Cleaning the Fridge

Have you ever second-guessed the expiration date of something that has been in your fridge for a while then instantly regretted it when that distinct smell of expired food hit your nose?

Or maybe there’s that mystery container in the work fridge that has turned every color of the rainbow over the past 2 months but no one is willing to touch it to throw it out?

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Don’t let your skills become outdated at your job.

The world around us is constantly innovating and changing.

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What are you doing to keep your skills up to date? Sometimes we can lose sight of what is going on in our industry in the day to day grind of getting things done.

If you ever find yourself telling a new co-worker, “That’s how we do things around here,” pause a minute and ask yourself, “Why? Is this really the best way?”

How will you know if you’re not keeping up in your industry?

Conferences

Industry conferences are one of my favorite ways to stay up to date in my field. I like conferences that include a mix of real world users, vendors, and academics.

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The real world users provide a concrete example of the pros and cons of the new approach they have implemented. You can often ask questions of your own about their experience and learn from their mistakes.

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Vendors can help paint a picture of new possibilities with their products that are just coming out or are soon to be released. I find this a great way to get new ideas flowing and look at how I do things in a different way.

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Academics help show what is on the horizon. Often the research is in a very controlled environment but this gives a preview of what new products and services could be developing over the next few years.

The most valuable part of conferences is the people. Connecting with different people goes a long way in keeping you up to date on what is going on and also gives you resources to turn to when you have questions.

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Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi has a few chapters everyone should read before attending their next conference. It is from a marketer’s perspective so some things may not apply to you but I really like his tips on what to avoid at conferences.

For example, hanging out with the first person you meet for the entire conference and not meeting anyone new or just being a business card dispenser without actually getting to know people.

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What to Attend?

Ask around. Find people you look up to in your industry and find out what they attend.

What vendors do you use at your job? Often they host or sponsor different conferences that would be relevant to you.

What topics interest you and could add value to your organization? Search around for conferences on those topics.

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Some conferences are big productions complete with expos, meals, and huge venues. Others are organized by a single person or smaller organization. You may also have local conferences or user groups that meet in the evenings and hold local events.

Getting There

So how do you get your company to send you to a conference?

Start with the easiest thing – Ask.

Remember that you’re not just asking to attend a conference. Presenting it that way seems like an expense.

Provide some context around how the information, training, and connections at the conference will add value to your organization.

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Maybe there is a new development that could save time or money for your company and this conference will help you get up to speed in that area as well as provide important connections.

Maybe there are training sessions around particular technologies and tools that would otherwise take much longer or be less effective outside of the conference.

Show your employer how they will benefit by sending you to this conference in terms of what value is this going to add to the company? What is their expected return on investment for this?

Keep in mind that they are both investing your time away from work as well as the conference admission and possibly airfare, lodging, and meals. That can all add up to a pretty hefty price tag.

Be Creative

If you don’t get the green light right away that’s ok. Here are a few ideas to make the ask a little smaller and increase your chance of getting a yes. You may need to use a combination of these things.

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  • Offer to do a presentation or provide a written summary of the conference to your organization. This way you are providing the information you received to multiple people.
  • Make it fit in a different budget. Often training budgets are smaller than marketing, sales, and recruiting. Find out how you can do some extra activities on the trip or just present it differently to have the expense come from a larger budget.

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  • Get a discount for the conference. Early registration or multiple registrations are usually discounted.
  • Ask the conference organizer for a discount. Sometimes they will just give you one, other times you can get a discount in exchange for helping with some aspects of the conference while you are there.
  • Ask a sponsor for a pass. Sponsors usually get a number of free or discounted tickets to use, and they aren’t always able to use them. This works particularly well if a sponsor is a vendor you use and already have a contact person.

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  • Speak at the conference. Speakers often get free or discounted registration. Again, contact the organizer well in advance and find out what topics they are looking and where your experience could fit in.
  • Work remotely while at the conference. This can be tricky but maybe you can do some work during travel time and in the evenings/downtime. Plan for half time or less because what is the point of attending a conference if you’re buried in your work the whole time?

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  • Pay for your own meals/lodging/travel. Offer to cover one of these then add more if needed. Even if you end up covering all three it could cost much less than the conference admission.
  • Use vacation time to travel to/from the conference. You may have 2 travel days that can be seen as “unproductive”. Use vacation for those to eliminate that concern.
  • Use vacation time for the entire conference. It shows your willingness to sacrifice to attend although this isn’t always my first choice because I like vacation time to totally unplug from work.

Other Options

Conferences aren’t the only source of information.

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Online training from reliable sources is a great way to stay up to date.

Certifications in your field are another way to demonstrate your competence and stay informed with the latest information.

Industry newsletters and journals can be helpful as well.

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The important thing is to avoid becoming “siloed” in your job and lose touch with what is happening in the world around you.

How are you staying up to date in your industry?

Watch what you Send

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We spend a lot of time with email. Especially at work.

Email can be a great way to collaborate with people in different places and at different times but it can also be annoying, a waste of time, and even get you into trouble.

Knowing what to watch out for as you send and receive emails can save you a lot of hassle at your job. Emails that fall into these pitfalls usually have multiple violations.

If you can catch yourself from doing even one of these you can usually catch others you may have missed and save a lot of time, embarrassment, and even your job.

#1 – Wall o Words

Keep in mind that a lot of email is read on mobile devices, especially phones. If your email doesn’t have any white space on a single screen, you need to rethink your message.

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When you greet people with a wall of words that’s the quickest way to have them hit “next”. You’re not writing prose for a short story here. You are communicating action items, reports, and ideas to other people.

Start with a 5 second summary of what action you are trying to get the person to take. If you are providing information, have a few bullet points or a small graphic that summarize what is in the email. THEN go into detail, or add an attachment with all of the long explanations.

#2 – Reply to all

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Noooooooooooo! This one should go without saying yet it still happens. Learn the difference between the “Reply” and “Reply To All” buttons in whatever email program you are using both mobile and desktop. 99% of the time “Reply” is the right choice – only respond to the person who sent the email.

In those rare 1% cases where “reply to all” is the right choice, carefully look at the list of people and decide if all of them REALLY need to know what you’re about to say.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a “reply to all” DO NOT “reply to all” saying “remove me from this list” or whatever clever pun you’d like to share. Entire company email systems have been brought to a crawl from exploding “reply to all” messages.

It’s kind of like when you get added to an unwelcome group text. If you just ignore it, it will die on its own.

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If you really feel strongly that you need to say something, just “reply” to the ONE person who sent it. I’m sure they already know their blunder so usually no need to rub salt in the wound, but if someone is a repeat offender they may need some education about what button to push next time.

#3 – Appropriate Audience

I was on a team who actually looked forward to emails from a certain individual because he gave so much detail about where he was going to be if he wasn’t in the office. We would get everything from narratives about broken swamp coolers and what aisle of Home Depot he would be on to detailed information about his upcoming medical visit.

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That level of detail is fine for your manager, but the entire building doesn’t really need to know. Be careful about using distribution lists without checking who is actually on the list. You are usually better off making your own list of people who really need to know where you are if you’re not in the office. Everyone else can just wait until you get back or talk to your manager.

Also, go easy on the cc and bcc. I’ve found that if I’m trying to solve a problem it goes a lot faster when it’s just between me and one other person. The minute you start adding additional people (especially managers) things start to slow down and important details for solving the problem are left out because no one wants to look bad in front of others, especially their manager.

If you are not having much success getting a response then you may cc someone’s manager on the email, but use that with discretion. A lot of times it’s more effective to just pick up the phone and call the person if it’s really that urgent.

#4 – Gigantic image

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Sometimes images are huge. File size huge. This makes it slow to download. It takes up space.

Scale images down before you add them as attachments or put them in docs / pdfs. Some of the biggest offenders I’ve seen are people making a flyer for the whole company that ends up being a 5 MB file when it could have been 1% of that size.

If it has to be that big of a file, put the file in a single location and send a link to it. Your system administrator will thank you.

#5 – Personal items

If you read your work email agreement there’s usually something in there about how all communication on company equipment or through company accounts may be monitored and is company property.

This is for real. Many companies are required to keep email archives around for years and they can do pretty much whatever they want with the messages.

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Get a personal account for personal stuff. Period. If your work account gets hacked due to personal activity, that’s not a meeting I would want to be in.

If you leave the company your account is locked out and usually your manager has access to the account for a while. Do you really want them reading your personal correspondence? No matter how hard you try to let everyone know you’re no longer with the company, someone will send something to that old email. Much better if you’re the one keeping an eye on things during the transition than someone else.

#6 – Too much information

No one needs to know the details of your Dr. appointment. MAYBE your manager, but most of the time it is fine to just say you have an appointment and you are unavailable.

Done.

If you need to provide some sort of justification for the absence then that would be to one person, not to an entire list of people who really don’t want to hear about that weird thing growing on your back.

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#7 – Forwarder

When you forward a message to someone new be aware of the whole conversation that is in that email. Cut out all of the extra information that the person you are bringing into the conversation does not need to know or should not know at all.

I’ve seen some pretty embarrassing comments that went back and forth between two people all of a sudden get paraded in front of dozens or even hundreds of people thanks to a forward.

#8 – Black hole

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If someone is waiting on you for something urgent a simple “On it” reply can ease their mind so at least they know the message was received and you are working on it.

It can be tempting to wait to communicate until after you have fixed a problem so you can just report the good news, but it is much better to first let them know you are aware of the problem and are working on it.

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#9 – Making a Mountain of Molehill

Sometimes you may get an oddball request about some minor thing. I once saw an email (sent to waaay to many people – remember multiple violations?) about something that was broken on the company website. It was a pretty simple fix so the person could have just said, “Ok, thanks. We’ll get that updated today.” End of story.

INSTEAD they chose to go into this giant explanation about how they were re-doing a bunch of stuff and it was going to take 6 months to address the issue.

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Yeah, that landed them on the wrong radar and they won a weekly progress meeting with a not-so-pleasant executive to resolve the issue.

First, replying back to just the one person could have saved some heartache here.

Second, this wasn’t the time or place to parade their giant 6-month plan. There was a simple problem that only required a simple solution. Do the simple solution and be on your way.

#10 – Return receipt

Are you going to do anything different knowing whether someone opened an email or not? At the end of the day, probably not. Maybe you’ll invent some story about how that person is such a jerk because they have opened the email but not done anything yet.

You have better things to do at work than worry whether someone opened your message or not. If they haven’t responded for a while, chances are they didn’t open it or it was too hard to read or just not a priority.

Again, pick up the phone and have a conversation if it’s really urgent, otherwise, don’t worry about it.

#11 – Vacation responder

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Make sure you turn it off when you get back. These are questionable because your immediate team should know that you’re gone, and anyone who may need to contact you can probably wait.

Some programs allow you to only send the response to people within your organization to prevent some random spammer finding out that you’re out of town for 2 weeks.

Also, no need to brag about that cool cruise you are taking or that you are skydiving. A simple response is fine.

“I will be out of the office until <date>. Please contact <other person> if you need assistance.”

#12 – Duh

Don’t forward dumb stuff. Just don’t. Whether it’s a pyramid scheme or a questionable image, of just time-wasting nonsense.

If you get something questionable report it to your IT security department or simply trash it WITHOUT opening it.

The worst thing you could do with a suspicious email is to forward it to the whole company saying, “Did anyone else get this? It looks weird.”

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Sound unreal? I’ve seen it happen. That person was the hacker’s best friend – they just provided 1000’s of more chances for someone to open their virus.

That could earn you a one-way walk out the front door.

What other email pitfalls do you avoid? Share in the comments below.

How can you concentrate with all that noise?

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I never understood how people could study while listening to music.

Sure, I listened to music while doing physical tasks like exercising or yard work, but as the youngest in my family, by the time I had to do any serious studying the house was pretty quiet and in college I usually went to the library or computer lab which were also pretty quiet places.

Then I got a job in an office.

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There was extra noise from teams “next door” (even though there were no doors), people always seemed to be dropping by to ask a question of someone nearby, and since they were so close it was difficult not to listen in on conversations and lose my train of thought.

For some tasks, this isn’t much of a problem, but when you’re trying to really concentrate on a complex problem, it can totally throw a wrench into your productivity.

One guy on our team brought in his music collection so we could all connect to his machine and listen to tunes while we worked. I thought it was worth a try since the alternative office noise wasn’t really helping and I found that listening to music actually helped me concentrate.

One problem is that even with a large music library, you go through a lot of songs in a workweek. Starts to get a little repetitive.

About a year later Pandora came out and it was like Christmas!

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Pandora lets you pick a song or artist to “seed” a station. It then selects songs similar to those and plays them on your station. As you go you can “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” songs and it will learn what you like for that station and keep introducing new music as well as replay songs you have given the thumbs up.

Pandora was nice because you never knew what song would be next! Pandora introduced me to artists I had never even heard of but really liked their music. I still use some of the stations I built up during that time.

It can be a little bit of a distraction, though – looking at the screen to see who the artist is you may not have heard of then googling them, giving a song the thumbs up or skipping something you don’t want to listen all the way through. We’re talking just a few seconds, but there is a slight distraction factor.

Pandora was my go-to noise filter until about a year ago someone introduced me to Simply Noise

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It’s a noise generator – you’ve probably heard of white noise but they also have pink noise, brown noise, it can fade in and out, and they even have rainstorm sounds!

This has worked a lot better for me because it’s enough to block out what’s going on around me yet it’s pretty constant – I don’t have to deal with transitions, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down, etc. I even used it in a busy waiting room with some stock Apple earbuds and I was in my own world within seconds.

Headphones

Even if you don’t want to listen to anything, headphones can be a visual queue to someone else that you are concentrating on your work. They may think twice before interrupting your train of thought for something trivial.

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These are my “Princess Leia” headphones as they were affectionately dubbed by some co-workers. They block out some sound on their own and you can definitely tell when I am wearing them!

Using headphones can work well with the Pomodoro Technique

Headphones on = in the middle of some work, leave me alone

Headphones off = taking a break, come talk to me

Earplugs

Let’s not forget good old fashioned earplugs.

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Silence is golden.

Book a Meeting

Sometimes headphones aren’t enough. Sometimes you have to physically go somewhere other than your desk to get some work done.

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If you have a laptop, book a conference room for a “meeting” with yourself then go get stuff done. I knew a team lead who would do this a few times a week for 1-2 hours just to finish some tasks since their normal day was filled with questions and interruptions.

Their secret didn’t last long so if someone really needed to talk to them they could start walking around checking conference rooms (this was a big office building with 6 floors) but it was an effective way to filter out most of the interruptions that could wait an hour or two until they returned to their desk.

Make an Appointment

Have an “Appointment” outside of the office where you leave. People have Doctor appointments, Dentist appointments, repair appointments, so why not a get things done appointment?

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For me, this has sometimes been in the middle of the night since that was a time I knew no one would be sending messages or trying to get a hold of me and I could focus on finishing my tasks. Making an appointment for yourself is a way to put this uninterrupted time during normal working hours.

Education

Meetings can be one of the biggest productivity killers out there, especially if you are doing more creative work vs. administrative work.

Managers tend to think of the day in 30 or 60-minute slots while makers tend to think in terms of half or whole days.

Paul Graham wrote an excellent article on this topic – it’s a quick 5-minute read and he makes some good points about the cost of meetings and how makers and managers can better understand how to most effectively work with each other.

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With all of these strategies, you may think I’m advocating that we all work in a cave. I am not. There is simply a balance between being always available and collaborative vs. being focused and productive on individual tasks.

Some questions are urgent and require face to face contact and justify interrupting a person’s current focus. But many questions can wait – send an email, let them answer later on in between focused work sessions, or catch up around the water cooler. Instant messaging is also convenient but doesn’t always require an instant response.

What strategies do you use to get things done in noisy office spaces with constant interruptions?

Share in the comments below.

How a Tomato helped me get more done

Sometimes I have a hard time starting a task.

I’ll check email, get a drink, get a snack, start cleaning my desk–all things that are NOT the task at hand.

Once I get into “the zone” I can be very productive, but getting there can be a challenge.

What if there was a shortcut to get yourself started on a task, finish it quicker, and feel more rested afterward?

Let me introduce you to the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, inspired by a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato.

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If you are serious about wasting less time and finishing more things I highly recommend you take 30 mins to read his original publication about the Pomodoro Technique. It’s an easy read and you will get a much better understanding of the details of the technique.

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Some objectives of the technique are:

1. Observe and find out how much effort an activity requires

2. Cut down on interruptions both internal (yourself) and external (other people)

3. Estimate effort for activities

4. Make the Pomodoro more effective

5. Set up a Timetable

Most of what you see people write about when they talk about the Pomodoro Technique only focuses on #1 and #2 on the list of 5 objectives. Items 3-5 are also very powerful for increasing your overall productivity.

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Basic Steps:

1. Decide on 2-3 tasks for the day that you think will take between 30 mins and 3 hours each. If you think a task will take more than 3 hours then you should break it up into smaller tasks.

2. Set a timer for 25 mins

3. Focus in on a task for the entire 25 minutes. The timer should count down and be visible to you and others that may try to interrupt you. Watching it count down also creates a sort of “game” – can you finish before the clock runs out?

4. Write down interruptions that come up during the 25 minutes (respond to text, answer phone, check email, watch cat video, order lunch – all of the things that are NOT the task at hand) and WAIT TO DO THEM – don’t let it interrupt your work on the current task for more than the few seconds it takes to write it down.

If something interrupts your focus from the task for more than a few seconds then go back to step 2. An interrupted Pomodoro doesn’t count and you start the timer over.

This could mean you have some days when you don’t finish a single Pomodoro because they were all interrupted. That’s ok.

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5. At the end of 25 minutes when the timer goes off STOP WORKING. Just stop. If it’s not done you’ll work on it another 25 minutes after your break (next step)

6. Take a 5 min break. 25 mins focused work + 5 mins break = 1 Pomodoro. Or if you get sick of explaining what “Pomodoro” means just call it a tomato.

7. After every 4 Pomodoros take a 30 min break

Practicing the Pomodoro Technique has helped me focus and finish things in less time than when I try to “just plow through it”. There are also physical benefits from standing up from your keyboard every 25 mins and giving your eyes a break.

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During the 30 min break, I like to walk around outside and get some fresh air.

Often while I’m walking or when I get back from a break I’ll get an answer to a problem that I may have been looking at for a while.

Your brain is smart. Let it do its job by turning off your conscious effort on a task so your subconscious can kick in and do some heavy lifting.

This is especially important for creative tasks.

I also like how it combats procrastination (internal distractions). When I sit down, instead of checking all of my email accounts, arranging my icons, closing unused browser tabs, etc. I just start my timer and get to work on the first item for the day.

I know that 25 minutes later I’ll get 5 minutes to goof off. 5 minutes that I’m required to goof off and tend to all of those distractions.

If I’m really fried, I’ll schedule an entire Pomodoro to goof off. This ends up taking less time than if I watch “just one more” funny video.

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 I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can at least tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss

-Seneca

For external distractions, if someone comes up to me in the middle of a Pomodoro I’ll just ask, “Can it wait 10 minutes?” (or however long is left in my Pomodoro). I make it a point to follow up with them before my next Pomodoro if it truly is urgent, or I just put it in my “maintenance” Pomodoro toward the end of the day.

When you respond to people they will tend to respect the tomato more. Especially when you are getting things done faster because of it.

You can download apps to help you track tasks and have a countdown timer. I like Be Focused by Xwavesoft.

Be Focused

Some project planning/task tracking apps have it built in like Kanban Flow– they have integrated a Pomodoro timer with their task board. You can even tie a Pomodoro to a task on your board which helps track how long it actually took.

You can also use good old fashioned pen and paper.

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The point is sometimes you are your own biggest distraction. This is one way to get around that so you can get more done without necessarily spending a lot of extra time doing it.

Give the Pomodoro Technique a try and comment below with your experience or any questions that come up.

If Tomorrow was the last day at your job…

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How would you feel?

Panic? Relief?

What would you walk away with besides a box?

Experience.

You always take your experience with you. The question is how much are you taking advantage of the experiences available to you right now?

Think about where you want to be. Are you already at your ideal job or is there something else that would get you more excited to jump out of bed in the morning?

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What is the gap between where you are now and where you want to be? Sometimes the gap is experience. Maybe there’s a new technology you want to work with, but you don’t have any experience in that area. What can you do?

Meet your neighbor

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For starters, look around at what you have available right now at your job. We often overlook what is right in front of us without realizing it.

Suppose you want to work with “Big Data” and you’ve heard of things like Hadoop but you have no idea beyond that.

Is there anyone who works with Big Data at your company?

Could you get to know people on that team – maybe grab some lunch together or have some water cooler conversations to learn more?

Absolutely.

People are the best source of experience and information. You have the best access to the people in your own company. Look around your company. The expert you need to learn from could be sitting just a couple of floors away.

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Speak up

Talking to your manager about your interests or to the manager of the team where you’d like to be can also get the ball rolling for you.

People won’t know what you want unless you speak up and say something.

There could be a need right now on that team you’d like to work on but if you never express interest then the chances of you moving are slim to none.

I talked to one person who got a promotion simply because he told people he wanted one.

If you feel like you could add more value in a different area of your company that is more in line with your talents and interests, start by letting people know who are in a position to help make that happen for you.

Make it a goal

Using goals can work to your advantage as well. Set a quarterly or yearly goal to do something in an area that you want to move toward or with a particular technology you’d like to work with.

Depending on your company this could allow you to schedule part of your time each week to work in that area so you’re actually getting paid to get experience that helps you go where you want to go. You might shadow someone who could become your mentor in that area, or discover a small project you could do on your own.

When a goal involves your interests and is moving you in the direction you want to go, it is much easier to invest some of your own time working toward that goal. Your extra effort benefits the company but it also benefits you in 2 ways.

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First, you are putting in extra effort which gets noticed. Bonus for you is that it is much more interesting than just putting in extra time to keep your seat warm.

Second, you are starting to associate yourself with the thing you want to do. As you produce results in that area or even just gain experience, you are moving closer to where you want to be.

Training

Does your company have a subscription to online training courses or online libraries? This can be a great way to get organized, quality information for free.

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Some companies will pay for you to take certification exams, books and courses to prepare for exams, or other training classes, events, and conferences.

Find out what is available at your company and start taking advantage of those resources to get the experience you need.

These programs are often underutilized, so if they don’t offer something you need, talk to the person over training at your company and they may be able to help. I’ve seen some companies who had a budget but didn’t know what to spend it on because no one was making requests.

More than a paycheck

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You’re not just getting paid to do a job. You’re gaining experience.

Take advantage of the opportunities you have to gain experience where you are right now.

Take advantage of the opportunity you have to network with the people you work with.

Know what resources your company offers and take advantage of them. Seriously, these often go underutilized so speak up and ask for what you want because you will probably get it.

These efforts will help you get the best experience you can where you are at right now and prepare you for the next step.

Because sometimes it’s not just a step.

It’s a jump.

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If your next meeting was to say you are no longer with the company, what experience do you wish you would have taken advantage of? Who would you have spent more time with to gain experience? Comment below then go do it!

The Other Magic Word

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“Please” is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the phrase “magic word”. However, when it comes to getting more out of your current job you’re going to need the other magic word:

Goal

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No, not gooooaaaallll but goal, as in

Do something by date for benefit

Goals are your key to a bigger raise and bonus.

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They can also be a key to working on what you want at your job.

First, for your raise or bonus. When you approach your manager with something that you want (like a certain dollar amount for a raise or bonus) you’ve started the process of setting up an exchange.

The part you need to find out is what you can do that would justify receiving what you want.

By having this conversation beforehand you are being proactive instead of just waiting to see what is going to happen. You are also going to find out what is really of value to your company or organization.

Something that increases revenue, saves time or money, or gets a project done can all be good candidates for goals.

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For example, say you want a $5000 raise but the average is usually $2000. You need to find out what you can do that would justify that extra amount. If you’ve done your homework you may already have a good idea, but if not that’s ok – you will find out by asking.

Some managers only have the ability to operate within the budget they are given. They may not have that much wiggle room to actually change things for you.

Decision Makers

To set up this kind of goal you need to talk to a decision maker. A decision maker is someone who has the ability to change things for you. For some companies this may be your direct manager. For others it may be one or two levels above your manager. Sometimes it is the CEO or business owner.

The point is, if you are willing to provide more value to the company than is expected, most business owners are going to be happy to reward you for effort that goes above and beyond what is average or expected for your position and that is going to result in more value for them than they are paying you in exchange.

You may find out in that conversation that there are opportunities you were not aware of that would make it worth it for the company to give you what you want.

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Now, I’m not advocating that you spend all of your time at work. Quite the opposite. I am talking about getting very clear on how you produce value for the company so you can focus in on those things that are of the most value and eliminate or at least reduce those things that are less valuable.

Provide the most value possible while you’re working, receive a fair exchange for that value, then enjoy your life outside of work.

It’s not always about money

Goals are a great way to get above average raises and bonuses, but did you know they can also help you work on what you want?

Some companies really put a lot of emphasis on goals. So much in fact that if something is “one of your goals” it actually helps get things approved that may not otherwise get the green light.

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For example, say you want to learn more about cloud computing. Your current assignment may not do a lot of cloud computing but you think it could add value.

You can create a goal around getting a certain certification, working with a group in your company that does cloud computing, or even completing an extra project that would add value using cloud computing.

The fact that you have set this as your goal can help when it comes time to get approval to attend that cloud computing conference, sign up for a training course, or set some time aside in your schedule to work with that other team.

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You have given a reason for these activities (your goal) and you have justified it with the desired result from completing that goal.

It really is a magic word.

More magic words

A goal by itself may not be enough to get the approvals you need. You may need one more magic word to get what you want.

Company spending can be a mystery sometimes. How can a company spend $100,000 on something that ends up collecting dust in a corner yet resist investing $5000 in a training to increase an employee’s skills?

Budget

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Training budgets are typically small. Like 1 person from each team can go to a conference once a year small. This may not be ideal but fortunately, there is a way around it.

Just change the name of what you’re doing from a “training” activity to a “marketing” or “sales” activity. Those budgets are usually a lot bigger than the training budget.

Often times there are opportunities to do some extra activities at a conference or training to help the sales or marketing departments of your company yet still allow you to attend and get the training information you want. By doing more than just “attend the training” you open up doors and turn what would have been a “no” into a “yes”

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Bonus Tip: Airfare is usually most expensive on Mondays and Fridays since that’s when a lot of business travelers leave and come home. Some companies will let you adjust your travel to stay over the weekend (lower airfare) then let you use the savings toward your extra lodging. This is a great way to combine some time off with your travel.

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What magic words have you found work well at your job? How about those that didn’t work? Share in the comments below.

Sincerely,

Craig Golightly

No one cares more than you

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Who cares about your raise or bonus?

You.

No one else cares more than you.

So why would you leave it in someone else’s hands?

Sure, your manager fills out a review or evaluation for you and gives feedback, but do you think that is the only thing they have to do? It’s usually on TOP of everything else they already have to do.

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Put yourself in their shoes. You have 5, 10, maybe even 20+ of these reviews to fill out. You can’t say exactly the same thing on each one, but are you really going to take hours to walk through the year in your mind when it’s already 11:30 pm and you’re tired and have to be up at 6 am tomorrow?

It’s time for you to do your manager’s job. Well, maybe not their whole job, but the review part of their job. They’re going to love you for it.

And you’re going to get a better outcome than leaving it to chance.

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Feedback

Remember when you found out how things work at your company? Does your company do some form of “peer reviews”? Many companies have a way for employees to give feedback about their peers. However, it’s not always required so managers often have a tough time gathering material for these.

A friend of mine got passed up for a promotion because his “peer review” was not outstanding.

It was from someone not on his team who he barely worked with – not exactly the person you want to give feedback.

That is where getting your own testimonials comes into play. You can choose who you ask, and you don’t even have to use all of the testimonials you get! You can pick the best ones to send to your manager.

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Now you’re in the driver’s seat.

Goals

Did you set any goals? Or did you go for average and just accept what was passed down?

The average tendency is to not think about it. So company leadership spends the first 3 months of the year coming up with “goals” for everyone that you may not even find out about until the year is half over. Even then, they usually aren’t anything that you can personally take action on.

You need to set goals that you have control over and that add value to the company.

You know your job better than anyone else and you know how you can make the biggest positive impact on your organization.

No one else can really set an actionable goal for you because they don’t know everything about you or about your job.

Most companies have quarterly goals, so set a few goals of your own for each quarter. This gives you something to remind your manager how awesome you are throughout the year.

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Pick multiple goals. That way if something beyond your control prevents one from being achieved, you still have 2-3 others you can check off as complete.

Don’t stress out too much if you’re not sure you can finish all of the goals. Better to try and fail then never try at all applies here. You’re stepping up to make a custom plan and be accountable for that plan. Missing a goal every once in awhile shows that you’re not just sandbagging and that you’re not a robot.

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What are you already working on? Make a goal around it. It just has to be a little above average to stand out.

What do you want to work on? Make a goal around it. The fact that it is “one of your goals” can open up doors for you that might otherwise stay closed.

What is everyone else avoiding that needs to be done? Make a goal around it. (as long as it adds value to the company) Often those things are visible in a good way and they set you apart as someone who can run up the hill and accomplish hard things.

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Here is a formula you can use:

Complete (item) by (date) for (benefit / value to company)

If you’re doing quarterly goals, the date is just the end of the quarter so you can leave it out. That saves you time by not having to predict the future to an exact date.

You can still use dates for some of your goals if you want, just don’t spend too much time figuring out an exact date for every single goal.

Delivery

You should send your manager an update at the end of each quarter or a few weeks earlier if your own review corresponds with the end of the quarter. Remember, they need the information before they start preparing your review.

Include a summary of highlight items for the quarter, your goals, when / how the goals were accomplished, and the testimonials you have gathered.

Depending on the format of your company, if they use self-assessment software to gather information, be sure to answer all of the questions thoroughly.

You’ve now given your manager a treasure trove of good information they can use for your review.

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You’re welcome.

When you read your review, don’t be surprised if you find some direct cut and paste from the information you provided.

Imagine your manager on the 10th review, and, what’s this? They actually filled stuff out? And they have goals? And feedback from other people? Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

You’ve just freed up your manager’s brain to think about more important things.

Like how much of a raise or how big of a bonus to give you.

The Ask

Since your manager now has all sorts of free time and you have their full attention, this is a great time to provide some suggestions.

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A suggested range for your raise or bonus.

Base it on the typical average at your company or in your industry plus the extra value you created through accomplishing your goals. Remember, above average raises and bonuses need to be justified by above average results.

You may not get 100% of what you ask for on your first attempt, especially if you are a little late in the game providing the information to your manager. Budgets may have already been set. Checks may already be in the mail.

No problem. Use this opportunity to find out the timing around your review and bonus cycle and when your manager needs this information to influence the outcome.

This isn’t an overnight get-rich-quick scheme. You are setting up a repeatable system that you can use every single year to get above average results.

Maybe you get $500 more than you would have not trying anything. Maybe you get $5000.

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That’s worth a lot when you multiply it out over your entire career.

Are you in? What are you going to do to better prepare for your next review?

Sincerely,

Craig Golightly

In the Spotlight

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Whether you know it or not, you are in the spotlight.

Maybe not every day, maybe not even every month, but there are one or two times a year that you are in the spotlight. Under the microscope. I’m talking about raise and bonus time.

The problem a lot of people run into is that your raise or bonus is theoretically based on the past year or the past 6 months, but people tend to have a better short-term memory and forget things more than a few weeks old.

They need a reminder.

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You can give them that reminder. Remember the 2 keys:

  1. How am I adding value to the company?
  2. How do raises / bonuses work at my company?

I once forgot #1 when I started a new job and it almost got me fired.

This was an example of showing up in the spotlight in a BAD way.

I remember sitting in my cubicle thinking, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this! This is so cool!” There was a fully stocked kitchen and I had just read Linchpin by Seth Godin. I was ready to take on an undiscovered project and show just how cool I was.

I sat near 2 customer service reps for the company. It seemed like they really had to wrestle with the software to do their job.

“I can fix that!”

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Problem #1: I wasn’t hired to help 2 customer service reps. There were other areas in the company that were more mission critical and had a much higher value and return on investment for the company.

Problem #2: I started focusing on this “side project” and talking it up to everyone. However, I was not aware how I was being measured and evaluated by my manager. I was actually falling behind in what they needed me to do.

This resulted in a conversation where I was given a day to decide if I wanted to shake hands and leave with a 2-week pay advance or come up with an improvement plan to stay.

Oh yeah, and if the plan didn’t work out then I would just be fired.

Ouch.

I didn’t even see it coming.

Because I didn’t know how I was adding value

Because I didn’t know the goals of the company

Because I didn’t know how I was being measured

All 3 of those can be solved by asking.

Talk to your manager and find out the answers! You’ve got to focus on the right thing. It does no good to focus on a side project if it does not add value and it is not in line with company goals.

Reminders and focusing on how I add value and finding out how things worked at the company resulted in a conversation with that same manager 2 years later about what they could do to get me to STAY.

Much better conversation.

Ok, so with that caution light in place, back to reminders. And we’re going to do that by talking about dessert.

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I love cheesecake.

But I can’t eat much more than 1 slice of really good cheesecake before I start to feel sick. It’s just too much. I would much rather have 1 slice every month than an entire cheesecake all at once.

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This is the same with reminders and to remember key #2 – know how bonuses and raises work at your company.

If you gather a bunch of good information about what you have done throughout the year but wait until your review meeting to present it to your manager, that’s usually a little too late to make much of a difference.

They need that information when the decisions are being made.

They need little reminders throughout the year about how awesome you are.

I’m not talking about making things up or being a show-off. I’m talking about providing information about where you are adding real value.

Testimonials

The best reminder won’t come from you, but someone you helped.

When you complete a project for someone or really help them with a critical item, often they will reply with a “thank you” or “good job”. Save these emails for later so you can quote what other people said about you.

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It’s also a great idea to ask various people you help or work with for a testimonial. Just ask them for a few sentences describing how you helped them out.

I’ve been surprised by this – something that was pretty easy for me turned out to have a huge impact on them and how they describe it in their own words is usually much more than I would have said about it.

Sometimes you don’t know just how awesome you are. And coming from other people is even better than saying it yourself.

Timestamp Email

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If you’re up late working on something, don’t be shy about sending an email to inform those who are interested in your progress or that it’s done. Copy your manager so they are in the loop.

Just make sure you’re actually producing something. I remember seeing people “stay late in the office” just to keep the chair warm until the boss left but they were pretty much just watching youtube those last hours of the day. That’s just a waste.

These timestamp emails should serve to educate others on what you are actually doing so you don’t have to play the stay in the office game.

Working late also shouldn’t be your only claim to fame so don’t over-use it, but depending on your company culture this can go a long way and put you in the right spotlight.

Plant a Seed

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When someone helps you out whether it’s a colleague, a vendor, a customer, whoever, send a quick email or note describing what they did, the impact it had on you, and thank them. Be sure to include their manager. You may help someone more than you’ll ever know.

You’re not going to just trade testimonials with others, I’m talking about genuinely expressing thanks for people who help you out. This is a general principle – if you want testimonials, then be the type of person who also gives testimonials.

How do you remind your manager? What has worked or not worked for you?

Sincerely,

Craig Golightly

Are you waiting in the right line?

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Happy Black Friday! Are you shopping online in your PJs, bundled up and waiting outside in a line, or happily sleeping in after a nice Thanksgiving?

A big part of black Friday for me was the build up and suspense. Going through the 2-inch thick newspaper while eating just one more piece of pie, making a game plan with family to divide and conquer different stores, waiting outside in the freezing cold to be one of the first in line.

But ultimately when the doors opened, you didn’t always know where stuff was in the store or if there would be enough for you by the time you found it.

I’m all for a good mystery but do you really want your bonus to be a black box?
blackboxIt’s time to find out how things work at your job and there’s no better place to start than when you get the news for this year’s bonus.

For our discussion, we will refer to a bonus as a one-time payout each year and a raise as something that is added to your salary which stays as long as you are at the job. Strategies we discuss can be applied to both raises and bonuses. You decide what makes the most sense for your situation.

Raises are usually done every year either on an individual’s anniversary with the company or during a scheduled company-wide window. They usually have some average range and managers have some freedom to allocate higher or lower raises based on performance.

Most companies pay an annual bonus toward the end of the year, and it is usually tied to some company metric like a percentage of revenue or some other target the company has set.

This is because most people are average. They don’t want to think about setting specific goals and rewards for achieving those goals. So from the company’s perspective they just pick a “lazy” metric to base things off of since very few people actually want to think about setting and achieving goals.

This is good news for you – above average people stand out more in a sea of average.
aboveaverageDoes your company pay a bonus? If not, don’t panic – you can skip to the Tesla story further down if you want.

When is it decided?
I once worked at a company where all of the managers met with the directors in October and everyone debated for a larger piece of the bonus pool for their team. They more or less got the same amount unless someone had shown exceptional work and at least some of the people in the meeting knew about that exceptional work. Each manager then was allocated their pool of bonus money and they would divide it as they saw fit among their team.

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Here’s the kicker – the bonus was decided in October but paid in December. That left many people working lots of overtime in Nov and Dec to meet “goals” and “deadlines” in hopes of influencing their bonus but in reality, it had already been decided 2-3 months earlier. Talk about waiting in the wrong line.

How is it decided?

You may be uncomfortable digging around trying to find out how bonuses and raises work at your company. Don’t be. A lot of it is outlined in your company handbook or you can talk to HR. Start there to get the standard from the book answers.

As you get the news for this year’s bonus that is a perfectly logical time to get more details from your manager about how it works at your company. Some of the best information I’ve received about raises and bonuses came from managers because they are directly involved in the process.

Maybe you don’t have a formal bonus or maybe it’s based on some company metric that you think you can’t directly influence.

That’s ok. Right now you are defining the wall so you can step over it. The more you know, the less of an obstacle it becomes.
wallAsking questions shows initiative. There’s nothing wrong with finding out how things work. Remember, you’re not just asking for more money, you are finding out how you can add more value to the company, and how the company can compensate you for that added value.

We want to make sure you are waiting in the right line.

Great Question
I was once at an all-hands meeting for a billion dollar company.

The CEO opened up the floor for questions and some guy in the front asks, “Can I drive your Tesla for a day?”
teslasMost of the crowd probably expected the guy to get shot down or laughed at while quickly moving on to a more “serious” question, but what happened next was the real lesson.

The CEO asked him what his job was at the company then instructed the employee to talk to his manager and set an exceptional goal. If he achieved it then he would let him drive his Tesla for a day.

Takeaways:
1. Ask
Some people like to “fly under the radar” at their job. They show up, put in their time, and go home.
radar“Flying under the radar” may help someone avoid getting associated with something bad, but it also means that you probably won’t be associated with anything good either.

If you want to start getting an above average raise or bonus then you have to start showing above average behaviors and results.

That means getting on people’s radars (in a good way)

2. Set an exceptional goal

We are all hired to do a job. Doing your job is expected. You get a paycheck and other standard benefits in exchange for doing your job.

If you want more than that, then you have to do something more. You have to provide an exceptional amount of value.

Not only that, but you need to state it as a goal at one point in time, then achieve it by some future point in time.

You have to commit.

commitCommit to tackling something above average and exceptional by a certain date.

Did it just get a little warmer in here? Are you feeling the pressure?

Ok, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Find out how things work at your job. Then you’ll be ready to think about what you can do to step over that wall of average.

All of the strategies and tools aren’t going to work as well if you’re waiting in the wrong line. Do your homework first then we can start talking strategy.

Do you have a “Tesla” story to share? How is your bonus determined? Share in the comments or send me a message using the form at the bottom of the page.

Sincerely,
Craig Golightly

What I Learned While Fishing with a Millionaire

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Do you want a better bonus or raise? How would that help you out right now?

I’ve always been obsessed with finding out how businesses do raises, bonuses, promotions and perks. If I had to sum up all of the tips and tricks in one sentence it would be this:

Think like a business owner.

I went fishing with the owner of a multi-million dollar company and we started talking about career development from his perspective.

He said two things that really stood out to me:

1. Employees want a paycheck and to know how much time off they get

2. I could pay my employees more if they made less mistakes

As an employee, I am definitely concerned about growing my paycheck and I also want as much time off as possible.

But that is a very one sided focus, and to ask for more just because I want more isn’t going to get very far. We need to set up a fair exchange.

Let’s turn that around and think from the perspective of the business owner:

How much value am I producing for the company?

Employees are an investment. Put in a dollar, get more than a dollar back.

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Do you know how you add value to your organization?

Do you have a direct effect on revenue?

Can you show a correlation between what you do and revenue?

Or are you providing support to your organization that doesn’t have a direct tie to revenue but can be measured in time savings, productivity, or some other way?

We’re getting close to that time of the year associated with presents and that favorite present from your job – a bonus.

What if getting your bonus was less of a mystery and more like tracking a package you’ve ordered from Amazon?

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The first and foremost element of taking control of your raise, bonus, and other perks at work revolves around the value you are producing and your ability to demonstrate that value.

All of the other tips and tricks fall apart if you don’t have a value based focus.

How am I producing value for the company? How much?

Am I producing more than I am consuming?

Making less mistakes is a natural consequence of producing more than you consume.

I know times when I have printed off waaaaay more copies of a report than I would have on my home machine.

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I once received two huge gift boxes because it was shipped to the wrong address – awesome for me (they said keep it) but the company who sent it had to pay for another one because of the mistake.

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Now, we’re all going to make mistakes, and most of these things go unnoticed in the day to day bustle of work. But at the end of the day they do have an effect on the bottom line of the company and how much is available to come back to us.

The focus of this newsletter is things you can do at your current job to make more money.

It’s not about starting a business or going off and doing something completely different than what you’re doing right now.

This is for people who are good at their job, like what they do, and could use an extra $100, $500, or $1000+ each month.

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This is for people who want to have a bigger influence on your raise, your bonus, and the perks you receive at work and who aren’t afraid to try something a little different to get those results.

Even if you have “something on the side” that you hope will replace your day job, why not get the most out of it while you’re there?

I want to support you with what is going on right now in your career.

What is your next step? What is stopping you?

Send me a message using the link below or comment with your #1 challenge right now with your own career development.

If you are a business owner or manager, what is the #1 challenge with the career development of your employees?

What is your #1 challenge with career development?

Sincerely,

Craig Golightly

PS: Here’s to a better bonus than a subscription to the jelly of the month club. Unless, of course, you really like jelly.