Motivational Posters – Fad or Comfort?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the overwhelming motivational posters, sayings, and related paraphernalia on various social media sites? Why on earth do so many of these things exist? And even more so, why does everyone feel that they need to share something motivational with the world all the time?

I confess, I was sucked into this wormhole a while back, but I’ve been away from social media because I’ve been focusing on getting a Master’s degree and now that I’m back into my various sites, I’m gob smacked with the amount of seemingly well-intentioned messages that have flooded the Internet.

Sure, some might say that I’m not a nice person if I dislike motivational sayings, but seriously, my question is why do we NEED to see these sayings all the time? What is it that drives those to post motivational sayings? Is it because they themselves have no motivation, so by posting, they feel that they’ve done the rest of the world a favour? 

I imagine at this point, all those of you who understand the theory behind the motivational mumbo-jumbo are now eagerly writing posts to demonstrate how useful this is to man(woman)kind, but that brings me back to my question: Why do we need so much well-intentioned motivational “stuff” on social media? Are we so despondent and unaware of our own skills and abilities that we need to bombard the Internet with every silly saying under the sun?

If Ghandi were alive today, I doubt that he would be plugging up the Internet with his wise sayings. He’d be preaching it to those who are closest to him; those that care to listen.

My take on motivation is this:  You don’t need to get your motivation from the Internet – in fact, do yourself a favour and stop using the Internet as a motivational device. You won’t find motivation there (if anything, all those motivational “can do” sayings can really drag a person down!).

Build your resilience by doing superb work in whatever you set out to accomplish. And don’t forget to help your work colleague or your family with a task in which they are immersed. That’s how you build motivation – by being there and proving yourself to be useful when you are needed, time and again.


Kaizen to the Rescue

Successful organizational improvement initiatives depend on successful follow-up and maintenance. To this end, a very effective continuous improvement approach is Kaizen—“change for the best” or “good change.”

Kaizen is a Lean methodology that includes a set of activities applied continuously to all functions in an organization. What sets Kaizen apart from other improvement methodologies is that it involves all employees in the organization—from the CEO to the front line workers.

And it is easy to apply in any type of organization and to all processes within the organization.

Kaizen originates in Japanese businesses, but its influence since the Second World War is worldwide. The reason is simple: Kaizen humanizes the workplace by involving all employees to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. The process is transparent and inclusive of all those involved in the process: from suppliers to customers to employees to all other stakeholders.

The continuous improvement from Kaizen is a daily process of evaluating workflow and eliminating waste on the spot. In many organizations bogged down with policies, directives, and other “checking” mechanisms, workflow is slow and wasteful. But with Kaizen, eliminating waste directly targets these checking mechanisms to improve efficiency and productivity, enabling a faster workflow.

Another benefit of Kaizen is that usually only small improvements are delivered. Over time, these small improvements add up to big improvements because many (all) processes are involved throughout the organization. And this compound productivity improvement means huge savings in time and money for the organization—systematically replacing inefficient practices with customer value-adding practices is a win-win for all.

Kaizen replaces the command-and-control mid-twentieth Century models of improvement programs. Because changes to processes are carefully monitored by those who directly work in the process, Kaizen’s continuous improvement is sustainable. In addition, changes are typically done on a smaller scale, so it is easier to monitor and sustain improvements in the long term.

While Kaizen events are usually week-long blitzes of improvement and limited in scope, issues identified at one event are very useful in informing subsequent improvement events. This type of “paying it forward” approach of “plan-do-check-act” helps maintain a cycle of continuous improvement in all of the processes in the organization.

What is also interesting, but perhaps not surprising, Kaizen has evolved into personal development principles because of its simplicity. Check out Robert Maurer’s book on this topic: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.

Interpersonal Communication and Productivity

Stephen Covey got it right—Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Many of us forget the importance of truly trying to understand the speaker before offering up our comments. Without this understanding, we set ourselves up for ineffective interpersonal communication.

What happens when we don’t understand the message? We jump to conclusions and we misdiagnose. This is like diagnosing symptoms as problems, rather than getting to the root of the symptoms to find the problems. Our tendency to rush to fix what’s on the surface can get us into trouble. This is why communication is so important.

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening—these are the basic ways in which we communicate. If we do not understand, really understand the message; then we are in danger of losing our work effectiveness and productivity. In fact, one of the top reasons that employees leave companies is due to their relationships with their supervisors. Employees who feel heard and understood have more productive relationships.

To improve your productivity and, as a result, the organization’s productivity, you need to listen to the speaker first. This is counter to what we normally expect; i.e., to be understood. But it’s an iterative process. If we make the effort first to understand, it follows that the speaker will also make the effort to understand our point of view.

To help you improve your listening-for-understanding skills, here are ten suggestions (adapted from Business Communication Today by Bovee, Courtland, & Thill):

  1. Minimize both internal and external distractions. Close windows, doors, turn your chair, and adjust the environment as much as possible to really focus on the speaker.
  2. Adjust your listening to the situation. If you’re listening to instructions from your boss, you will want to pay closer attention than if you’re listening to the local sports or news cast.
  3. Use nonverbal communication to enforce listening. To show the speaker that you are listening and understanding, nod or shake your head, use facial expressions, and adjust your posture. Making eye contact is also important.
  4. Selectively remember the most important points. Use mental imagery or write down the important points, so that you don’t forget them.
  5. Demonstrate empathy. If a friend or colleague is discussing their problem with you, show them that you understand and empathize with what they’re experiencing.
  6. Do not provide advice unless asked. Not everyone wants advice when they tell you something. Only give advice if asked to do so.
  7. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish before providing your point of view or asking questions.
  8. Don’t prejudge the message or the messenger. You can learn something from everyone. Keep an open mind.
  9. Focus on the subject. Train yourself to concentrate even when the topic is not very interesting.
  10. Do not overreact. If someone is presenting a topic that you’re passionate about, curb your emotions and present your points calmly. You will gain credibility if you keep your emotions in check.

Communication is the most important skill in life. If you truly understand the speaker and the speaker feels you have made a connection, then a trusting relationship is established and communication becomes freer. This allows you to cultivate better relationships at work; leading to more effective and productive results for all.

The Little Things ARE Important

When we focus on getting things done, we typically focus on allotting time for the important and time-consuming tasks. If it’s very important and it’s going to take a long time, we must get it done first, right? Yes and no.

In prioritizing, it is easy to forget to take care of work that can be done in a minute or two; regardless of its importance. When we consistently defer doing the little things, they can become big things. And big things can be a lot harder to manage.

When we end up facing a mountain of big things, we can become overwhelmed. Overwhelm may lead to procrastination which may lead to more little things piling up and becoming big things. It becomes a vicious cycle—little work becomes big work that leads to overwhelm that leads to procrastination. This can lead to stress that eventually leads to poor health and in extreme cases, death.

Take e-mail as an example. How many opened e-mails do you have right now in your e-mail inbox? Any number above zero is too many. Why? Because as soon as you open an e-mail, an action is required that will allow you to remove it from you inbox.

If you open an e-mail and leave it in your inbox (whether or not you acted on it), the accumulating open e-mails in your inbox become electronic clutter that contribute to mental clutter. And mental clutter contributes to overwhelm. For e-mail management, follow the B-F-A-T rule.

For any task that can be done within a couple of minutes, do it immediately. If you do, you will decrease your workload almost instantaneously. You will also decrease your mental clutter. The goal is to start working on tasks that can get done quickly and then follow through to completion.

In other words—if you start, don’t stop until it’s done.

Any tasks that keep nagging at you such as the bill that needs to be paid, the appointment that needs to be made, the paper on your desk that needs to be filed—all of these things can take less than a few minutes, but as soon as you get them done, you are saving yourself from carrying them in your head as a “need to do.”

If you have thought about something more than once, but have not taken action to complete it, this is an item that must be taken care of right away; especially if you can get it done in a few minutes.

In addition to taking care of the little things immediately, do not write the little things on your “to do” list. If it takes you longer to write down what you need to do than it does to actually do it, then start doing it and don’t stop until you’re done.

A little known side-effect of doing quick tasks right away is that the action of not stopping something that you start can translate to developing good habits. For instance, if you know you need to go for a workout (the thought keeps nagging you), putting on your runners (starting) will take less than a minute. Once you’ve got them on, follow through on the task (don’t stop).

Whether at work or at home, turn nagging thoughts into actions and start working on all the little things to completion. When you do, the inertia of your actions will result in good habits that can last a lifetime.

All you need is to get started.

Purge Parties are a Team Sport

For organizations focused on improving their productivity, there’s nothing like a purge party to get staff motivated. Not only do purge parties help staff manage their work space, but purge parties are especially useful for clearing outdated and useless office records.

By “purging” all unnecessary items, including records, from individual and shared workspaces, more space is acquired and essential items are kept and categorized for efficient retrieval.

The advantages to purge parties include the following:

  • Increased staff productivity by decreasing the search and retrieval time for items (i.e., fewer items to search means faster search times).
  • Elimination of duplicated records.
  • Minimized legal exposure—court cases demonstrate that records retained longer than needed typically hurt the organization.
  • Reduced storage costs both onsite and offsite.
  • More floor space is acquired in the office.

To conduct a purge party, convene an all-day staff meeting (or one-half-day, depending on the size of your office) and notify staff that there will be a purge party. Advise staff to wear comfortable clothing for the meeting. Let them know that donuts and coffee will be provided (it is a party, after all!).

At the meeting, go over the rules of the purge party and answer questions. This should take no more than 30 minutes. After this, with supplies on hand (e.g., boxes, masking tape, markers, packing tape, recycling boxes, etc.), each staff returns to their desk and starts purging.

Start purging where most documents land—on your desk! To help you start purging, consider the following:

  • If you are left-handed, locate items you need to reach regularly on your right (e.g., your telephone) and vice versa. Why? If you’re right-handed, you pick up the phone with your left hand, leaving your right hand free to take notes.
  • Which items do you use every day? Keep them on your desk.
  • Which items do you use at least once a week? Keep them in your desk drawer(s).
  • Which items do you use no more than once a month? Keep them in your filing cabinet (if records) or your book case (if books) or in a storage cabinet (other items).
  • Which items do you never/rarely use? Keep them in an archive or storage area as designated by your office or discard if the item has no value. Most “never/rarely use” items are discard items.

Once you’ve organized your desk, here are some “de-cluttering” guidelines to ensure you get maximum value from the purge.

  • Work clockwise around the room.
  • Start clean-up of visible surfaces first.
  • Divide your work into four quadrants (“piles”)—work on one quadrant at a time—first finish one pile before moving to the next one.

The best person to purge an office is the owner of the office. They are the most knowledgeable about what records, books, and other items are necessary for efficient workflow.

After a purge party of the physical office space, companies realize about 40% more space—space freed up when records, books, and other knickknacks are sorted or discarded.

Most people don’t realize how freeing a purge party can be for individuals and organizations. It is well worth the day to engage your employees in this team sport to not only increase morale, but efficiency and productivity going forward.

Improving Email Communications

The Radicati Group estimated that in 2010 the number of emails sent per day was around 294 billion. This means that more than 2.8 million emails were sent every second by about 1.9 billion email users (almost 30% of the world’s population).

Given this high number of users and email transmissions, one would think that writing, sending, and responding to emails would be a simple act. However, this is not so. Clarity and brevity in email communication is still lacking. Bill Jensen, author of Simplicity, suggests that there is a connection between behavioural communication and “clear” communication. He says that to be effective, communication must convey the following:

  • Connection. There must be a connection to the recipient’s workload (“how is the message relevant to what I do?”)
  • Lists. The email must list action steps (“what, specifically, should I do?”)
  • Expectations. The expectations for success need to be clear (“what do success and failure look like?”)
  • Ability. The ability to achieve success must be demonstrated (“what tools and support are available?”)
  • Return. The return to the person must be obvious (“what’s in it for me?”)

However, even if you do meet all of the above criteria in your messages, there are still things that occur that can drive your recipient “nuts.” Here are some examples of things to avoid in your email practices.

  1. Reply to all. CYA (cover your butt) is a lazy excuse for hitting the Reply to All button. Does your email really need to be sent to all? Think before you act.
  2. Complex issues. Trying to solve complex messages by email does not work. If it is a complex issue that perhaps started as not-so-complex, pick up the phone or call an in-person meeting.
  3. Subject lines. Does your subject line match the body of your email? This has got to be one of the most exasperating complaints about email. Using an old message to compose a new message is ineffective and not changing the subject line is unforgivable. Subject lines need to be concise and accurate because subject lines aid filing and information retrieval.
  4. Cancellations. If you need to cancel a meeting last minute, do so by telephone. Do not email. Do not text. This is a courtesy we would all do well to observe.
  5. Your poor planning does not constitute my emergency. You know the types – they forgot to get something completed and now all of a sudden, there’s an “urgent” email demanding your attention. And if the deadline isn’t met, the finger is pointed at you because they were “waiting” on you to complete a piece of the project.
  6. ALL CAPS or underlines. Do not use all capitalization in email messages because it appears as if you’re shouting. And don’t use underline because it may appear to be a hyperlink.
  7. Original messages missing. Replying to messages and not returning the original thread creates more work for the recipient who is now trying to remember what they wrote. This hinders productivity. Always return the full message thread.
  8. No signature lines. Always include your full signature on email messages. This includes your name, title, organization, address, and phone numbers. This saves time for the recipient in case they want to call you or send you “real” mail.
  9. Too many attachments. If you’re sending a lot of attachments, get permission before doing so or combine the attachments into one document. Or use an email attachment service such as You Send It where only a link will be provided, thus saving space.
  10. Work email abuse. Sometimes people send non-work related email from their work email address. This is not a good practice, since the majority of big companies monitor email.

When writing your next email, keep in mind the above guidelines. And above all else, use common sense and be disciplined in delivering clear and robust messages in as little space as possible.

Presenting Less for More Conversation

“Death by PowerPoint” is still alive and well, unfortunately. I continue to attend presentations where the presenter insists on crowding onto slides everything that they feel needs to be said within their allotted schedule. The result is minimal conversation during the presentation and, perhaps a blessing, the audience forgets the presentation as soon as it’s over.

Flipping through slide-after-slide to get your point across does not engage your audience. And it does very little to improve their productivity. The test of a great PowerPoint presentation is not measured by the number or quality of your slides. It is measured by changes in your audience’s conversation. 

Whether you’re an executive, manager, or employee, you are likely exposed to facts and figures every day. Sitting through a slide presentation with more of the same can be mind-numbing. If you’re getting ready to create and present using PowerPoint, consider this: Your audience does not need 50 slides in the next ten minutes. What they need is conversation that will help them make sense of what you’re presenting. You need to engage not only logic, but emotions, as well. 

Several years ago, I attended a project status presentation by a department head. There are two things that I remember about that presentation. First, the slides were crowded with tables, graphs and numbers. Second, only one person asked a question at the end of the presentation (I don’t remember the question). Was this presentation powerful? Not in the slightest. Was it memorable? Well, I remember the effects of the presentation (eye strain, boring, audience silence), but I don’t remember the presentation itself. 

This particular presentation, while it contained logic (despite the busy slides) was missing emotion. The presenter and his slideshow did not allow the audience time to absorb or discuss any of his points. In fact, he insisted that we hold questions until the end of the presentation! He did not engage us at an emotional level and that’s why the presentation was promptly forgotten. 

When you prepare your next PowerPoint presentation, follow these four rules: 

  1. NEVER put more than six words on a slide. If you need more words, use a picture instead.
  2. Stay away from the animated features in PowerPoint. The spins, drop-ins, transitions, etc. only serve to distract the audience. They don’t add value to the overall presentation.
  3. If using images, use real photos or download professional images from sites such as or Remember: If you are preparing a professional presentation, use professional images.
  4. If using sounds during presentations (and on specific slides), download sounds and music from CDs. A nice effect that I like to use is playing soft music on the first slide while the audience arrives for the presentation. The Proustian effect can be quite amazing.

And when you present, consider this:

  • To engage your audience during your presentation, tell them that you’ll give them a detailed handout of your presentation AFTER the presentation. Distributing it before the presentation will only serve to distract your audience from the presentation.
  • Do not hand out your PowerPoint presentation slides, not even the “Notes” pages. Why? Because they do not contain your presentation and the recipient may misinterpret information on the slides. Bullet points on slides are just the “cues” you used when speaking about the points.
  • Do not repeat the words printed on your slides. People can read. Instead, add to those words by providing clarity and a deeper explanation of the subject matter. Use examples and real life stories to make the point.

Audiences will tolerate your logic as you present it in PowerPoint, but it’s the conversation during presentations that will allow them to draw their own conclusions. Whether you’re selling or telling, powerful conversation is a sure way for your audience to engage in and remember your presentation.

It’s not sex. It’s not drinking. It’s stress and it’s soaring.

(headline source: Fortune Magazine, October 28, 2002)

A recent study shows that six in ten workers in major global economies are experiencing increased workplace stress. China (86%) has the highest rise in workplace stress (source: The Regus Group). The American Institute of Stress reports that 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need such help.

What is causing all this stress?

One of the main causes of stress is complexity as can be found in faster-better-more technology. With the faster-better-more comes an inherent risk of inefficiency and ineffectiveness for those on the managing end. I submit that most companies have done a poor job of helping their staff manage technology.

Think about something as innocuous as email. How much stress do you incur as a direct result of too much email? Does your company provide you with resources, training, and guidance to help you manage your email so that it is not a source of stress for you (and those who attempt to communicate with you via email)?

Consider this: There were 3.3 billion email accounts in 2012 (source: Radacati Group). This is expected to increase to 4.3 billion by 2016. Of these amounts, corporate email makes up 25%, yet accounts for most of the world’s email traffic. In 2012, the number of business emails sent and received per day totaled 89 billion. And this number is expected to reach over 143 billion by year-end 2016. Consumer email, on the other hand, is expected to decrease, but this is partly due to increased use of texting and other social media such as Facebook and Twitter. And mobile email is also increasing.

It’s no wonder that stress is soaring. Juggling the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies imposed by technology at work only to come home to even more of the same can increase stress. So how does one cope with this bombardment? Here are some suggestions to help you stop stress from soaring in your life:

  1. Prepare for work by not rushing to work. Give yourself lots of time to get there. Studies show that if you start your day rushing, you will feel more stressed and be less productive at work.
  2. Keep your email inbox clear. Zero items at the end of the day is the rule, not a suggestion (for work and home email accounts). Immediately move all read items out of your inbox into appropriate storage locations (i.e., personal folders, shared drive folders, delete, print and file, etc.). By doing this, you will reduce your visual clutter and also be able to search for email items more efficiently.
  3. Set priorities for your day and stick to those priorities. Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason to shift priorities. Shifting will only pull you behind schedule. You want to be ahead, since by doing so, you will experience less stress.
  4. Go home on time whenever you can. Sometimes you may need to do overtime, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Going home on time means you are sticking to a schedule. And this means that both you and your family will be relaxed about schedules.
  5. When at home, don’t use your mobile devices or your desktop computer until you’ve had a chance to unwind. This means spend time with your family and enjoy dinner before checking your mobile devices. I check my mobile device only if I am expecting to hear from a friend or family member, or if I want to get in touch with them. Otherwise, work can wait until the morning.
  6. Get enough sleep. Sleep and efficiency go hand in hand. Decreasing sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by 32 percent. This means your ability to function is about as good as someone who is inebriated. Get at least 7.5-8.0 hours of sleep each and every night. Use time management planning and plan your bedtime, sticking to your normal bedtime routine every night. On time.

Practice the above six steps and you will be helping yourself reduce your stress. You will experience better mood, better sleep, less tension and anxiety; you will make less mistakes at work, gain better concentration, and will be a much happier person all around.

Efficiency: There is Only One Best Way

It occurs to me that many people are bound by habit to repeat inefficient behaviours. Inefficient behaviours are those that require us to use more time and more steps to accomplish tasks. Sometimes we don’t even realize how inefficient we are until a faster way is demonstrated to us. Let me give you an example by talking about storing and retrieving a two-liter milk carton from the refrigerator.

In our house, we store our milk on the inside door of the fridge. Our fridge opens to the right. When I place the milk in the fridge, I place it so that the spout is facing the left side of the door when the door is open. This way, when I open the fridge, retrieving the milk carton is a simple process. Here’s how I retrieve the milk carton:

  • Using my right hand, I pick up the carton on its right side.
  • Holding the carton in my right hand, I use my left hand to open the spout.
  • Using my right hand, I pour the milk.
  • Using my left hand, I close the spout.
  • With the milk still in my right hand, I replace the carton to its position on the door with the spout once again facing the left side of the open door.

As you can see, this is a five-step process: pick up, open, pour, close, replace; and both hands are utilized efficiently. But here’s what some members of my family (who shall remain nameless) do instead.

They place the milk on the refrigerator door with the spout facing right, front or to the back of the fridge. Now here’s why this is inefficient. When I now use my right hand to pick up the milk container (remember that I’m right-handed, and for the record, so is every other individual in my family), I have to turn the carton to position the spout to pour. Not only that, I have to use two hands to maneuver the carton into the correct position. The maneuvering takes an extra two turns of the carton.

While this example may seem miniscule and the problem proportionally insignificant, you can see that there really is only one way to place the milk carton for most efficient retrieval and use by right-handed people in this particular refrigerator. So it is with anything we do at work or at home. Next time you reach for that stapler on your desk, consider how many turns of your chair or placements from hand-to-hand you have to do to retrieve and then replace the stapler. Now compound this one task with every task that you do at work or at home and you’ll see how inefficiencies, no matter how
insignificant, eat at our time. It all comes down to habit.

Commit now to change your inefficient habits. Start with only one task – determine how you can make the task more efficient and then practice with the new method for three months before moving on to another task. In the end, not only will you be more efficient, but you will gain time and decrease your stress. And in the words of Pablo Picasso, “action is the foundational key to all success.” Become successful by becoming efficient.


Distinguishing Between Needs and Requirements

Understanding what your customers need and what they require is imperative when it comes to productivity. Determining between the two will take your company from being an average organization to a top notch organization.