The Art of not saying NO!

NO NO NO NO

People don’t like to hear the no word. Especially your boss. He is asking you do something and even if you want or need to say no, its not what he wants to hear. So if you want to get ahead you need to frame it better so that you are both  happy. So my tips for today on how to say no.. or not.

Deflect –  If its a colleague asking try and direct them to someone else .. “I can’t help you right now with my workload but I believe Joe would be able to help./ Joe was working on this../ I think Joe knows more about this than me..”

Delay – Replace “no” with “not now”. Say you “can’t handle it right now but will get back to them with it on” a set date. Then you can work on it when less busy, or they may go elsewhere to get the work done. Another situation is where you are in a meeting and someone dumps work on you. You don’t want to get into an argument or say no at that time so just nod and you will “look into it /do more investigation/  get back to them on it”. Then followup later with that person in a 1:1 where saying no is easier.

Ignore – if the request comes by email (and not from your boss)…. Close the email and mark it unread. And wait. If its important they will call you and you can make an excuse why you didn’t work on it. This will give you valuable time to get other stuff done i.e. “I saw the email but haven’t got to it yet .. I must have missed it”/ “I don’t remember seeing it.. can you send again” etc. This shows how busy you are as well!

Give them work   – Another way of avoiding saying no is to give work to the person asking, so the request goes away – possibly temporarily – maybe permanently.

  • So if they ask  you to do “x” you can respond with “I think we need to take a step back and look at the strategy here, can you set up a meeting with all these people so we can review”. Do a few strategy meetings and people may decide you don’t need to be involved after all, or that the project was a bad idea etc.
  • Or give them some prep work – try “I can help you but can you do X Y and Z and then we will meet later to review before I get started”?”. By asking them to do some initial work they may balk at doing anything at all and so the request will go away.
  • In my office, my IT and creative department have “submission forms” that  they ask people to fill up before doing work. These are long and complex and then involve a meeting afterward to discuss. They take time and work on the part of the submitter…. which best case means they may not bother submitting the form at all… or will give you a delay while they complete the form.

Say yes but mean no – One of my colleagues always says yes to whatever you ask. But she then doesn’t do anything unless the request comes from a senior level employee or is high exposure. If you ask her where the work is, she has numerous excuses about workload etc. This is worth a try but be careful as the requester could escalate to your boss so be prepared to respond to questions if this happens.

Quick tip – taking credit for others work

Busy busy today so thought I would share a single quick tip to help you get ahead.

Taking credit for other peoples work is unethical. But unfortunately its a way of office life.

A good boss will give you credit for your work – but good bosses are rare.  Chances are your boss takes credit for your work, at least in part – another reason you aren’t getting promoted.  And if he/she is a good boss maybe they will also take blame too – although more often than not they will pass blame to you! No wonder you aren’t getting ahead!

Todays quick tip – take credit as subtly as you can for others work. In a team situation, don’t say “Joan produced this”.. Say “we produced this/ we are working on this” or “here is this document that was produced” people will assume you did it.

Everyone else is taking credit – you might as well do it too!

Are you in meeting hell?

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Too many meetings? Back to back meetings can mean you are attending the last meeting without having taken any actions since the previous one. Or you are invited to meetings that don’t get anywhere or don’t really need your attendance. Or sitting in meetings that would have been sorted by a short email or phone call. Office life really can be meeting hell and all you can think about is getting back to your desk to get some work done!! And a drink  🙂

So a few quick meeting tips:

#1 accept all meetings – ok I know this sounds like it will make things worse. But if you don’t accept, you will be spending time explaining why you didn’t accept. Best to accept them all.  But half of them will get cancelled anyway. If they do – leave them in your calendar anyway. People won’t book you at that time – or if they try just say “I have a conflict”. (you can always say you forgot it was cancelled and/or blame it on an outlook glitch). This will free up some time.

#2 Skip meetings you think are irrelevant or low exposure or if your boss/senior management isn’t there – especially if a lot of people are invited. Half the time people invite as many people as possible and don’t need you anyway. If anyone asks you “had a conflict” or “had a fire to put out”.  These are get out of jail free cards and are great excuses for being absent from meetings. And there is always the famous “it wasn’t on my calendar / it didn’t send me a reminder” excuse where you blame Outlook again.

#3 Conference calls – by now you have probably learned to put the phone on speaker, muted – then do other work. But sometimes its hard to concentrate with blah blah going on. So after 30 minutes don’t tell anyone you are leaving – just hang up. And use the excuses above in #2 if anyone notices you are gone.

#4 If you asked to set up a meeting you don’t think is important or relevant. Set it up immediately. That will keep everyone happy. A few days later just cancel it with no explanation. If anyone asks, give an excuse – “i had a conflict but I will reschedule”. And don’t reschedule! Chances are they may forget you cancelled and you just got out of the meeting! Another excuse is you tell them you actually rescheduled but “maybe forgot to add them to the new request.. but anyway the meeting decision was…”

Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of your time and get out of meeting hell!

Work overload stopping you from getting ahead?

Its been a while because my day job has been crazy but I thought I would share some quick tips that I have learned from successful colleagues on managing work overload!

First of all you’d think the key to work overload is to get better organized, and manage your time. I am super organized and it does help – but only to a degree.

So experts say talk to your boss and ask them to help. But talking to your boss rarely works – as the reason you are overloaded is they aren’t managing your workload to start with and likely unable to manage their own. In many cases your workload comes from them anyway!

So the conversation when I have it, usually ends up with me having MORE to do. Whether its another priority they forgot about, or they want me to sit down and create a big list of what I am working on so they can help prioritize it. They forget that if it was that easy I would have done it myself! But you spend a few hours putting the list together anyway. Then you pore through the list with them at a second meeting you don’t have time for. If you are lucky, and by pressuring them to decide, you can get them to prioritize for you – if you are lucky- as many managers can’t handle that – to them everything is important and urgent!! But then a day later along comes another project (from them!) and you are back to having the conversation again. Total waste of time you don’t have.

So Tip  1 is – if nobody is asking for the work, and it doesn’t matter how important it is to the company, put it on the back burner till someone asks. Only the high exposure projects matter.

Tip 2 – NEVER take on anyone else work. Doesn’t matter if they are sick/off/ overloaded. Once you take it once you will be stuck with it forever.

Tip 3 –  Book time off in your calendar every day to get work done. Otherwise you will get stuck on back to back meetings and never get work done.  Too many meeting requests? I will address that in a later tip!

Beam me up Scotty!

The topic of this post is about setting expectations with your boss and anyone you do work for, specifically around timing of work. As an experienced employee you will know roughly how long it takes to get a certain task done. So when someone asks you to do something and asks how long it will take you would think the obvious course of action is to tell them. But here is a secret  I have learned from big business – its better to under promise and over deliver.

Take this common scenario where a project is given to you with a set deadline from upper management. You know from past experience of similar projects that the deadline is unrealistic.So you tell them that right? !!No.!!!

Heres an example of a common scenario where i work.

“Hey can you design this collateral for me? Its rush and I need it next week” says my manager.  Issue is that collaterals take 2 weeks to make which includes design services (who have a heavy workload and other jobs to manage) and also the process needs to allow time for my manager to review. She is busy with other things and never turns things around fast.

So in the past I would say “Having a collateral built will take 2 weeks”. Which then leads to long discussions about how long it takes, and why does it take that long and how important the project is and an unhappy boss!

So having watched and learned from other projects  and other people in the office I changed tack and now say “Sure no problem, I will need to rush it but I will do my best!”. And boss is happy! Then I start work knowing it won’t be ready in time.

Then when the unrealistic deadline starts to near , boss starts asking where it is I start blaming things and slowly pushing the time out. “I just spoke to the team – the project slipped a little and is going to be one more day because.. team are overloaded, your review took 2 days, I had another rush project, John was sick etc etc So I am expecting it tomorrow”. Blaming it on unforeseen circumstances and other peopleAnd repeat pushing it out whenever asked till the 2 weeks have passed and the piece is ready. People seem much more accepting of delays, than you being honest up front. 

And of course if the piece is ready before the 2 weeks then I look like a superstar – which is why, like Scotty on Star Trek,  you should always pad your time estimates – you will look like a hard worker when you produce the work earlier than predicted!

For whatever reason, on the majority of projects (but not all), apologizing for the project being late seems to be more acceptable than being straight up front – despite the fact the project takes the same amount of time!

Part of this is because in many cases your boss is only asking because their boss is asking them up front when they brief them on the project and they need to give them a due date. Both bosses then usually become too busy to keep track of time and when the deadline actually was – so  this process can work quite well – unless the project is very high visibility.

Give it a try next time!

Busy busy busy!

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How busy are you at work? Whats your workload like? To get promoted at work it doesn’t matter how busy you are, the trick is to always appear busy. Presidents, VPs and senior management always appear busy whether they are or not, but the assumption is that if you are busy you must be important!  Plus if you are sitting twiddling your thumbs people will think you are a slacker, or even worse lazy – even if you have valid reasons for not being busy at the moment… So there are a few key ways to look busy and important .. even if you aren’t!

Get up from your desk from time to time and walk around the office. Try and look like you are on the way to a meeting or do to something critical. Also its important (especially for those who work from home sometimes) to be seen in the office so say hello to everyone you meet or at least make eye contact.

When walking around the office you may bump into colleagues who want to chat about work or socialize. If its socializing keep it short under 5 minutes – remember you are trying to appear busy. If its about work, ask them to schedule a meeting with you later… “if they can find time on my calendar” of course!

Tell everyone how busy you are – even if you are not.  Common sense would say that if you are too busy you should talk to your manager and work on reducing your workload. However nowadays you will find that conversation ends up with him giving you more work! And some career advisors will say if you can’t get it all done then maybe there you have a time management problem. But in todays workplace  thats just not realistic. Everyone is getting more and more work dumped on them and many people are overloaded. The more competent you are, the more work you get. So for this tip, you want to let people know exactly how busy you are. So lie if you have to, but drop into conversation with everyone who will listen that you regularly put in extra hours at evenings and weekends – plus it shows you are keen and dedicated!

To prove to  people what extra time you put in, send emails after work hours on work topics. If you have a mobile device this is easy, but of course that means actually having to work after hours. So instead use Outlook functionality to schedule your emails to deploy automatically after work hours.. late at night and weekends is perfect.

Don’t respond to any emails right away (unless its from your boss or senior management). Even if you happen to spot it and it looks important. You can type the response, but schedule the reply for a good few hours later. There are good reasons for this.. first “you are too busy to read your email that often”, plus a bonus is that if other people are on the email chain, then someone else may deal with the issue before you have to!

Lastly book off time on your Outlook calendar with fake meetings. If your boss asks you can just say you set aside the time to work on something, but for everyone else it makes you look super busy!

How to get ahead with the new boss – the quick win

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So you have a new boss or you are new to the job? Thats pretty stressful for anyone! So this tip is about what to do to get ahead with the new boss and keep your career progressing!

The key here is the quick win.  As you know from my previous posts on fitting in, most people make impressions really fast and so its important to make a good impression in a short period of time.

The quick win is less about how you look, and more about what you do. The key is to work out quickly what your boss thinks is important, what is important to him and his boss.

The only person who really matters most of the time at your work is your boss. Not the customer, not your colleagues, not the company. Its your boss. He/she will make or break you. He is your path to the higher up employees – he will talk you up or drop you down. So the second tip in this post – keep your boss happy above all.

And likely he will let you know whats important to him pretty quickly within the first few weeks. Those are the things he emails you about or asks you about. Or give a presentation about. They may not be what you think is important to do your job but that doesn’t matter. The quick win is about making him happy – and you need to do this quick win within a few months of working together. The more high profile the quick win is the better. Its about doing something he thinks is important/innovative and important to him – and makes him look good. And thats a key to getting promoted!