Category Archives: Coach

A Better Way To Manage Your Task List

Most effective people who I know use a task list to help them to stay focused throughout the day. Some randomly work their way through their list, while others start at the top and work their way down.

Gary RyanA better way to manage your task list and to improve your daily effectiveness is to follow these simple steps.

1. Prepare your list

This is a classic brainstorm of all the tasks that you need to complete today. Given it is a brainstorm your list will be in a random order in terms of priority.

2. Identify your high value tasks

Rate each task in the context of value that you receive from completing the task. A ‘High’ rating means that the completed task gives you a lot of value in the context of what your role requires you to do, a ‘Medium’ rating gives you medium value and a ‘Low’ rating gives you low value.

3. Identify your hard-to-do tasks

Rate each task for how hard you find it to complete the task. A ‘High’ rating means that you find this task difficult to do (such as having that ‘important’ conversation with your colleague about her ability to meet deadlines). A ‘Medium’ rating is a task that is moderately difficult for you to do and a ‘Low’ rating is a task that you find relatively easy to do.

4. Identify how long it takes you to complete each task

Rate each task in terms of how long it will take you to complete the task. a ‘High’ rating means that the task will take you a long time to complete (you decide your time scale for yourself as it will depend on the type of work that you do), a ‘Medium’ rating means that it will take a reasonable amount of time, and a ‘Low’ rating means that you can complete the task quickly.

5. Complete your tasks in the following order

A. High Value, Hard To Do Tasks That Can Be Done Quickly (H/H/L Task Rating)

In his book Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy refers to these tasks as your frog. If you were to eat a frog at the start of each day, nothing you do for the rest of the day will be as bad as eating that frog! In this context, your High Leverage, Hard-To-Do Tasks that can be done relatively quickly are your ‘frogs’. When you do these tasks first, you clear your mind for the rest of the day. This is a terrific habit to form. When you know that at some stage during the day you are going to have to eat a frog, it clouds your mind until you do it. So you might as well get it over and done with at the start of the day! You won’t regret it!

B. High Value, Easy To Do Tasks That Can Be Done Quickly (H/L/L Task Rating)

Getting these tasks completed creates a sense of accomplishment and shortens your to-do list in the process!

C. High Value, Easy To Do Tasks That Have a Medium and/or High Time Rating

These tasks take longer for your to complete them, but they provide high value in the context of your role.

D. High Value, Hard To Do Tasks That Take a Long Time To Complete (H/H/H Task Rating)

In my world these are my proposals. Each one needs to be tailored to my clients specific needs, so they tend to take a fair amount of time to create. I require decent chunks of dedicated time to complete this task. Knowing that I have already completed other high value tasks before getting to these provides me with the clear ‘mental space‘ that I need to get on with completing this task.

E. Everything else on your list

All these tasks are the things that provide a level of value but aren’t the most important tasks that you need to get done. Sometimes you may find that these tasks can change in value if they are time related. As a deadline nears the value in completing the task may rise. If you find yourself moving these tasks across to your new task list each day (because they aren’t being completed), make sure that you continue to rate them just in case their value has changed. Another option is to set aside an hour or two every week that is dedicated to completing these tasks.

If you follow the five steps that I have outlined above you will discover that you get more high value work done than you do today. Give it a try and let me know how you go!

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.

Project Matrix For Learning

My first permanent job was to commercialise a fitness centre for Monash University in the early 1990s. I was the only permanent employee and had a strong team of casual employees with whom I worked. I quickly learned that there was too much that needed to be done in a short period and that I needed to better use the full suite of talents of the members in the team.

Projects For LearningI was aware of the various interests and strengths of the team members that went beyond their skills and ability as Gym Instructors. One team member was studying Information Technology and had a clear passion for it, another was highly officious and had a passion for consistency among the team, and yet another loved to organise things.

I knew that somehow that I had to find a way to tap into their talents that would benefit the Fitness Centre and themselves, and not break my budget!

I drew up a list of the tasks that needed to be completed. I then rated each of those tasks from a Risk perspective. A Low rating meant that the outcome was a ‘nice to have‘. If it got completed it was a ‘Bonus‘. A Medium rating meant that the outcome was important and the performance of the Fitness Centre would be reduced or slowed if it wasn’t completed in a timely manner. A High rating meant that the task was extremely important to the performance of the Fitness Centre and if it wasn’t completed properly the Fitness Centre would suffer serious consequences which meant that I wouldn’t have been doing my job properly.

Before you ask, the option to hire more permanent staff was not available. First I had to generate the revenue that would eventually pay for more full-time staff. It was a great challenge!

I spoke with each team member and asked if they were interested in leading a project to help us create the performance we desired. All team members said ‘Yes‘. I arranged their schedules so that they had time during their normal shifts to work on their projects. I knew that this meant that they wouldn’t be ‘on the floor‘ as much as normal but I was prepared to take a half step backward to take five steps forward. We also agreed that the projects would have a six-week timeframe within which they needed to be completed.

I took responsibility for all the High rated projects. It was my head that was on the ‘chopping block‘ if we failed so it was only fair that I took responsibility for those projects. I ‘parked‘ the Medium rated projects. I decided to wait until after the first round of projects had been completed and then use that experience to assign the medium rated projects. I needed to have confidence that the medium rated projects would be done properly. I also knew that I would have to coach the team members through those projects which meant that I would need to have more time available to provide that assistance.

I could not have been happier with the results of the first round of projects. The team member who had a passion for I.T. completed an important project that related to setting up ‘norms‘ as comparative data for our fitness tests. The ‘officious’ team member completed a project that set clear standards for the fitness testing procedures and protocols that the team was using. The ‘organised’ team member completed a project that involved re-organising the equipment to improve the ‘flow’ in and around the equipment. I managed to complete the High rated projects as well.

This experience taught me at a very young age the power of projects for learning. Projects create real outcomes. By assigning low risk projects to my team members I was able to tap into their passion and skill. If they ‘failed‘ I wasn’t going to ‘lose‘ anything. By tapping into their passions I also increased the likelihood that their first projects would be a success – which they were! That success built confidence and provided energy for the Medium rated projects which were also embraced and successfully completed by the team with great enthusiasm.

Best of all our success drove the performance results that we were seeking which meant that the following year I was able to engage a number of the team in permanent roles.

I also learnt a great lesson. A lesson that I continue to use to this day. Projects are a powerful tool for creating results, building confidence and assessing team member capabilities. They allow you to learn a great deal about your team members. They also allow your team members to learn that they can produce results themselves.

I created the Projects For Learning Matrix above and have used it many times throughout my career. I assign Low risk projects to inexperienced team members, Medium risk projects to team members who have ‘proven’ themselves and High risk projects to highly experienced, energetic and motivated team members. I avoid giving too many low risk projects to highly experienced and motivated team members – it is better to use those projects to developed inexperienced people.

I have found this simple matrix to be useful and highly effective over many years. I am confident that you will too!

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.

Please, Don’t Kick The Cat!

There used to be a saying that when you’d had a hard day at work, when you got home you should ‘kick the cat‘ before you went in the house. This theory was based on the idea that if you ‘kicked the cat‘ then you could let out your aggression and everything would be okay when you went inside.

Thankfully such thinking is long gone! Not only would it be politically incorrect to take such action, it would be morally and legally inappropriate! So please, don’t kick your cat.

iStock_000003616381SmallUnfortunately, however, this metaphor is alive and well in ‘Organisation Land’. Maybe some of you have been the ‘cat‘ who has been ‘kicked‘ (metaphorically speaking).

A case in point. A client of mine has a national sales role. In 2012, prior to her taking on the role the sales team failed to achieve their prescribed 2012 targets. When she took over leading the team in 2013, despite missing the 2012 target their new targets were arbitrarily raised by 20% and they just achieved them. Celebrations followed. The ‘cat‘ was patted.

In 2014 (their financial year finishes in October) another 20% was added to their target. They just missed their prescribed targets after having been ahead of them for most of the year. Ultimately the team’s performance was 113% better than it was in 2013, but 7% short of the 2014 target. What do you think is happening now? Yes, you guessed it, the ‘cat‘ is being ‘kicked‘. Apparently in ‘Organisation Land’ kicking the cat inspires the cat to higher performance. What do you think?

Personally I have never found getting kicked motivating. Unfortunately I am hearing more and more stories like this.

In this specific example my client was informed by senior managers that she and her team would be trusted to contribute to the targets process once they could be trusted to achieve them. Interesting logic!

Let me just walk through that logic again. Once the team regularly achieve budgets that they had no input in creating, that’s when they will be trusted to put forward budgets in the future. Oh, by the way I should mention that I’m not talking about junior staff here. I’m talking about staff with a minimum of seven years’ experience. There’s a lesson in how to de-motivate people right there!

Kicking the cat‘ creates demotivated and disengaged staff. Seriously, if you think that such behaviour really motivates people to perform at a higher standard, you probably also believe that if you go outside and yell at your grass to grow that it will! I’m sorry to let you down but both strategies don’t work.

Folks, growth doesn’t happen in straight lines, not in the short-term that’s for sure. Linear growth expectations are flawed and ultimately cause senior managers to behave in a ‘kick the cat-like‘ manner.

My client is a wonderful, high performing person. She did amazingly well to achieve her result in 2013 and did amazingly well given local economic conditions to achieve what she did in 2014. I doubt that any other team could have matched her team’s performance. Yet do you think she is feeling valued right now?

You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? This high performer will leave and will end up serving another organisation more worthy of her commitment. It is an interesting thought experiment to consider whether your organisation is worthy of the commitment of the people who serve it?

Kicking the cat‘ doesn’t work so if you’re one of the guilty ones who does this behaviour, please stop! Treat your people like human beings – you may just be surprised by how well they shine.

If targets aren’t achieved by experienced, engaged people, then sit down with them and work together to work out what can be done. Maybe achieving the 2012 target in 2013 would be, in reality, a success. Just giving people bigger numbers to achieve because it is a new budget cycle is seriously flawed and lacks using the knowledge, talent and expertise that exists within organisational teams. People don’t want to fail. People don’t try to fail. Not most people. Work with people so success over the long-term can be achieved. It is possible.

What’s your experience of being ‘kicked’?

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.

Positive Self Talk Is Not Enough

Throughout your career there are many times when you will doubt yourself. Am I worthy of a promotion? Will my boss laugh at me when I ask for a pay rise? Can I really do this project that I have never done before? Will the audience really want to listen to what I have to say? Can I manage people who are older and more experienced than me?

For over 12 years I have coached leaders and developing leaders about the power of positive self talk. In simple terms, the words that you say to yourself in your head promote an image of success or failure in your mind. This image influences your performance.

Imagine that you were asked to do a presentation to senior management on a project that you had worked on. Throughout your university degree and career you have done your best to avoid presentations because you think that you ‘suck‘ at them.

In this example you are cornered. You can’t ‘run away‘ from this presentation. You have to do it. Imagine your self talk. “I’m going to be terrible doing this presentation. The senior management team are all going to know that I’m a terrible presenter. My future here is going to be damaged. Oh my god why did this have to happen to me!“.

No matter how much practice you did, if you maintained this type of self talk you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moments in to your presentation your mind will go blank. Then it will fill with the words, “See, I knew I wasn’t any good at presenting and now look at what has happened! My mind has gone blank and the senior management team now thinks that I am useless!

When your performance matches your self talk it re-enforces it which in turn re-enforces the image that you have of yourself either succeeding or failing. This can result in either a virtuous or vicious cycle that affects your performance.

The point of leverage is your self talk. You don’t have to create ‘fake‘ self talk. This is the type of self talk that even you don’t really believe. In the above example, ‘fake‘ self talk would be something like, “I’m going to be the best presenter the senior management team have ever experienced. I’m going to have them eating out of the palm of my hands.

You might have this type of self talk if you were already an accomplished presenter, but if you were coming off a low base then this type of self talk will be ‘fake’ and actually won’t help you (because you won’t really believe it!).

A more effective form of self talk is something like, “I’ll be the best presenter that I can be today. Period.” This type of self talk is believable and gives you the opportunity to see yourself as a ‘learner‘ rather than an expert. When you see yourself as a learner and you make a mistake it is far easier to recover than if you have used ‘fake‘ self talk.

However, self talk is not enough. It must be balanced with doing the right work and focus. The right work in this example relates to learning how to do an effective presentation and putting what you learn in to practice before you do your presentation to the senior management team. Focus refers to the skills and structure that support the action that you are taking. In this example your focus would relate to the core message that you want to convey, the key supporting arguments that you have for your message and the call to action that you want the senior management team to adopt.

These self talk principles can be applied to any situation.

If you aren’t doing the right work and don’t have focus, then all the positive self talk in the world will amount to nought.

How do you manage your self talk?

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.

Who is on your Personal Success Team?

Over the past few weeks I have helped over 100 people create their first ever OTM Plan For Personal Success. The process for creating these plans have ranged from large group facilitated workshops to one on one executive coaching.

One of the fascinating and recurring themes of my work in this space is that people do not have mentors currently present in their lives. Yet everyone with whom I have worked over the past few weeks (to a person) has agreed that they need other people to help them to achieve their success (and in turn recognise that they too should assist other people in achieving their success).

Dee Hock, the founder of VISA International considered mentors to be crucial to anyone’s success. I agree. In fact I currently have three formal mentors in my life, each of them adding clear and distinct value to my success journey. The insights, practical steps and good old fashioned ‘sounding boards’ are but a few of the benefits I have received as a result of conversations with my mentors. These days most of the conversations I have with my mentors is over Skype. (While all three of my mentors reside in Australia, one lives in Melbourne but some distance from me, another lives in Adelaide and the third lives in Perth). It is such a simple and effective tool for these types of conversations.

The challenge for most people is that each of us have to take personal responsibility for recruiting our mentors. One of the success tools I use in the OTM Planning For Success program is called Establishing Your Personal Success Team. This is a group of people who have either holistic and/or specific skills that can contribute to your success. Mentors, coaches, advisors, partners and close friends fit into this category.

Establishing a list of the sort of roles people will need to fill is a great first step to creating your Personal Success Team. Once this list is established, it becomes obvious that mentors will need to be sought.

So, how do you find a mentor? One way is to ask people. Another way is to find suitable people and pay them  for their value (as I do). The more I study success, the more I am discovering that successful people never stop seeking help from other people. Ever.

So, who is on your Personal Success Team? If you don’t have anybody, what are you going to do about it?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Are your actions undermining what you have asked your team to do?

One of my coaching clients is a coach of a semi-professional sporting team in Melbourne, Australia.

We were having a conversation about the excuses that he is receiving from players regarding their inability to make it to training. He was planning to ‘have a go at them for their lame excuses‘ at their next training session.

He provided an example that one player had told him that he couldn’t attend training because he would be attending his niece’s birthday party.

My client was frustrated. He felt that such excuses were pretty lame. “I would never have missed training for my niece’s birthday party. How lame!”

Just as I asked him if it was possible that this player did in fact place his niece’s birthday party as a higher priority than training, at least for this one day in the year, my client’s phone rang. It was one of his assistant coaches so I encouraged him to take the call.

After a few minutes he came back.

“Gee. The excuse was true. His sister is extremely unwell and her daughter is without her mum on her birthday. He’s doing the right thing.”

I couldn’t have been more excited. The information that my client received was perfect for what I was about to ask him.
“What have you asked your players to do if they can’t make training?” I asked.

“Ring or text me” he replied.

“Is that what they are doing?”

“Yes”.

“So they are doing what you have asked them to do?” I re-enforced.

“Yyyeeeesssss?” He said, his brow slightly furrowed.

The penny had not yet dropped.

“It seems to me that your players are doing exactly what you have asked. They are ringing you or texting you when they cannot attend training and providing their reasons. Yet your focus has shifted to the content of their reasons. You are focussing on whether or not you think their reasons are valid. As this example with the niece has shown, clearly you thought the excuse was lame, but when you found out the whole story you found out that it made sense.”

“What if,” I continued, “you stopped worrying about the content of the excuses you are being provided. Why not believe whatever they tell you, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. This example shows that the player involved was being honest with you. Ultimately, isn’t that what you want?”

“Yes it is” he replied.

He then said, “If I had used the niece’s birthday party as an example of the types of excuses for not training that I was getting, as I had planned to do, and I had ridiculed such an excuse I could have ruined my relationship with that player and shown the players that I didn’t really want them to be honest with me. Maybe I could use this example to show that I will believe whatever they tell me. Ultimately, if players want to lie to me, that’s about them, not me.”

He continued, “I was getting pressure from the other coaches to stop accepting all the ‘lame‘ excuses we believed we had been getting, but training attendances are actually far exceeding those of previous years. The collective data on the whole group is actually very good. I want the players to be honest with me and that is what they have been doing. I can see how easily I could have changed that behaviour and inadvertently encouraged them to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I’m glad we’ve had this chat!”

If you have ever played sport, or acted in a play or played in a band and felt the ‘sweetness‘ of perfect timing, this is how I felt at this point in the conversation.

I see this a lot in my work. Leaders asking their people to do something, which they then do, but the leader loses focus on what they had asked their people to do and shift their focus onto something else, albeit closely related. But they effectively ‘move the goalposts’. This causes confusion and triggers the “Guessing Game”. Team members start guessing what the leader really wants. This is extremely destructive. Yet the leader, from my experience, has little awareness that they had in fact moved the goalposts.

One of the great challenges for leaders is to maintain behavioural alignment between what they say and what they do. Fortunately, in the above example my client was able to maintain his.

What are your examples of this challenge?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

Great for leaders, great for followers, great for organisations