The Pros and Cons of Limited Email Use

Email guide1For so many of us, email supplies constant tasks throughout the workday. No matter what projects we have lined up or meetings we have scheduled, there is always the possibility of an email adding yet another task to our growing to-do lists.

But instead of checking email every time a new message pops into our inboxes, what if we had set (and limited) times to read emails throughout the day? This emerging trend is helping some professionals to manage the constant distraction of emails and to become more focused on tasks at hand. Could it work for you? In this blog post, we discuss the pros and cons of setting pre-determined times to check email.

Pros of Limiting Email Use
As much as we would like to become more efficient by multitasking, scientific research shows that multitasking simply does not make us more productive. In fact, it can actually limit our productivity by spreading our focus too thin.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Professor Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University addresses the problems of multitasking. According to Dr. Levitin, avoiding multitasking and instead focusing on a single activity at a time can increase creativity and productivity. And this includes limiting our dependence on our inboxes: Dr. Levitin suggests that you “partition your day into project periods,” which includes checking email at designated times. Otherwise, says Dr. Levitin, email and social networking can “sap attentional resources” in your brain.

In addition, limiting email use at work – and outside of the office – can positively impact your work-life balance. On evenings and weekends, many of us feel tied to our smartphones, ready to respond to urgent – and not so urgent – requests at a moment’s notice. By deciding to check your email only at designated times between 9 and 5, you are leaving necessary time for family, friends and hobbies outside of work.

Cons of Designated Email Time
Of course, many industries and careers do not allow for such careful regulation of email. If the nature of your work functions on last-minute requests and urgent messages, maintaining a strict email schedule could hinder your performance. It may mean that you miss a fleeting opportunity, or it could make you appear unreliable or unresponsive. Especially if you do not communicate your email schedule to colleagues or clients, important contacts may be left wondering about the delay in your responses.

And for some, a full inbox can be even more stressful than managing email throughout the day. The prospect of tackling a barrage of emails, albeit only once or twice in the day, can leave many of us uneasy. In some cases, it is simply more straightforward to deal with an issue as soon as it arises.

The Bottom Line
While there are many pros and cons to setting limited times to check email, the effectiveness of this strategy all depends on your position, your workplace culture, and the expectations of your colleagues and clients. That said, keeping a limit on constant email checking – in the workday and during evenings and on weekends – is necessary for your health and your productivity.

Celebrate! Etiquette for Special Occasions in the Workplace

Office-Party-EtiquetteIt’s time to celebrate! Whether a colleague is about to get married, welcome a new baby, or launch into retirement, there can be plenty of reasons to throw a party in the workplace. Workplace parties can be wonderful occasions to recognize major life milestones and enjoy relaxed time with co-workers. However, celebrations also risk becoming financially taxing and an overwhelming time commitment. Here are a few ways to keep workplace celebrations jovial and under control.

  • Don’t Make Every Day a Birthday.
    Unless you have a very small office or department, you do not need to celebrate every single employee’s birthday. Even a small gathering with a cake for every birthday quickly can become a burden on time and finances. That said, also avoid workplace birthday parties for only a select few individuals in the office. This gesture may suggest that certain employees are more important and worthy of celebration than others.

    On colleagues’ birthdays, a simple verbal “happy birthday” will do. An option to celebrate birthdays within reason is to have seasonal celebrations: one party per quarter for employees whose birthdays occur in spring, summer, winter or fall quarter. And if you are closer friends with a co-worker and want to celebrate him or her individually, it is fine to recognize them with a gift and a celebration – just do so after hours.

  • Develop a Standard Operating Procedure for Milestones.
    When it comes to workplace celebrations, equality is key. Developing a standard practice for celebrating milestones will lend the same level of recognition to all employees and will make the process more efficient. For example, decide that the your office will recognize a special personal occasion by gathering a collection, writing a card, and taking 30 minutes to share a cake. Such a milestone should not provide the opportunity to highlight workplace hierarchies or to prioritize only a few employees
  • Have a Designated Party Organizer, but Offer Help.
    Designating one employee, such as an office manager or administrative assistant, to keep track of important personal dates and to plan get-togethers can make organizing celebrations more efficient. However, make sure this employee voluntarily takes on this role, as it is not within the purview of his or her professional tasks. Also, offer to help out with smaller details such as picking up a cake or booking a room for the party. Though it is useful for one person to be in charge of the overall organization, it does not necessarily mean he or she must handle all the details alone.
  • Gifts Should Be Collective.
    Do not put employees on the spot to give individual gifts. A gift organized and purchased by a department, a team, or even the entire office is preferable to the expectation that employees each should shop for their own gift. Individual gift giving can easily lend itself to comparisons of status and wealth, and can pressure employees to give beyond their means. In some companies, it may also provide a conflict of interest.

    A reliable collective gift for an employee may be a gift card or a gift basket, paired with a thoughtful card signed by other staff members. Again, if you are close to a colleague and want to give a personal gift, that is fine – simply do so outside of the office.

  • Be Inclusive by Providing a Variety of Culinary Choices.
    Due to allergies or dietary restrictions, certain employees may not be able to join the celebration when it comes to the food, especially if the same snacks are ordered for every single occasion.

    Introduce new culinary options or include a variety of choices when planning menus for workplace parties. For example, if your office always orders a cake, next time pair it with fresh fruits and cheeses as an alternative. This gesture may also encourage healthy habits at the office, an additional benefit to hosting an inclusive party.

Bright Ideas: Incite Creativity in the Workplace

idea_1024x570Creative workplace environments should not be limited to so-called “creative” industries such as graphic design, film, or the arts. In fact, creativity should be present in any workplace, no matter the industry or department. Whether you work in HR, sales, or finance, creativity must be encouraged for your company to advance. Here are a few ideas to foster creativity in the workplace.

  • Encourage a collaborative environment.
    In many cases, the saying “two heads are better than one” often rings true in a workplace. Staff members often bring different academic backgrounds and various professional experiences to the table. Encourage employees to work together and combine their various skills and experiences into new ideas.

    You can encourage collaboration by assigning group projects, creating team-building activities, or re-adjusting physical spaces at work. Even providing an open-concept space in an office set up with cubicles or closed offices can make a big difference.

  • Invite new ideas and foster open conversations.
    Some employees may feel shy or intimidated to contribute their ideas, especially if they are new to the company or inexperienced. But everyone can contribute something unique based on their own individual perspectives and backgrounds.

    Invite dialogue by creating “safe” and low-pressure environments where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas. This could include a staff bulletin board, an online forum available only to staff in your company, or a monthly meeting designed for brainstorming and casual yet productive conversation.

  • Inspire employees to think differently by adopting a new routine.
    We often become stuck in a rut when we fall into habits, performing the same routine day after day. But mixing up our quotidian routines can expose us to new thought patterns and new perspectives. Bring a new routine into your workplace by providing staff with opportunities to participate in trainings or lunch and learns. Whatever the topic may be, new learning opportunities can spark ideas and inspire employees to continue learning both on and off the job.
  • Allow others to lead.
    As a leader in your company, you may be accustomed to being the one designated to lead initiatives and forge ahead with business developments. But an opportunity to take the reins can provoke other employees to perform their best and strive to make a good impact on the company.

    Invite others to lead where they may not otherwise have a chance, even on smaller projects or initiatives within the organization. This gesture will also demonstrate to employees that their original ideas matter to the company and that they are valued.

To learn more about creativity in the workplace, see Forbes’ “Six Ideas to Promote Innovation in the Workplace” or Entrepreneur’s “The Three Elements Needed to Build Creative Genius in the Workplace.” How do you incite creativity in your workplace?

Internal Communication and Respect: Just as Important As External Relations

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a01_ur_gr_win-employees-respect-800x800Have you ever been to a shop or a restaurant and spoken with a friendly, helpful manager – only to watch that manager turn around and speak rudely to his or her employees? At that moment, did the store or restaurant suddenly lose its credibility? Think about this situation and apply it to your own company: does your organization respect its employees as much as its external clients and partners?

Even for companies that prioritize customer service and external relations, it is essential to foster positive internal communication and respect for employees. Without a strong internal foundation, external relations can’t follow suit – and external contacts will notice fissures in an organization that has weak internal relations. Also, an organization likely will have less focus and lower quality outputs if internal staff does not communicate well or feel appreciated.

Here are a few strategies to consider for improving your company’s internal communication:

  • Invite different forms of communication.
    While certain employees might feel that a face-to-face discussion is the most effective way to communicate, others may be more comfortable with email correspondence. As management, suggest different forms of communication through which employees can reach you or their supervisors directly. In addition, resources such as staff-wide forums (online or in-person) or informal monthly gatherings keep multiple communication channels open – and set the tone for a culture of communication.
  • Provide clear solutions for problem solving.
    It is important for employees to know where to go or whom to speak with when issues arise in the office. Otherwise, small problems occasionally can grow into job-threatening issues. The most obvious solution is having a strong and approachable Human Resources department. Ensure that HR employees are at the top of their game through professional development training and conference opportunities
  • Promote interdepartmental communication.
    In most companies, various departments rely on one another to complete their own work, whether directly or indirectly. However, many departments end up working in silos with little to no understanding of the objectives of other teams in the same company – even those working right down the hallway. Through team-building solutions and company-wide events, promote interdepartmental communication.

    It is important for staff to understand how their work fits within the work of the whole company as well as how it contributes to the efforts of others. With a better collective understanding of the overarching institutional objectives and strategies, employees will be able to pinpoint how their work contributes to the company as a whole – thereby finding more meaning in their own work.

  • As management, find ways to respond to employees directly.
    Simply because of the overwhelming number of responsibilities for executive-level staff, it is often necessary for an assistant to respond to emails and manage the bulk of the communications. Occasionally, however, it is important for employees to be able to reach company leaders directly. Employees should know that upper management is aware of the work and that it matters to the success of the company. Even a brief encouraging email to a department or an acknowledgment on a first-name basis can make a difference.

 

 

Tips for Healing a Bruised Reputation

internet-reputationYour reputation follows you wherever you go. No matter how many paths you take or career changes you make, you will always have the same reputation. As such, it is so important that you constantly work to build an excellent one.

Of course, life is also full of mistakes and learning can be a process of trial-and-error. Along the way, you might find your reputation in need of repair. Here are a few tips to care for your reputation throughout your career – whether or not you need to fix a mistake.

The best medicine is preventive medicine.
Just as staying active and eating a healthy diet can help to prevent many diseases, taking care of your reputation before any problems begin is a sure path to success. To preserve your reputation:

  • Always speak mindfully, no matter where you are or whom you are with. While you should not speak rudely or hurtfully about someone else in the office, keep the same standard during your free time in other contexts. You never know who could overhear your carelessly chosen words, even outside of the office.
  • The same standards apply for email conduct. Do not write an email that would embarrass you – or another person – if it were accidentally forwarded to your entire company.
  • Halt office gossip before it begins. If you are having an issue with a colleague, an employee or a boss, address that person directly or engage HR if necessary. Gossiping about a problematic person is not constructive and will only create more issues.

If you make a mistake, all is not lost.
We all make mistakes. If you happen to do something that bruises your reputation, remember: all is not lost. Do not throw everything away or give up on your reputation with one error. You can work to heal your reputation with certain steps:

  • Apologize to whomever you have wronged, if someone else was involved. Ensure that your apology is conveyed sincerely and meaningfully – and that you are, in fact, truly sorry.
  • Avoid making excuses for yourself. If you have made a mistake, gracefully accept the blame. Excuses may harm your reputation further, as others may perceive you as unable to admit your faults.
  • Proactively re-build your reputation. Do not simply maintain status quo that kept your reputation afloat prior to a mistake: instead, actively improve your reputation by assisting others or making an extra effort on the job.
  • Give it time. Do not expect your reputation to heal instantly – the fact is, even flawless reputations take years to build. But patience is a virtue: eventually, you can repair the damage.

Tips for Maintaining Grace Under Fire

Gravitas, one of the three core pillars of Executive Presence, is not a single trait but a combination of many characteristics. Among them, confidence, decisiveness, reputation and vision are key. Another indispensible element of gravitas? The ability to maintain calm and collected under intense pressure – otherwise known as “grace under fire.”

Poise-Under-Pressure

Like any feature of Executive Presence, the ability to demonstrate grace under fire is not a given trait. It must be learned and practiced. Staying focused and maintaining a cool head under pressure is certainly not easy – and those such as politicians, athletes, CEOs or other individuals whose jobs require them to be constantly on the spot must train in order to excel in their fields.

That said, nearly everyone has faced intense pressure in the workplace at some point – no matter what their job. And if you want to enhance your own Executive Presence, you too must find and practice strategies that work for you to remain calm during heated moments. Here are some tips that may help you to demonstrate “grace under fire.”

  • The first step: breathe. If you are faced with a stressful situation or if a colleague or client is demanding an immediate answer, you must remember that minimal time will be lost if you pause for a moment to breathe. Inhale, exhale, and then proceed with addressing the situation. Oxygen intake will force you to calm down, and taking even a couple of extra seconds to respond will help you refrain from blurting the first response that pops in your head.
  • Try not to take the stress of others personally. If a colleague, boss or client addresses you rudely or is very demanding, remind yourself that they likely are not trying to attack you, but rather are projecting their own stress. Though it is difficult to do so, try to detach some emotion from stressful situations in the workplace. This will help you to view the conflict through an objective, rational lens.
  • When responding to questions or demands while under pressure, avoid making up answers or excuses that you do not support or believe in. It’s not worth it to respond to a situation right away with a quick answer that is not genuine or well thought-out. Try to take time to consider an answer that you will not regret or want to change later.
  • Filter out demands that are top priority and address minor concerns later. Intense pressure on the job often comes from not one source, but from many demands all piling down on you at once. Instead of trying to fix everything immediately, prioritize what is most essential. This will allow you to focus, which is essential for staying calm in critical moments.

What tips work for you when you are under pressure? How do you maintain “grace under fire” on the job and elsewhere?

Dining Etiquette in the Age of Food Selfies

Mobile etiquette is now an integral part of etiquette training, especially when it comes to the presence of cell phones at the dining table. And as technology constantly evolves, discussions about its appropriate use must keep up. This week’s blog post, then, addresses one of the more recent yet wildly popular mobile trends: food selfies.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 11.35.02 AMPhotograph: Ana Arevalo/AFP/Getty Images

The other day, I was dining at a fine restaurant as part of Toronto’s Summerlicious festival. I couldn’t help but notice the behaviour of the couple at the table next to me. When each course of their three-course meal arrived, they spent several minutes photographing their food. After taking pictures, they proceeded to text or tweet the photos with their smartphones, which rested on the table throughout the duration of the meal.

While only mildly surprising, their actions nevertheless seemed to be more extreme than most cell phone usage that I have seen in restaurants. The downsides of this behaviour? The couple spent the majority of the meal ignoring each other, instead fixated on their phones and on taking pictures. Their actions also affected the ambiance of the restaurant, as they ignored the preferences of the restaurant staff and fellow diners.

Has this behaviour become normalized? In some ways, it has. I later learned that BlogTO, a popular Toronto blog, is hosting a Summerlicious 2014 Photo Contest. This contest encourages diners to photograph their food and submit it to the blog. This is not unusual: other contests such as Live with Kelly & Michael’s Farm-to-Table Food Selfie Contest or Cigna’s Healthy Food Selfie contest follow similar guidelines.

But even though the “food selfie” has become a normal and even encouraged ritual, it does not mean that it is always the best practice while dining. If you are determined to capture culinary memories at the table, consider these guidelines first:

  • First and foremost: Never take food selfies while out on a business lunch or dinner. Business meals are about building relationships with professional contacts, not about photographing your meal.
  • If you do want to take a picture if you are out with friends, family or while you are on vacation, do your best to photograph discreetly and quickly – then stow your phone or camera for the rest of dinner. If you want to tweet your photo, wait until you are no longer sitting at the table.
  • Do not let photos or social media interrupt the meal, no matter whom you are with. Dining with others should be a time to focus on those around you and enjoy each other’s company.

What do you think about the normalization of food selfies at restaurants? Is this behaviour here to stay?

For more on mobile etiquette and dining, see our previous blog post, “Cell Phones at the Dinner Table – Are Times Changing?

 

How does your Executive Presence measure up?

Do you want to enhance your Executive Presence, but have no idea where to start? Do you have trouble determining your areas for improvement or knowing how others perceive you? It can be difficult to understand the strengths and limits of your own Executive Presence without knowing the right questions to ask yourself. Luckily, we have developed some tools that can help you to determine exactly where you stand.

Evaluate your Reputation Capital
In business, your reputation is one of your most valuable assets and you must work constantly to build and improve it. Your reputation follows you everywhere: it is the presence you have even when you’re not there. And as one of the six components that compose “gravitas,” reputation is essential to your Executive Presence.

Of course, because your reputation has so much to do with what others say about you and how they perceive you, at times it can be difficult to assess the state of your reputation.

As part of our free resource page, our Reputation Capital Quiz can help you to define just that. The quiz, divided into the categories of “Character,” “Communication,” and “Trust,” takes a holistic approach to assessing your reputation – as mastering each one of these categories is essential to a strong and positive reputation.

The questions will ask whether you…

  • Care and act with everyone’s welfare in mind?
  • Come across as a person who has a genuine respect for others?
  • Go out of your way to communicate your genuine personal commitment to those you work with?

… Plus several more that aim to give you an accurate and honest picture of the current status of your reputation.

Assess Your Executive Presence
Executive Presence is important both on an individual level as well as a team level. There are three pillars of Executive Presence: Image, Communication and Gravitas, or the ability to be calm, confident, decisive and poised all at once.

To help you organize all of the many components which constitute Executive Presence – and allow you to reflect on your own projection of Executive Presence – we have developed two scorecards for assessing your own presence as well as that of your team.

Questions that assess your individual Executive Presence will ask whether you…

  • Are familiar with all protocols for business and social introductions?
  • Project credibility and instill trust immediately?
  • Always remember everyone’s name?

The team scorecard will ask you and your close colleagues whether your team…

  • Knows how to work a room and make good use of social opportunities to connect with clients and prospects, instead of sticking together at events?
  • Is highly knowledgeable on all the latest rules of virtual etiquette?

Reflecting on the status of your reputation and your presence is very important to initiate growth. Once you’ve taken these first steps, we can help you find the right path to improving your Executive Presence.

Check out all of our free resources on our site!

Recharge Your Batteries to Maximize Your Presence

Your phone, tablet and laptop are not the only things that need to be recharged on a regular basis. So do you! Whether you need a burst of energy in the middle of the day or need to envision your career path with a revitalized point of view, there are several strategies that can help you find the drive you need to meet your professional goals.

All professionals need to dedicate time and thought toward recharging. A tired, unmotivated individual cannot project a high level of Executive Presence or put forth the most positive and enthusiastic image possible. These qualities will enable success in the workplace and will help in developing lasting professional relationships.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 10.47.41 AM

 

Strategies for Recharging…

During the day
To make it through the day and into the evening with energy to spare, try the following strategies.

 

 

  • Do you take lunch at your desk or in meetings every single day? For many professionals, it can be impossible to step away from work, even for a few minutes. If you simply can’t leave your work at lunch every day, aim to step out of the office for lunch at least once per week. Without even a short break to clear your mind, the seemingly endless stream of work can wear you down.
  • Gather some vitamin D. Take advantage of the warm summer weather by stepping out of the office and into the sun – even for a short, 5-minute walk around the building. Moving your body regularly can also help you to recharge.
  • Or, move your body without even stepping away from your desk. The Mayo Clinic recommends several easy head, neck, and shoulder stretches that can offset the tension from sitting too long in one position.

Throughout the Week or Month
Weekends or evenings outside of work hours can help you find the time you need for more extensive recharging strategies.

  • Due to professional demands, many of us cannot unplug or refrain from working during the weekend. If this is the case for you, try at least to set aside a few set hours where you decide to avoid reading emails or checking your phone.
  • With a few free hours, physically step out of your home or office environment. Research shows that getting out in nature can have health benefits not only for your body, but also for your mind – and both are required in order to return to the office on Monday. Extensive travel is not necessary – going to the park in the neighbourhood can do the trick.

In Your Career
Recharging is also necessary in order to view your career through a long-term lens.

  • Through self-reflection, determine the positive and negative aspects of your working style. What functions well? What doesn’t? What do you need to change? Trying a new approach to your work can re-energize you by helping you become more efficient and productive.
  • Aim high: set yourself an ambitious yet attainable goal for the year. Whether you set out to obtain a promotion, lead a project, or increase your output, working toward a goal can help you achieve focus and drive in your career.
  • If the time is right for you and your company, take a vacation! Studies say that vacations can increase productivity and decrease risk of burnout at work. Not to mention, it can also improve your physical health.

Silence Speaks Volumes

Recently I read an anecdote about the power of silence. It described an event with thousands of people crowded into one room, with everyone chatting at once and no one paying attention to the individuals speaking at the front of the room. Three speakers failed to get the attention of the crowd – until, at last, one speaker simply stood in silence in front of the microphone. Soon after, all eyes were on him and you could hear a pin drop in the room. He achieved this using no words at all.

This story inspired me to think of the great value of silence in business, and what using silence can accomplish: not only to capture the attention of a crowd, but also to demonstrate respect, speak using other forms of non-verbal communication, and help you be the most articulate you can be. In this post, we talk about a few of the many ways that silence matters in business.

Quotation-Mahatma-Gandhi-silence-Meetville-Quotes-38492


Stay Silent – and Listen Up
In a conversation, sometimes the most important thing you can contribute is simply listening. To remain silent and listen may seem like no contribution at all, but it takes effort to be fully present in a conversation – and the rewards pay off.

 

  • What can you expect to learn from another individual, whether a mentor, colleague, superior, or friend, if you constantly feel the need to assert your own opinion? Especially in a professional setting with new or unfamiliar information, keep your ears open constantly. By taking in the most knowledge as possible from others, you will continue to learn and grow – which will lead to upward mobility in your career.
  • Show the utmost respect to the person you are conversing with by silencing your other conversations. Unless absolutely necessary, take your cell phone off the table during meetings. When someone comes to your office to talk, darken your computer screen or close your laptop. This will help you focus on the individual and will make your meetings more efficient, too.
  • For more on the importance of listening, check out or blog post on Why Engaged Listening Matters in Business.

Choosing Words Carefully
Never be afraid letting a conversation hang in brief silence before answering a question or responding to a comment. In fact, you should get used to it!

  • Before immediately jumping to respond to a question or comment, take a moment to reflect on your words. Not only will this help you to craft a more articulate response, it will also incite the attention of others. People will begin to notice that you take time, energy, and thought into answering a question – and that you are not simply blurting out the first thing that pops into your mind.
  • This is an especially important tip during a job interview or a first-time meeting with a client. It creates a positive first impression that you are a thoughtful, conscious individual. This first impression will inform your professional relationships and will work to your advantage.

Silence Speaks for Itself
When you are silent, in no way does it mean you are not communicating. The next time you are not talking, pay close attention to how you may be speaking without words.

  • Body language, even when standing still, says a lot about you and your attitude. Are you standing with slouched shoulders, arms crossed, or fidgeting? If so, others may perceive you as bored or apathetic. Or, is your posture aligned, your shoulders back, and hands on your hips or at your sides? This suggests you are confident, prepared, and alert.
  • When listening to someone, eye contact is key to let that person know that you are interested in and engaged with what they are saying. If you are truly listening but your eyes are wandering around the room, the speaker might suspect your indifference.

Your professional image speaks volumes about you. If you do not take the time to polish your image by paying attention to dress codes, fit and cut of clothing, age-appropriate attire, and grooming, your image can silently override anything you have to say – no matter how articulate you are.