Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: getting things done

Why accountability matters: a leadership lesson from a fortune cookie

Last year, I did an entire video series focusing entirely on effective and powerful employee motivators; strategy #19 was to delegate responsibility, authority AND accountability.  I was reminded of this important leadership tenet a few evenings ago in the most unexpected spot … following dinner at a Chinese restaurant!

Leadership wisdom from a fortune cookie

accountabilityI admit it … I love cracking open a fortune cookie!  It’s the excitement of the unknown … what great wisdom is about to be imparted in the palm of my hand?  And the other night, after a delicious bowl of noodles and spicy green beans, the opportunity arose once again!  I held the ends of the crisp cookie between each hand, and pulled it apart with great anticipation.  The sage insight that fell out on to the table:

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Plato-worthy!  But nevertheless, it still caught my attention … because it actually contains a great leadership message. Continue reading

Three things you can do right now to stay disciplined

say disciplinedDistractions are, unfortunately, a reality in our professional lives nowadays.  In fact, I’ve previously blogged about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel” and I’ve subsequently asked you how you minimize distractions and stay disciplined.  Which is why I am thrilled to welcome our guest blogger today.  Mark Black is my professional colleague and my friend, but he was also only 24 when he found himself lying in a hospital bed clinging to life, praying for a life-saving heart and double-lung transplant. Three short years later, he was crossing the finish line of his first of four marathons.  So if anyone can give us practical advice on how to stay disciplined, manage distractions, and help us build resilience so that we can thrive in challenging times, it is Mark!

“Stay disciplined” may not be popular, but it works!

What do you think of when you read the word “discipline? If you are like many people, it probably brings up negative emotions. When most of us think of discipline, we think of experiences from our childhood where our parents “disciplined” us. It’s no wonder then, that most of us associate it with punishment and have a negative impression of it. That’s too bad.

Discipline is actually a very positive word. If you look at its origins, the word discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplina” which means: “”instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge”. To be disciplined then, means to be someone who accepts teaching and seeks learning and knowledge. Sounds good to me. Continue reading

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to overcome procrastination

procrastinationAre you guilty of procrastination?  If so, you’re not alone.  As a leader, you’re constantly juggling many priorities, and there are always a few items on the to-do list that seem to slip from one list to the next.  Usually, the procrastination is either because the task is so large that the even the thought of tackling it is overwhelming.  Or it’s because the task is just something that you don’t really want to do.  Either way, the end result of procrastination is that the task gets pushed further out into the future.  And sometimes it simply just doesn’t get done.

If you think it’s time for the procrastination to end, then consider how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage.  So called because it was observed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

To better understand the connection between procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect, some background information about Zeigarnik’s research is useful.  In a series of experiments, she asked individuals to do several simple tasks such as solving puzzles and stringing beads.  For some of the tasks, the participants were allowed to complete them, and for others, they were interrupted about half-way through.  Interestingly, she discovered that people were twice as likely to recall the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

So …. if you want to overcome procrastination, the best thing to do is to get started.  If you just initiate the task and get it underway, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in.  Because the project will now be incomplete, you won’t be able to forget about it.  And you will seek to relieve the tension by bringing closure.  Ergo, getting the job done!  Item checked off the to-do list!

So … I’m curious to know.  Have you used the Zeigarnik Effect to your benefit?  Perhaps you’ve been using it all along, but you just didn’t know that it had a name!  Do share your experiences by commenting below.

P.S.  If you want even more insights into to how to overcome procrastination, then you may find this helpful: A 9-point plan for overcoming procrastination, which I wrote as one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine.

The leader as a facilitator – are you a lifeboat or a lighthouse?

As a manager, your job is to get things done.  But as a leader, your mission now becomes to get things done through other people.  And many times, what that really means is that you have to be a facilitator – someone who removes obstacles, levels the path, greases the wheels – who ensures that your people have the tools they need to achieve their results.  But even your involvement as a facilitator can vary.  Imagine a continuum where one end is a lifeboat, and the other is a lighthouse.

facilitatorIf you’re at the lifeboat end of the continuum, you might visualize yourself as someone who lets your employees sail on their own, navigating their own way from port to port, but you’re close by to step in if there is a crisis.  When things go wrong, you’re right there to rapidly swoop in to save the situation, and you’re gratefully lauded by those who were otherwise drowning.

facilitatorBut if you see yourself at the lighthouse end of the continuum, the image is different.  Now, you’re a beacon, a guiding light that shines brightly, illuminating the path for your people to get from harbour to harbour.  Your role is not so much to search and rescue, but rather to stand firm in the storm, offering hope and resilience to those trying to get to shore.  Sometimes it’s through advice, and sometimes it’s just by being a positive role model.

So which type of facilitator is better?

Continue reading

What bungee cords are preventing you from moving forward?

moving forwardLast April, here on the blog I asked the question: What’s stopping you from moving forward?  And to answer it, I used the metaphor of paddling a kayak.  Today, I have another metaphor to address the same question.

Imagine a bungee cord

Imagine a bungee cord.  One end is attached to a fixed object and the other is hooked to the back of your belt.  As long as you stay close to the stationary end, the cord remains loose and there is no tension.  But as you walk away, the slack in the cord will begin to tighten and you’ll feel a pull on your back.  Continue to step away and you’ll find that eventually it will be a struggle to keep going. In fact, not only will the bungee cord hold you back from moving forward, but you will also be at serious risk of either losing your pants or getting smacked by a broken bungee.

All of us have bungee cords attached to us, links to the past that hold us back from moving forward.  And the more we try to get ahead, the more the stress and tension grows forcing us to stay where we are.  And often the fear of losing our pants or getting smacked by the broken bungee keeps us from continuing to try. Continue reading

Boost productivity at the office by using music

jenniferbuchanan2Jennifer Buchanan is not only my professional colleague and friend, but also the only music therapist I know!  If you’re wondering what a “music therapist” is, then I’m so glad you asked!!  Music therapists use music to curb stress, boost morale, and restore health, and Jennifer is a recognized leading expert on bridging the gap between academic research in the area of music medicine and the public, speaking internationally to a wide variety of education, healthcare, government, and corporate audiences.  Because this is an area that not many people are knowledgeable about yet, I was delighted when Jennifer agreed to guest on the blog.  I asked her to share some insights that would be useful to leaders everywhere, and I was thrilled when she decided to write about how to use music to boost productivity.

5 Steps to Boosting Productivity at the Office using Music

Do you feel you need a boost at work? Music may be the solution.  The music industry has proof that you should listen to music while you work. In a survey commissioned by the UK licensing organizations PPL and PRS for Music, 77 percent of surveyed businesses say playing music in the workplace increases staff morale and improves the atmosphere.  The results were greater productivity.

So how do we make music at work?

There is no easy solution to developing a productive playlist for two or more people. Like all good work procedures and strategies, it takes time and it starts with being proactive instead of re-active. Take the time to identify the diverse needs and cultures of the group you belong to. Here are five suggested guidelines or steps for helping your organization use and select music at work: Continue reading

A lesson from a 10-speed bicycle on how to achieve goals

I often explore what it takes to achieve goals, to get beyond the “hope” stage and actually create concrete results.  In fact, earlier this year, I blogged about the importance of a “structured” vessel when one seeks to achieve goals.  Today’s blog post explores another aspect of setting and achieving goals – this time the importance of action.

Multi-speed bikes are an asset

10-speed-bikeWhen I was a child, I rode a single speed bicycle.  It didn’t matter whether I was biking up a hill or racing down a gravel road, my bike had just one gear, and I had to adjust my effort and speed in order to compensate for the riding conditions.  As I grew older though, I realized that one could actually make the bicycle-riding experience easier and more enjoyable by getting a 3-speed, a 10-speed or even a 21-speed bike.  The greatest benefit of a multiple-speed bicycle was that I could adjust the pedaling resistance to ride more easily over a greater variety of terrains.  Brilliant!

Shortly after I got my first 10-speed bike, I quickly realized one additional and extremely vital fact – in order to switch gears, you had to be moving.  Continue reading

What’s stopping you from moving forward?

As a leader, you no doubt have a multitude of issues to deal with – and what usually happens is that the crises get dealt with, but often everything else seems to drag on.  Thus, it’s useful to periodically ask yourself the question – what’s stopping you from moving forward?  Whether it’s streamlining an outdated work process, dealing with an ongoing interpersonal conflict, or getting that big project on your to-do list started, what is preventing you from moving forward?  I have a metaphoric perspective to offer.

Is your kayak moving forward?

moving forwardHere in the northern hemisphere, as the days get longer and the mercury begins to claw its way up out of the negative digits, collective minds turn to spring and upcoming warm-weather leisure activities.  I am no exception as I think longingly of my favourite watersport – kayaking.

Sitting low to the water at dawn, legs outstretched, the blades of my paddle slicing through the water like a knife through butter, moving almost silently across the vast expanse of the calm harbour, the stillness broken only by the rhythmic gentle sound of the oars and an occasional call of a seabird.  For me, the image evokes both serenity and triumph.  Serenity because kayaking gives me time to think.  And triumph because several miles of kayaking makes me feel like I’ve gotten a good workout.  But the picture-perfect scene quickly shatters …. when I realize that my kayak is still tied to the dock!

What is your workplace equivalent?

Sure, laugh if you must; I did too (well, much later) when it happened to me.  But I bring it up to make a very specific point.  Continue reading

6 Rules for thriving in an open-office environment

My newest column for The Globe & Mail is up in cyberspace this morning!  Today’s topic is about something that is happening in many workplaces across the country – the shift to an open-office environment.  Love it or hate it, the numbers show that it’s happening more than ever.  So in Six rules for the open-office environment, I don’t debate its merits and drawbacks.  Instead, by offering six definitive rules to survive, and thrive, in an open office environment, I focus on how to make this kind of a workplace environment effective and productive.

gm110316

So … as always, very interested in hearing about your experiences.  Are you working in an open-office floor plan?  Does it work for you?  Why or why not?  If possible, please share your perspectives directly on the The Globe‘s site since your point of view will get a much wider audience than if you choose another alternative.  But I’m always open to hearing from you directly as well, so you can post your comments here on the blog, or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks) with your thoughts too.

And one last thing — do me a HUGE favour – help me get the word out … share the link with your staff and colleagues (easiest directly from The Globe‘s site using the share icon at the very top of the article).  My objective is always to get conversations started, so the more people who respond to this column means deeper and extended dialogue, which is always a good thing!  In advance, please accept my thanks for your help.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere: http://tgam.ca/EQQZ

Leaders, how do you minimize distractions?

CyclingThe topic of how to minimize distractions to maximize productivity came up again this past weekend.  My husband, an avid cyclist, rides his bicycle to work daily (at least while the weather is still cooperating).  Recently, he moved offices, and so his daily cycling route has changed.  Even though almost his entire journey is on bicycle trails, the path itself is quite serpentine, twisting and winding its way through tree groves and up and down many small hills.  In a passing comment to me this last weekend, he said “I find that I can’t really enjoy the view on my bike rides anymore because I need to concentrate and pay attention to the path.  A couple of times I’ve been distracted by birds or squirrels in my peripheral vision, and I found myself almost veering off the trail and into the brush.  This is not a straightforward pathway, so I have to really stay focused on what is ahead of me, otherwise I run the risk of getting into trouble.”

His comment about getting distracted by birds and squirrels got me thinking about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel”. Continue reading