Posted by: Matt | March 11, 2008

25 Tips to Become More Productive and Happy at Work

I stumbled across a great list that I wanted to share with my readers. It’s a bit long to keep in mind, but it might be worth printing and putting somewhere near your computer (right next to your power phrase…). I tend to boil it down to three points:

  1. identify and reach for your goals
  2. strive for balance
  3. work in a more humanistic way

The last one probably seems a little odd. All I mean here is that we all need to recognize our unique abilities and limitations as human beings. For example: our brains are not efficient at switching tasks and gaining deep focus. It can take knowledge workers (pretty much anyone reading this blog) anywhere from 15 minutes or longer to regain focus after switching tasks, such as responding to that email just as it arrives. Research also shows that short periods of meditation yield significant and measurable improvements to your mood and concentration.

At any rate, even if you don’t start meditating at work, taking a few minutes to think about how you spend your time at work and how it can be improved will definitely be time well-spent.

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Posted by: Matt | March 10, 2008

Grandfather’s Economic Report

I’m a big fan of mastering fundamentals, whether they pertain to markets, your career, or elsewhere. Michael Hodges certainly has a good grasp of them and skillfully uses the government’s own data to rightly condemn our economic policies. His site, the Grandfather Economic Report is a startling look at just where we are, economically and socially, compared to earlier generations. Ever wondered how much of our economy is controlled by federal, state & local government?

This is a number we all need to know and understand to meaningfully debate topics such as health care reform, foreign policy and entitlement spending. We’d all be echoing Dr. No if there was a good grasp of just how much economic control our government already has.

This is just one small topic that is addressed in this constantly-updated and well-researched site. You’ll also find interesting nuggets on education, debt, inflation, taxes and savings (amongst others). It is a sobering read, but one that has some hope if we can start an informed discussion of these issues.

So, if you haven’t already run over to the site to find the answer, it is that the US Federal and State Governments account for 43% of our economy through direct spending and 58% percent if you include the regulatory costs of unfunded mandates. Wow.

Posted by: Matt | March 7, 2008

Data Geek?

If you’re a data geek, check out this interesting site called Swivel (you may have noticed the link in an earlier post).  The site is a user-driven repository of interesting data, charts and graphs.  You’ll find everything from the net household savings rate over time, to the Southeastern US Drought History.  Someone has even graphed the number of Yearly Grateful Dead Concerts.

Is it the coolest thing ever?  No.  Might it offer you some new insights and tools for presentations?  Probably.  Worth having a look?  Definitely.

Posted by: Matt | March 6, 2008

How to Write a Status Report

The status report. It could be the most mind-numbing, time-wasting thing you do. It could also be a great opportunity to sell your accomplishments and make sure you get help with obstacles and issues. I’ve seen dozens of status report formats, from metrics-driven monstrosities to the totally free-form email. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick to individual status reports, but we’ll get to project-level status reports sometime soon. So, why do we do status reports? Well, I can think of three good reasons:

  1. Show your boss you’re doing something valuable
  2. Make sure you’re doing the right things by communicating the things you are doing and planning on doing
  3. To have a safe avenue to ask for help when you need it

Why are most status reports so bad? Because they really don’t do the above three things well. I can’t tell you how many reports I’ve received where people just don’t take the opportunity to effectively tout their accomplishments. Almost everyone has something they can brag about, and this is your official avenue to do it. Your boss needs this information to a) understand and evaluate your performance and b) create their own project status report. They’d like to have something good to say to their bosses about what the project is doing.

Unfortunately, most folks just cut and paste the same dry text from week to week: “Continued implementing application features.” or “Attended meetings with stakeholders.” You should always be asking and seeking to understand where you bring value: “Completed the first of three features to enable the auto-deploy capability.” “Clarified the requirements for the widget feature and obtained verbal approval for design.” As you begin to write your status reports identifying this value, you’ll find yourself looking for it everywhere. Instead of just attending that next meeting, you’ll start to see opportunities to add another notch to your set of accomplishments. It can be infectious.

On the second point from above, most status reports are just too ambiguous to really get at what you are doing. This is the result of years of learning how to waste time and get away with it. Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of it, but it’s just not a very fun way to spend your day. That and it definitely isn’t a good way to move forward in your career. If you find that you can only write generic “Continued…” type status reports, then you know you’re not really getting anything done. I even go so far as to ask my teams to just clearly say they ran out of work, or that they didn’t accomplish anything of note. I’d far prefer the clear communication and the opportunity to work on the issue rather than obfuscating what you’re actually spending your time on. Unfortunately, there is a culture that is common in today’s workplace that makes saying this uncomfortable. That can be understood – people don’t want to highlight that they’re not adding value – but it can end up hurting individuals and organizations if you can’t easily see who’s being effective and help those that aren’t.

This leads nicely into the third reason to write a status report, which is to have an avenue to clearly tell your boss where you need help. This doesn’t mean that you should dump all of your problems into your status report. Only the issues and roadblocks that you need management’s help to resolve should make it into your report. In addition, these should only be problems you are currently facing and that are impacting or will impact progress very soon. Your project should have other mechanisms for reporting project issues and risks, which will be more comprehensive and project-focused. You may wish to communicate a lack of skills needed for a given task, a stakeholder that you can’t get a meeting with, or any number of specific issues impacting progress.

With that, we come to format. You may not have a say in this, but you may wish to think in these terms before filling out your organization’s required format. Everyone has one they like. As you’ll see, mine aligns nicely to the goals from above.

Accomplishments (list your accomplishments from the last reporting period in bullet form)

Plans (list your plans for the next reporting period)

Issues or Roadblocks (list any issues or roadblocks that are currently impeding your progress – can be empty)

I would recommend at least a weekly reporting period. I have sometimes even gone to daily status reporting, which isn’t as painful as you’d expect. I also have my teams put their reports in a central location (rather than email them to me) so that everyone can see what everyone else is doing. The goal of management is not to be a central communications hub.

That’s it. If it takes you much more than five or ten minutes, then you’re probably thinking too hard. Of course, you may have to spend several minutes remembering what you did, if you don’t keep a work log. That, however, will be the subject of another post.

Posted by: Matt | March 5, 2008

Recession?

With Bernanke calling for banks to forgive portions of mortgages, the weakest dollar in 35 years and an indebted and over-spent consumer serving as the backbone of our economy, are we in for catastrophe or is this just a recession of words? It is hard to know, but the fundamentals of our economy are weak and will likely result in some sort of correction. Certainly some individuals and property speculators are feeling some real pain right now, but the long lines at the unemployment office are just not appearing.

What could drive us towards those long lines and government cheese? Here are four possibilities:

  1. Sovereign wealth funds and China quit investing in dollar-based assets and the bottom drops out of the dollar.
  2. The remaining home owners with ARMs default on their loans and “walk away” from their overpriced homes and unafforadable mortgages.
  3. Bond insurers default and declare bankruptcy, increasing costs to local governments and generating another round of steep write-downs at the big banks.
  4. The Fed and Congress over-stimulate the economy (see 1. – stagflation)

I’d say that any of these is somewhat likely. What can we glean from this? Probably nothing, but many of these scenarios result in a weaker dollar. I’d guess that exporters will continue to do well through the coming months.

Where do you see weakness? What are you doing to take advantage of it?

Posted by: Matt | March 5, 2008

Welcome!

Welcome to Matt on Management, a new blog covering management, the financial markets, and tips and tricks on career management. I’m by no means the expert on any of the above, but I’ve amassed enough information and links over my career where they will hopefully be useful to some. My hope is to spur some lively debate and help to facilitate a conversation on leadership and development in today’s business world.

So with that, I will say welcome and stay tuned.

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