations. Over the years of my career I’ve noticed that many organizations don’t foster good decision-making practices—handicapping  leaders, teams, and their organizations. The answers to the following three questions will help your organization foster a workable decision-making process:

  1. Who? Prior to the beginning of any task or project, determining who has decision-making power is the first step.  There could likely be several decision makers.
  2. What? Different members of the team will probably have different decision-making responsibilities based upon their role. Identifying the scope of everyone’s responsibility regarding the type of decisions they can and can’t make avoids confusion and makes it possible to streamline the process. Nobody wants to “Mother, may I?” every move they make, nor should the manager or team member be expected to make every decision.
  3. How? Identifying how decisions are made and how they are shared with team members is almost as important as the decision itself.

Regardless of your work management methods or the project management tools you use, making decisions is part of a leader’s job. What’s more, it’s been said that in-decisions becomes decision with time.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius suggested, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; Second: by imitation, which is the easiest; and Third, by experience which is the bitterest.”

I don’t think there’s anyone who has to make decisions on a regular basis that wouldn’t agree with Mr. Confucius.

What are you doing to foster a good decision-making environment?

Leadership Moment

How to Say “No” at Work

You want to be the go-to person at the office – the one others look to when they need a difficult or time-pressured project completed successfully.  However, you know that you cannot say “yes” to every project or assignment that comes your way.  If you do, you risk taking on more than you can handle and not living up to expectations.  After all, over-commitment breeds underperformance.

So, when your plate is full and your boss asks you to take on another project or assignment, how do you avoid saying “yes” to something that you cannot possibly deliver?

Here are some good tips for times when you feel you must say “no” at work:

  • First, understand exactly what is being asked of you.   When you are approached about taking on any new project or assignment, you should have a good understanding of the commitment that you will need to make to it.  Is this a project that will take a few weeks to complete or can it be accomplished in an hour?  Does the assignment rate as a high-priority to your boss or can it take a back-seat to your other responsibilities for a while?  Without a full picture of what is being asked, you cannot possibly determine whether you have the ability to give the project the attention that it deserves.
  • Know what you have on your plate.  You must have a complete list (either in your head or on paper) of all of the projects you are currently working on, a firm sense of the priorities among them and knowledge of each deadline.  Only after you thoroughly understand the current status of your workload can you realistically assess your ability to successfully handle what is being asked of you.
  • Discuss your current workload with your boss.  Don’t keep your workload a secret.  Whenever you are hesitant to take on a new project, make sure that your boss has a complete picture of your workload, priorities and current demands on your time.  Likely he or she is unaware of just how full your plate is.
  • Review your alternatives.  Can you modify your current workload in any way to accommodate the new project (maybe by delegating some of your responsibilities to a co-worker or reprioritizing a few of your current projects)?  Discuss any alternatives with your boss.
  • “No” doesn’t mean never – it just means not now.  If no reasonable alternatives for modifying your current workload exist and you decide that that you can’t take on the new project, articulate your reasons clearly.  It might feel uncomfortable – especially if you sense that your boss is disappointed in your decision.  But ultimately you are protecting your performance and assuring that you will deliver quality work in the long-term.

It’s important to note that “no” is the privilege of the strong performer.  If you have a history of high performance, your boss will respect your “no.”   If in the past you haven’t been a consistent performer, then your boss will treat your “no” as another instance where you can’t meet expectations.  As a leader, ensure that you continuously meet and exceed expectations so you can use your “no” effectively at a time when you need it the most.

Being a leader is about being effective at each task you undertake, whatever it is. A leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others.

If Computers Bother Your Eyes…


More and more jobs require the use of computers. With the information age being available on the computer, more and more people are spending endless hours in front of the screen.  After a long day in front of the computer, it is common to start feeling tired, irritable, or pain in the eyes or head. Staring at computers and forgetting to relax and give the eyes a break can cause permanent damage and eye problems.
No one is expected to live a life without computers; we all need them and are use to them being a part of our daily lives. However, it is important to listen to our bodies and relax or take a break when necessary.
Listen to your body; it knows better than you do when it’s time for a break. Do not work until your eyes burn; you missed all the previous signs. Take short breaks every hour of work. This means get at least once every hour and walk around. However, taking breaks isn’t enough. Look away from the screen every 15-20 minutes for a minute or two. Look at things close and far away to allow the eyes to adjust and move around. The goal is to avoid the strain in the first place.
Blink as often as you can to keep the eyes lubricated. Take a few minutes to roll the eyeballs around; you can do this with your eyes open or closed to avoid looking silly. Open and close your eyes often to give them a short break. Yawn if you have too. Yawning stretches out the jaw muscles and keeps them from becoming tense causing headaches and eyes strain.
Move around as much as possible. You should always be in a comfortable position so adjust your body or chair as often as needed. Move the keyboard or monitor so you aren’t stretching your neck or looking at things at a strange angle. Try to avoid glare on the monitor, move it around as the sun moves or get a screen protector.
Keep the work area bright and well lit. Bright lights lighten up the mood and keep you feeling positive. Dim lights only bring down your mood and cause you to feel sluggish. Making minor changes in the work space and taking breaks often can keep long hours in front of the computer from permanently damaging the eyes.

Courtesy of

4 Strategies for Getting Unstuck

The past few months have been filled with dilemmas both big and small, and I’ve found myself struggling to find solutions to them on several occasions. While the process of figuring out how to move forward with something can be frustrating, discouraging, and even exhausting, there are a few strategies I’ve stumbled on recently to help me get unstuck and get back on track quickly.

#1 Be persistent.

Fortunately, in every one of the situations I’ve had to resolve recently, not finding a solution was not an option. Although I would have loved to give up and declare a stalemate, I knew that wasn’t possible without accepting consequences I wasn’t willing to take, so I had to stick with them until I figured out a way to move forward.

Whatever problem you’re facing, trust that there must be a way to work through it and get to the other side.

#2 Stop avoiding it.

Although I’m pretty good at not procrastinating most of the time, when it comes to solving tricky problems, I’m one of the worst procrastinators. I want to take breaks, surf the Web, and call anyone and everyone I think might be available to chat. I’ll delay and avoid until I’ve wasted the majority of the day.

With one particular issue I had to figure out recently (which I had already postponed for nearly two months), I finally decided that I simply would not allow myself off the hook until I worked it out. I paced a path through my house and thought I’d never get through it, but eventually, the strategy worked, and I was very satisfied with the outcome.

Allow yourself breaks when you absolutely need them, but if you’re anything like me, you probably know when you really need a rest and when you’re just procrastinating. It won’t work 100 percent of the time, but there are occasions when not allowing yourself off the hook can really pay off.

#3 Work in reverse.

In the recent month or so, I decided to hire a couple of interns, in the hope of finding motivated and talented people I could add to my team permanently. I started the process of locating prospects through several university job posting boards, as well as a few privately-owned sites, but the pool of potential new hires was slim.

At first, I was a little discouraged, and in an effort to fine-tune my job postings, I started searching for terms like “what interns do” and “how to be a good intern” and began stumbling on blogs of actual interns who were exactly the type of candidates I wanted: aggressive, enthusiastic, eager, etc. Of course, these interns were already more than busy, but I started paying attention to the people who were commenting on their blogs, and it turns out, many of them were considering doing internships. As I followed the links back to their owners’ sites, I started finding unique, highly talented and motivated students who were perfect candidates for the job.

Instead of going more traditional routes for solving particular problems, try to think of other ways you might connect with the solutions you need.

#4 Pay attention to what’s right in front of you.

My latest dilemma was figuring out what to write for today’s post. I had been so busy with solving the other issues, I hadn’t backlogged ideas for this week’s article. After thinking on possibilities for nearly two hours, I finally said to myself, “I’m stuck,” and then it hit me: that’s it! I could have saved myself two hours, if I had only paid attention to what was right in front of me.

When you feel like you’ve searched high and low to find a solution, ask yourself if you’re missing the obvious. Turn to the resources immediately available to you, like pulling from past experiences or relying on your network of business contacts, family, and friends. Many times, the answer is not that far away.

What tricks do you use for getting unstuck and solving challenging problems in your business?

Photo by Flickr user Mariano Kamp, licensed under CC 2.0