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How To...

July 17, 2017

Find meaning in even your mundane tasks

We all want to feel that what we do every day matters.

But when you’re wading through tedious meetings and endless to-do lists, it’s hard to feel a sense of purpose about your work.

Fortunately, many studies have shown that even a brief moment of reflection can help boost your performance and resilience.

Ask yourself questions that help you see the big picture, such as, “Who is going to benefit from what I’m doing?”

Remembering, for example, that your daunting presentation will allow you to champion the ideas of a new colleague may help you stay focused and engaged.

Finding a meaningful goal can help you power through a seemingly meaningless task with a sense of purpose.

(Adapted from “Find Purpose in Even Your Most Mundane Tasks at Work,” by Valerie Keller and Caroline Webb.)

Freelancers, control your meeting schedule

Many freelancers find themselves frittering away their days, unsure of how to leverage their autonomy.

One way to be more efficient is to cluster all your client meetings on the same days. Those days will be long and intense, but they’ll allow you unfettered productive work on the other days.

This is especially important if you have to travel for your meetings: If you can tackle multiple meetings downtown on one day, you’ve saved yourself hours of painful commuting.

And before you even agree to that in-person meeting, make sure it’s a good use of your time.

Ask questions about the agenda, and only attend if an important issue needs to be discussed and decided.

(Adapted from “Scheduling Meetings Effectively When You’re Self-Employed,” by Dorie Clark.)

Leaders, are you really open to feedback?

Leaders often have an inflated idea of how easy it is for others to speak honestly to them.

If you want people to give it to you straight, start by asking yourself several questions: Are you honestly interested in others’ opinions? Have you considered how risky it feels for others to speak up to you? What specifically do you need to do and say to enable others to speak up?

Once you have a better sense of what’s standing in people’s way you can take steps to remove those obstacles.

You might reduce status differences by dressing more casually; introducing a ‘red card’ at executive committee meetings to ensure someone has the ability to challenge you; or holding your extroversion in check so that others get a moment to speak.

(Adapted from “The Problem With Saying ‘My Door Is Always Open,’” by Megan Reitz and John Higgins.)

Before taking an expat assignment, get your family on board

Before accepting a temporary reassignment to another country, think it through with your partner or family. Be sure to frame the decision as a real choice — should we go or stay?

And consider the degree of change: if you live in Amsterdam, relocating to Brussels is very different from moving to Guangzhou, China.

Then go through the pros and cons of each alternative, laying out the full implications for your children or extended family, your career — and your partner’s — and your support networks.

These discussions will not only shape your decision about the assignment but also help set expectations and prevent resentment later on.

(Adapted from “Making Your Expat Assignment Easier on Your Family,” by Katia Vlachos.)

Avoid confirmation bias

As a leader, it’s a rare luxury to have all of the relevant data before making a decision.

More often you make a call with incomplete information, which leaves you open to confirmation bias — meaning you pay attention to data that supports the decision you’ve made and dismiss data that does not.

To avoid this trap, take some time before executing your decision and ask yourself what would’ve happened if you’d made the opposite choice.

Gather the data you would need to defend this opposite view, and compare it with the data used to support your original decision. Re-evaluate your decision in light of the bigger data set.

(Adapted from “Root Out Bias From Your Decision-Making Process,” by Thomas C. Redman.)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 17th, 2017