How to be Rubbish at Presentations

The time has come: You’ve been asked to give a presentation at the next team meeting and you are dreading it. As part of the How to be Rubbish at Everything series, this article will help you understand what NOT to do.

Knowing how poor presentations come together will hopefully help you to avoid these common pitfalls. How many of these anti-tips are you currently guilty of?

Don’t plan

When you are creating a presentation, is your first action to fire up PowerPoint and start creating files? The problem with this approach is that you are not thinking about the bigger picture of your presentation. This means your focus is on the individual slides, and not the whole presentation – leading to a disjointed slideshow which does not deliver a cohesive message.

Think about why you’re giving this presentation; what outcome do you want to achieve? What are the ‘take home messages’ you want your audience to go away with? Now grab a pen and a notepad and start brainstorming slides. Think about the logical flow of the presentation and to to build this around your key messages.

This approach will ensure you get a presentation that flows well, stands up on its own and tells a story.

I’m a bit obsessed with telling stories; probably due to all the reporting I’ve done as a finance professional. I would recommend investing time in the stories that you tell in your life – make sure you define what people to think about you! My guide to How to be Rubbish at Interviews also talks about stories…

Don’t practise

Probably the second biggest reason why people give bad presentations is a lack of practice. EVERYBODY needs to practise presentations. Attempting to give the presentation without having rehearsed your story will make you sound like someone that doesn’t know what’s happening in the slides.

People are generally on your side when you stand up to present. However people switch off and get annoyed fairly quickly if you look unprepared and under-rehearsed. Perhaps another guide to “How to annoy people while giving presentations” would be good here (not really)…

Don’t spell and grammar check

Madness. Not spell checking and reading through for grammar? Madness. Most office packages out there do a pretty good job of finding the stinkers, but you’ve still got to engage your brain and make sure you haven’t used the wrong version of there/their/they’re. Don’t forget the title too! Our brains are good at overlooking stuff, and slide headings are a prime example of this.

Get someone else to read through the slides who wasn’t involved in producing them, they will spot little typos and errors fairly quickly. If you’re blessed with a team then great, delegate, otherwise work on your team-mates or colleagues (get your influencing skills up to speed right?)

Include more (or less) than one slide per minute

How long do you have to talk for? 30 minutes? Rule of thumb – one slide per minute, so 30 slides. This is a guide, your particular industry or specialty may call for more or less, but use this as a starting point and scale from there.

Turning up with more slides means you won’t talk about everything that you’ve planned, and turning up with less will mean you don’t fill the time.

Use lots of flashy graphics

When I created my first Powerpoint presentation I was really excited by all the shiny buttons and flashy graphics. I feel sorry for all those people that had to sit through my presentations (if you saw me present anything from 1999 to 2002 this applies). Correctly used graphics can have a great impact, incorrectly used they can ruin your flow. Have you ever seen someone click through 20 bullet points on a slide? Aside from the repetitive strain injury and the fact that they have too much on the slide, this just looks lame.

Rule of thumb? Probably look to use graphics once or twice in your presentation – certainly no more than five. Think about what the impact is you wish to achieve – a revealed question answer or the punchline to a joke – and then have fun making this stand out. Don’t just whack animations on every slide.

I once saw someone present who had got the graphics totally wrong. The answers to the questions (which he wanted to reveal at the push of a button) were the only items on the screen at the beginning, totally ruining his presentation (and reputation as a speaker).

Turn up without a backup

Uh oh, you feel hot under the collar and have started to sweat. The email you sent to the PA with the presentation has been lost and you have no presentation to give! What are you going to do?

Unfortunately without a backup, there is nothing you can do (unless you turned up with handouts – see below – and will at least be able to talk through something).

Always take a backup on a USB stick. These things are ridiculously cheap these days so there’s no excuse not to have one.

Turn up without handouts

Turning up without handouts has 2 major drawbacks:

  1. If your laptop fails you’ve got nothing to talk through
  2. People like having something to make notes on and will be more engaged

Powerpoint makes it really easy to create handout notes from the print preview screen, so make sure that you use it!

If you are running a quiz at some point which has the answers on the slides, you’ll need to make a second presentation with the answers deleted out for the handouts. This does add time to your preparation, but will make you come across a lot more credible.

Don’t introduce yourself and your topic

The first one minute of any presentation is key – it is then that first impressions are made. Your audience will be drawing conclusions about your presentation skills and deciding whether or not to be engaged in your content. So launching into the first slide at 100 miles-per-hour will seriously dent your chances of appearing like a great presenter.

In your preparation, spend some time on your introduction. Make sure you say:

  • Who you are
  • What you’re talking about (briefly)
  • Why you’re qualified to speak about this (don’t brag though)

Even if most people know who you are, this will help set the mood and expectations of the audience. Plus you’ve ‘broken the ice’ if you’re nervous and hopefully have built up some momentum.

Let nerves get the better of you

Talking of nerves, this is one area that can seem hard to overcome. If you find presenting about as appealing as a dentist appointment then there really is only one way to overcome this: Do more presentations.

Ask your boss for help with this, he/she should be able to find some low-key, low-risk opportunities for you to present. By doing a few of these presentations you can get a feel for presenting and start to deal with your nerves. I would never recommend drinking alcohol as a way to cover up nerves. This is a short-term fix that may make you feel better, but will seriously impact your ability to deliver.

Before I started working in finance I worked as a professional musician. I played a few instruments but also sang lead vocals. The very first time I was being paid to sing at a function I was very nervous; thankfully I had prepared well and once I had nailed a few tracks things got easier. 50 gigs later and the prospect of singing was no longer a problem for me.

Read the slide out word for word

You’ve seen people do this before I assume? A slide comes up with loads of text and they start to read every line out, word-for-word. Somewhere deep within you a yawn begins that it impossible to keep from spilling up out of your mouth!

Just don’t do this – each slide has it’s own story and you need to make sure you know what this is…

Do not engage the audience

Audience engagement is a key factor in the success of your presentation. Rubbish presentations are those that go on-and-on about boring topics with no chance to ask questions or interact with the speaker. There are a couple of ways to engage your audience that are worth mentioning.

Allowing interaction with your content is the best way to ensure engagement. Asking questions, mini-quizzes, straw-poll hand raises, getting people to stand up – all these are great ways to keep people’s attention and engagement.

Use eye contact – attempt to look your audience in-the-eye as you progress through and they will feel like you are speaking directly to them. Sometimes people don’t want to return your gaze, but keep tracking through the crowd as you speak and looking directly at people.

It is important to face the audience, even if the room is not set up well (sometimes the laptop stand is facing sideways, or you have to stand to the side of the audience.)

Summary

I hope you now know what it takes to be truly rubbish at presentations. Make sure you plan, practice and deliver great presentations in the future by NOT following any of these tips…

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not have a look at some of the other “How to be Rubbish at Everything” articles here.

I have pulled together a simple checklist that you can use to see which of these tips you are following – just click the image link below to bring up a printable PDF.

How to be rubbish at presentations check list

GTD & Evernote – which notebooks and tags to use

Evernote Logo
Evernote Logo – by /sizemore/ from Flickr.com

So I’ve tried (and failed) to implement Evernote and GTD, and along the way I’ve learnt how to setup my Evernote tags and notebooks to best suit me. There are lots of differing opinions on this; my advice is to read a couple of approaches and choose one which resonates with you. Give it a try, but don’t be afraid to adapt it to suit you. Whatever works best for you…

The four key notebooks that work for me

My notebook setup within Evernote complements the GTD approach. I put a number in front of each notebook so they appear in this order.

  • 1. Inbox
  • 2. Next
  • 3. Someday/maybe
  • 4. Reference

The inbox is where everything gets sent and represents the collect phase of GTD. As you gather actions or things to remember, don’t worry about what they mean, just chuck ’em in the inbox.

The Next and Someday/maybe notebooks are where all my notes requiring action are sent during the process phase of GTD. Each of these notes will have a next action clearly written in the first line of the note.

Once a note has had the actions completed I throw it into the reference notebook. I’m not too bothered if this notebook gets cluttered, Evernote’s search functionality is so good that finding old notes takes seconds.

Don’t get too hung up on notepads when running GTD on Evernote – choose a simple approach like mine and go with it. You can always add more notebooks later.

Evernote tags that are simple but effective

Again, simplicity is key to succeeding with GTD tags. I have 4 types of tags I use:

  1. Action type – starts with “@” to keep it at the top of the list
  2. Life area/category
  3. Person/people
  4. Project

The action type tags define what is required. “@action” means I’ve got to do something, “@delegate” means someone in my team is doing something for me, “@waiting for” means I’m waiting (!) this works for me as I manage a team, and can keep track of what we’re doing with this approach.

The Life area/category tags define what area of my life or job the note fits into. I look after pricing at work, so naturally there is a tag called “pricing”, but I will also have one for “moving house”. I don’t distinguish between work and home life in my GTD implementation.

The Person/people tag uses the name of the person (or people) that the note is related to.

The Project tag is simply “!Project!”, and is flagged on the main notebook for the project. This allows me to pull all of my projects into one place for my weekly review.

An example might help illustrate:

My boss asks me to write a report on the new system we’re developing so that he can brief the FD. I chose to delegate this task to a team-member so my tags are:

  • @delegate
  • Bosses name
  • Team member name
  • Business area

This makes it really clear to me when I do my weekly review. I know that this is an outstanding action, but that I’ve delegated it to my team member. I also know that my boss is a stakeholder and will want a weekly update.

Notebooks and tags in use

This Evernote setup works well for me, and one of the main  reasons is that I can take a cut of my tasks that is appropriate for the situation. When approaching a one to one with my boss I can pull out all of the outstanding tasks that he gave me, and can give updates on how I’m getting along. If I’m getting ready for a project meeting I can pull out all of the outstanding tasks for that project easily.

Summary

Don’t get too bogged down in which notebooks and tags are appropriate for GTD on Evernote. Chose an approach and go with it!

SMART objectives

Most people who work have some form of official objectives that they sign up to. These will be used to measure their performance, and there may be performance bonuses which are linked to these.

A well known model to help you to create better objectives is the SMART framework, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.

Objectives created under this framework are good because they remove ambiguity from the objective, while allowing a measurement framework to be developed for the objective.

SMART Objectives - how to design better objectives

Specific

Specific objectives will say exactly what you need to deliver in the appropriate level of detail.

Measurable

Good objectives are measurable and allow allow a qualitative or quantitative performance measurement to be made.

Achievable

Stretching yourself to achieve great things is wonderful, but make sure you the objective is bound by reality. Unrealistic objectives will make you fail.

Relevant

Objectives need to deliver outcomes that mean something. Achievement of your objective should go some way toward delivering your companies (or your own) priorities.

Time Bound

Finally, a great objective will have a timeframe; when will you complete this task.

Competency based interview: The STARE framework

Competency based interview questions are the hardest type to answer because you need to provide specific examples of behaviours or skills. Luckily there is a great tool you can use to frame answers that will massively help you to succeed at these. This tool is the STAR framework, however I’m going to add an ‘E’ at the end and call it the STARE framework from here.

The way to use this framework is to talk through your answer in this order – i.e. discuss the situation, then your required task, then describe your actions, then explain the result, then evaluate how you performed. It’s a tough skill, but one that can improve greatly with even the smallest amount of practice.

You are telling a story when answering competency based questions in interviews – make sure your examples are engaging and flow nicely. Even if the interviewer does not recognise that you are using the framework they will appreciate the structured answer.

Don’t overtly use this framework – i.e. don’t say “using the STAR framework I’d like to answer…” or start every sentence with “Situation” or “Task”. Just let your answer flow in the order below.

STARE Framework - how to succeed at competency based interviews

S – Situation

This is the scene setting part of your story – e.g. “my boss asked me to review the last 12 months of activity our PR company has organised – important because we were feeling that we weren’t getting value for money”.

Two tips – context and conciseness. Make sure your situation is given a little context – i.e. the bigger picture. This helps your interviewers get their heads around why this situation is relevant. Also make sure you are concise – keep the situation to one or two sentences otherwise you’ll never get to what you did (the point of competency based questions).

T – Task

Task is the activity that you needed to perform – this sometimes rolls up nicely with Situation. You can see from my PR example above this is what I’ve done (boss asking me to review PR activity).

A- Action

What did you do? Not us, not we, but YOU! You need to have “I” and “me” peppered throughout your answer. What steps did you take? What language did you use?

To continue the PR example above – “so I called the PR company and said that I was worried that we weren’t getting value for money – could they provide me with a list of their activities over the last year”. From this example it’s clear what you did.

R – Result

What was the specific outcome of your action? This result needs to be a worthwhile outcome when taking context into account. Continuing the PR example above – “the PR company were really shocked that I was suggesting a lack of value, immediately called my boss and complained about me. They then sent the required list through to me and my boss and offered us a 10% reduction in next years fee”.

This is now the end of the classic STAR framework – so how can you stand out from the crowd? Use my “E” – evaluate to really impress the interviewing panel.

E – Evaluate

Lots of people use STAR. To stand out from the crowd add a little evaluation to the mix – i.e. what did you learn, or what would you do differently next time? This is a really nice touch that shows your interviewer that you are always looking to improve your behaviours and skills and will leave them impressed.

I might say “The PR company weren’t very happy with me and asked my boss if they could deal directly with him next time – I’ve learnt that being pushy and direct can sometimes have some downsides. I arranged a meeting with them and smoothed it over by explaining WHY we thought there was a lack of value for money – after that they were happy to work with me”

Summary

Use the STARE framework in your next interview and it should really help you land your dream job! There’s a great book by Ceri Roderick called You’re Hired! Interview Answers: Brilliant Answers to Tough Interview Questions which you can buy from Amazon by clicking the link. It will give you some great answers that should really help in your preparation…

 

How to be Rubbish at Job Interviews

Job interviews are stressful events in your life that can make a big difference to your future. As part of the How to be Rubbish series this article is designed to help you avoid some of the common mistakes that many people make…

Don’t prepare

If you really want to fail at a job interview, the best thing you can do is turn up completely unprepared. It’s easy to spot the unprepared candidates out there (trust me!), and really sends a strong message to the interviewer about what sort of person you are.

Preparing for a job interview means researching the company, the role, and the industry, and making sure you have a coherent story about your past to talk through (see below).

Prepared candidates appear calm and credible, unprepared candidates appear flushed and flappy – which kind do you want to be?

Don’t create a story

Interviewers want to know about what you’ve been doing previously, and the best way to make your history sound crap is to make it up as you go along (AKA ad libbing – see below). Thinking carefully about turning your career and life history into a story will make you sound credible, authoritative and in control. Prepare 2 versions:

  • The elevator pitch – 30 seconds
  • The 5-minute resume/CV walkthrough

You’re trying to show interviewers that your life has not just been a series of random events that have led you to turning up at this interview. You also need to practice walking through your CV a few times which will make your story flow better when you tell it.

Don’t practice for the interview

Interviews have many different formats, but there are some key things that you can practice if you want to avoid looking like an idiot.

Practice answering questions is the most obvious form of practice – the internet is full of articles listing ‘the most common interview questions’ – look at a few of these and make sure you have practiced answering these. In my opinion it is almost criminal to not have an answer to “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Where do you want to be in 5 years time?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

These days the HR people tell us to use competency based questions, so you’d be stupid not to practice some of these. These questions require you to provide specific example of performance. Frame your answer around the STAR acronym – Situation Task Action Result and you will sound in control. The most important thing about competency based questions is that you make it clear what YOU did – so use “I” and “me”, rather than “us” and “we”.

 

Don’t dress smartly

Once I had someone turn up to an interview with me who was really trying to be rubbish. He didn’t wear a tie, turned up in jeans and looked really scruffy. My first thought was “this person must have poor levels of attention to detail” (important in finance) and set the guy up to fail. An interview is a time in your life when you need to look as good as you can – so dress to impress.

Don’t be punctual

Being punctual means arriving at the right time. For most people this means don’t be late – even 5 minutes can wreck your interview. Also don’t fall into the trap of turning up too early. I once had someone arrive one hour before scheduled and tried to move the interview forward (he didn’t get the job BTW). This crazy trick doesn’t give a good impression – it just makes you look like you don’t own a watch! I aim to arrive in the area one hour early, and then hole up in a coffee bar until 5 minutes before the interview starts – then I arrive unflustered and in control.

Create a terrible first impression

The first time someone sees you they are forming opinions about whether you would be good in their role. Give a firm (but not too firm) handshake, meet their eyes and say hello. Answer any questions they have about your journey in a polite manner, and perhaps throw in a few questions about the office you’ve just walked into (how many people work here”, etc etc). You can’t win them over in the first two minutes – so don’t try; you’ll come across as pushy and annoying. However you definitely CAN lose them in the first two minutes; make sure that your first impression is good.

Don’t look them in the eye

Eye contact is a great way to increase trust and credibility within an interview – you look far more truthful if you look someone in the eye as you talk to them. So if you want to completely screw up the opportunity, just make sure you keep your eyes downward as you talk to the interviewer. It can be quite intimidating to hold someone else’s gaze – especially if they are not smiling at you – but it’s definitely worth doing.

Slouch in your chair and have rubbish body language

Body language is key in an interview – some great tricks to do this badly include:

  • Slouch in your chair (you look lazy)
  • Fiddle with something (annoying)
  • Fold your arms in a defensive way (what is he hiding?)

Plan how you want to sit, be self-aware of what you are doing with your hands and feet – it really makes a difference.

Be overly familiar

You want the interviewer to like you right? WRONG! You want the interviewer to think that you are a good fit, and that you have the experience commensurate with the position. The interviewer is not looking for new friends. Do not shorten the interviewers name – call them exactly what they introduced themselves as. I always introduce myself as Oliver – and plenty of people I’ve interviewed call me Oli – it doesn’t leave a good impression.

You need to react to the tone of the interview by picking up cues from the interviewer. If they crack a joke early on then you can also follow suit – but if you’re not sure – tend towards being at the more formal end of the spectrum.

Swear

A great way to fail in an interview is to use ANY swear word. If I hear one in my interview it is an automatic NO decision.

Tell lies

Telling lies in an interview may feel like a good solution if you have something you want to hide – but it never is. Once you’ve laid your lie it is hard to maintain it if the interviewer starts digging around with further questions. The interview switches in your head from I need to nail this interview, to I need to back up this lie and you start to lose the interviewer.

If you do get a job by telling lies you are setting yourself up to fail. At some point in your future you will let your guard down and uncover the truth – is this how you want your boss to view you? I don’t trust liars.

Ad lib

Clearly if you haven’t prepared for the interview (see above) then most of your interview will be ad libbing. But if you have prepared some really nice sound bites and stories to share during the interview try to stick to them. If you start to ad lib around stories you will find it harder to stay on track, you’ll probably start to gabber/mutter and your interviewer will probably get bored. You’re also quite likely to offer some extra information you didn’t want them to know!

Be emotional or beg

Being emotional has its place – but that place is never a formal job interview. Crying or getting angry about your previous place of work will make the interviewer feel uncomfortable and want to exit the meeting ASAP. Maintain a healthy and professional calm throughout the interview.

Begging is also a bad idea – think of the job interview as the first part of a negotiation. If the interviewer thinks you’re desperate you might get a rubbish salary, or no job offer at all.

Be modest

An interview is a time to be proud of yourself; you have some great examples to share from your history, so tell it loud and proud. Being modest about your achievements makes it sound like someone else has done them and will quickly make your interviewer discount your answer. However being a show-off will also make your interviewer switch off – so aim to strike a balance between sharing your successes and not being too ‘up-yourself’.

Switch off once the official interview is over

That’s it – you’ve answered the last question and are walking down to reception with one of the interviewers – in the bag? NOT YET! You are still being evaluated. Stick to subjects such as your journey home or your next few weeks at work and you will not go far wrong. One candidate once tried to tell me on the way back to reception how great it was that she has bought a house at 21 – that’s really young isn’t it? The information was pointless and annoying and didn’t help her case at all…

Summary

See – it’s easy to completely screw up a job interview isn’t it? Why not download my free check-list so you can tick off the areas you are currently being rubbish in and work to eradicate them?

How to be Rubbish at Interviews Checklist

 

My Top Ten Tips for Excel 2010

Excel 2010 is a great spreadsheet program – and here are my ten tips

1. Hide the ribbon

I hate the ribbon. If you need to do anything in Excel that requires clicking through the ribbon, you’ll end up wasting loads of time clicking with your mouse (see #3 for why, and #2 for what to do instead).

2. Fill the Quick Access Toolbar with all your favourite commands

The quick access toolbar is the answer to the ribbon! All your favourite commands in one place – no matter which ribbon tab you’re on!

Follow this link for a detailed blog on how to set this up.

3. Learn the Alt Keystrokes for your Quick Access Toolbar

Replace lengthy mouse sweeps and clicks with speedy key commands! All your items on the quick access toolbar are available as key commands; just press and release the alt key and the numbers appear next to the command.

Also don’t forget the classics: control S = save, F12 = save as – and so on. If there is a key command available – then you should use it where possible.

4. Remove Duplicates

My favourite function. If you have a set of data where one or more rows repeats itself, and you want only unique rows, then this function quickly does this for you.

5. Clear all filters

Don’t you hate going through your filtered table, trying to find the columns which are filtered? There is now a function that will clear all filters for you instead!

6. Conditional formatting

Conditional formatting got good in 2010. A quick trick, try hovering over the various options with your mouse and your data previews the changes live.

7. SUMIFS

SUMIFS is like SUMIF on acid. You can choose more than one criteria to sum on. Did you know that you can also use logical operators such as * and <> (“all” and “not equal to” respectively).

8. Sparklines

Mini graphs that fit inside a cell. This a really quick way to add instant graphical context to your data.

9. Intellisense (formula autocomplete)

When you start writing out a formula, have you noticed that auto complete options come up? If you press Alt then this option gets selected. Try it now – type “=VL” and then press the alt key. Voila! VLOOKUP formula!

10. Filter by colour

Certainly one of the most popular amongst my finance colleagues. You can filter data by cell colour AND text colour!

Summary

I hope you enjoyed my top ten tips for Excel 2010. Most of the above tips will help your speed and effectiveness in using this spreadsheet tool.

My big fat Evernote and GTD fail

If you’ve been following my blog you will have noticed that I have attempted to implement GTD and Evernote in order to become more productive.

Sadly this attempt failed! This blog is going to share the reasons for the failure in order to help me (try again), and help you (avoid these pitfalls)…

Too busy

As I began the implementation of GTD and Evernote I was entering a really busy time at work (budgets and pricing) and at home (selling and buying a house). Looking back this was a bad idea…

The first 2 weeks were like a honeymoon; the new processes were shiny and exciting and I found time to make sure that I prioritised them. Sadly I found myself struggling to hit deadlines as the weeks rolled on so I needed to focus on the ‘must do’ actions.

The learn from this is that I need to find a quieter month to allow the new system to embed itself in my life and become second nature. GTD and Evernote will have become my way of working so that when I’m really busy again I’m already up and running.

Didn’t finish reading David Allen’s book before I started

This is me all over – not reading the manual and diving straight into the processes. The main issue here is that I ended up partially applying the themes and processes of GTD. Anyone who knows anything about GTD knows that that’s not a good way to approach it!

The learn from this fail is that I need to finish the book, and then probably read a second time before attempting to implement it.

Didn’t do a weekly review

A key feature of GTD that you hear experts (such as Daniel Gold) recommending is the weekly review. Hands up, I just didn’t do this.

The outcome of this was to end up building a really big pile of crap (ie lots and lots of notes) that just gets bigger every week and started to make me feel like I didn’t know where anything was. Even though it was ALL in Evernote!

The learn for next time is to prioritise and schedule my weekly review. I’ll probably sneak off at lunch time on Friday to do this 30 minute activity.

Summary

In short, implementing GTD is hard enough – but doing it at the same time as Evernote during a really busy time is not smart!

If you want to give GTD or Evernote a try, then I hope you learned a bit from my fails. Don’t forget to check out David Allen’s original GTD book on Amazon, and Daniel Gold’s GTD and Evernote book on Amazon.

Implementing Evernote and GTD

I’ve decided to take the plunge and implement Evernote & GTD (“Getting Things Done” – David Allen’s approach to Productivity) in one fell swoop.

This series of blogs is going to track my progress, my learns and my fails.

What is GTD?


GTD is a complete approach to task and life management developed by David Allen. The original book was published in 2001 and has now sold over 100,000 copies!

I can’t cover all the intricacies of GTD in a blog post; for that you’re going to have to read the book (link at end of post). However there are several key factors that are worth understanding:

  • Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system
  • Perform regular reviews to ensure that you know what tasks you have
  • Allow yourself peace of mind knowing that you’ve captured everything

For me this is attractive; I currently have a work calendar, a work to-do list, a home calendar, a home to-do list, a a bunch of thoughts buzzing round in my head at any one point. I’m hoping that GTD will help me find some peace!

What is Evernote?

Evernote is a program that allows you to create ‘notes’, store them in virtual notebooks, tag them, and then find them easily.

Notes can be text, images or audio, and Evernote can search for words within your own handwriting! How good is that?

The other great thing about Evernote is that it works with all your devices. Smart phones, tablets, PC or Mac; there’s even a web version if you’re not allowed to install software in your work computer. This means you are never very far away from your system!

Evernote and GTD together

So I’m going to use the GTD philosophy, coupled with Evernote as my trusted system in one Big Bang implementation. Lots of people follow this structure, and I’m really excited to see how much I can leverage this.

Wish me luck as I embark in this new challenge in my search for better productivity…

To buy a copy of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity, click the link. You can also find further content from the great man himself on davidco.com

How to say “No” and increase your productivity

Kid Saying NoDo you wish you were less of a push-over? Do you find yourself agreeing to other people’s deadlines and then staying late to do your own stuff?

If so, it sounds like you could do with saying “No” a bit more often. In this post I’ll help you identify when to say “No”, and then give you some tips to help you actually say it.

But firstly – here’s why it’s good to say “No”…

Why it’s good to say “No”

All my career I’ve had feedback that I’m a “Yes man”. At first I thought this was great – I’m obviously helping everyone out and getting noticed for it. Then came the budget, month-end and divisional presentation to be delivered in one week. Guess what I did that week? Spent 12 hours in the office for 3 days straight.

Did I receive amazing feedback from this? Did I nail every piece of work? Did I manage to sleep that week? No, No and No.

I’d created the situation by saying “Yes” to people. It’s good to say “No” because then people are aware of what is possible. It’s also good to say “No” because you give yourself achievable deadlines. And it’s great to say “No” because people respect you more because of it. If you let people believe they can walk all over you then they will walk all over you.

When should you say “No”

This is all very well. Saying “No” to people is not that easy – and you’ve got to be careful to pick the right situations to say “No” in.

Be aware of your objectives and accountabilities – if a task contributes to these then it’s probably OK to say yes.

Be aware of importance of requestor – if the person can directly influence progression or your career then it’s a smart move to say yes.

So if a request does not help you achieve your objectives, and the person requesting is not important, then this is a good time to say “No”.

How to say “No”

First thing is a mindset change – it’s OK to say “No”. You deserve the right to decide how to split your time. So change from a “Yes” mindset to a “No” mindset. Make your default position a “No” position.

OK; mindset altered? Now follow these three steps when you next need to say “No”.

  1. Be honest – let them know why you can’t do it
  2. Be firm – if they appeal to you don’t change your mind
  3. Begone! Don’t get into a discussion, don’t offer any other solutions, and don’t dwell on the decision after they’ve gone

So let’s have a look at an example.
Paul: Oli can you run a report for me for tomorrow please?
Oli (being honest): Sorry Paul, I’ve got loads of other stuff on at the moment; I’m not going to be able to do that mate.
Paul: Oh… You see John’s demanding this right now – he says it’s really urgent – is there anyway you could help me out?
Oli (Being firm): I’d love to mate, but it’s not going to work with my current workload.
Paul: OK mate – thanks anyway…
Oli: Cheers mate.
Hopefully here you can see that it doesn’t take many words – you don’t need to be impolite – and you’re now back to your own priorities within 1 minute!

Summary

I hope this has been helpful – as someone who doesn’t like saying “No” this approach has helped me.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, why not have a look at some of my other posts? I’ve written one about procrastination and a few on priorities (five year plan and importance Vs urgency).

Please do share this with your social media buddies – there are some ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons underneath this post. The awesome shot of the kid screaming comes from Flickr user mdanys – check out her page on the previous link.

Get Tough with Meetings!

Image of calendar

Do you have too many meetings in your diary and struggle to get things done? Do you feel out of touch with what you’re doing and bounce aimlessly from meeting to meeting?

Don’t worry, this is quite common – today’s flat organisational structures encourage cross functional team-working (a good thing) but also lead to too many meetings. Today I’m going to show you how to get tough with meetings by getting you to ask a specific question at each part of the meeting life-cycle.

This post is part of my productivity philosophy; eleven steps to help you get back in control of your time. Previously I’ve written about keeping a clean calendar, which is worth a read if you haven’t already. This follows Golden Rules #2 and #3, Save a Little Time All the Time, and Push Back.

Get tough – ask questions

How do you respond to a meeting request or invite? Do you simply click the accept button? When was the last time you said “No” to a meeting request?

The subtle message you are sending here is “if you think this is important, then I’m happy to invest my time in this”. People will start to respect your time less than theirs.

Asking questions of the organiser is a really good way of showing them that you respect your time, and they are going to have to work hard to make it valuable for you. You are not just going to accept every request you get, but challenge and question the value of your time investment.

So try these questions out next time you get a meeting request…

The Invitation

You’ve just received the meeting request. Ask yourself this:

“Is this a good use of my time?”

How do you know if this is a good use of your time? A good guide is if the meeting is going to help you achieve your objectives. If not – unless someone important is asking you to go, then I would seriously consider declining the invite.

Check out my post on The Five Year Plan to help you set your objectives…

So you’re happy this meeting will help your objectives? Now ask the organiser this:

“Do you really need me for this meeting?”

How awesome is it if the answer is a No? You’ve just freed up some time! And you got the other person to decline it for you!

The Acceptance

Clearly you are needed, and the meeting is important. You can accept the meeting, but in your acceptance, ask this:

“Can you forward me the agenda?”

Wait for the embarrassed silence… Perhaps this particular organiser doesn’t value agendas? Perhaps the culture in your organisation is to have lots of small informal chats? Break the chain – make people realise that if they want you to invest your time in their meetings, they better have a good plan…

The Prep

I often wonder the value of meetings where nobody has done any prep. Before the meeting organiser has walked away from your acceptance question, ask this:

“Do I need to prepare anything for this meeting?”

This is great, because now if there is something that you need to prepare or read, you know about it. You can plan this into your tasks and turn up calm and prepared – impressing everyone else at the meeting. You’ve also given the meeting organiser a chance to think about what they want you to do. Get agreement for what you need to prepare and they can’t add to it later.

You’re now entering the meeting room itself – ready to embark on this important and value adding meeting.

The Introduction

At the beginning of every meeting, there is an amount of time while everyone gets settled into their seats and gets ready for the meeting. In this brief hiatus seek out the meeting chairperson and ask:

“How long do you think this is going to take?”

The subtle undertone has been set; you’re worried about wasting time and want this meeting to go as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The chair is hopefully now thinking that they’d better make sure the group stay on topic.

The Meeting

During any meeting there will be times when the topic moves away from the ideal. Perhaps Maggie is elaborating on her favourite topic, perhaps Sarah is reminding everyone of that time she did that really great presentation. These are not productive uses of anyone’s time, so why don’t you ask:

“Is this really relevant to this meeting?”

You don’t need to be rude – just speak plainly. I bet everyone else in the room who has heard Maggie’s rant before will be thanking you. If you’re worried that you’ve annoyed Maggie/Sarah – grab them afterwards and apologise – but explain why you did it.

The Closer

The end is in sight – the meeting has been efficient and engaging with few off-topic diversions. Just before you leave, why not ask:

“What are my actions?”

The chair will then look through his/her notes and explain what they think you should do. Compare this to your own notes and actions – did you miss anything off?

The Follow-Up

The final question you ask is immediately after The Closer question:

“When do you need this by?”

Don’t be the owner of timelines of something you’re doing for someone else – they want it – get them to tell you when they want it by. Now is the time to let them know if their timelines are realistic or not.

The Bottom Line

You’ve come to end of my post – perhaps you think that I’ve been quite harsh in my approach? Maybe you cannot imagine yourself asking these questions? You don’t need to go from zero to hero in one go – why not cut your teeth on some of the less harsh questions? I think The Introduction question is quite an innocuous one (“How long do you think this is going to take?”)

In using this approach you are giving out the following signals:

  • You respect and value your time
  • You will not waste your time
  • You are happy to speak up when you feel your time is being wasted

As you build in confidence you will find that others also start to respect and value your time, and worry about how they can ensure they are not wasting it!

Get Tough with Meetings questions
Print this handy reminder and hang it up somewhere prominent on your desk

The photo used with this post was downloaded from Flickr – a great shot from Daniel Moyle – you can view it here.

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