“What are you doing?” my daughter asked as I fumbled around my dashboard. “I’m looking for the seat heater,” I replied. On the car I had owned for two years, I might add. She rolled her eyes (as only daughters can do) and effortlessly punched the button that had eluded me.
I had earned that eye roll. I was so overwhelmed with driving, thinking, and talking, that I simply couldn’t successfully add another task. I would die of embarrassment in admitting this, if I thought I were the only one to have a seat heater moment. But I know I’m not. I watch people at work all the time doing their own version. They’re on computers, with two screens going, and they’re checking email, and they’re trying to have a conversation. And they aren’t doing any of them well.
Our minds are fabulous muscles, and can do all kinds of things, but they can’t do them all at one time. We’ve bought into the multi-tasking-is-good mindset. But I’m here to tell you, it’s a hoax.
Here’s the real secret to time management:
- Focus on one thing at a time.
- Take frequent breaks.
- In between even small tasks, take a long, gentle, calming breath.
- Shut off those email and text notifications.
- Stay on-task and in the moment.
You’ll be more productive, attentive, and calm — and maybe even avoid an eye-roll or two!
This is a story of killing with kindness. Well, there isn’t any actual murder involved, but you’ll see what I mean.
About 30 years ago, when I was the director of training for a large national bank, I had the privilege of working with a kind, conscientious, and hardworking teller trainer named Donna.
She ran a two week training course for 15-20 tellers at a time. At the end of each day, a quiz reinforced the day’s teachings. After the two weeks, there was a comprehensive test. If the trainees passed the quizzes and the test, they would go into the branches for a six-week probationary period. If all went well, they would then become full-fledged tellers.
It was the bank’s policy that if a probationary employee had a shortage or overage, they were immediately terminated. One of the branch managers called me and asked me, as director of training, why so many tellers were ill-equipped when they came to his branch. As we did an analysis, we started to notice that several would-be tellers had suffered this fate.
I discussed this quandary with Donna and asked her to pull the fired tellers’ tests and quizzes. I began to notice a common thread: lots of eraser marks and crossed-out answers on the ex-employees’ papers. It was then that I learned that kind-hearted Donna was helping the struggling students with their tests.
I explained to her that we had a system in place — the tests and quizzes — that worked. But because she was ‘helping’ the tellers, it wasn’t working. She had to stop. She agreed.
Fast-forward eight months: Tellers were still getting fired during the probationary period. One teller had just purchased a car that he now was going to have to return, and another failed teller was going to have to break a lease on her apartment. In both cases, the two would-be tellers simply didn’t have the needed math skills, a fact that should have been evident on the tests. It was clear that Donna had helped them, and I called her on it. “I just want everybody to succeed,” she lamented.
My response: “Wouldn’t it have been kinder to those people if they had known in the first week of training that it wasn’t going to work out?”
She burst into tears. “I blew it.” Donna resolved to stop changing test results for the tellers, and our probationary firings decreased dramatically.
No one can blame Donna for doing what she perceived to be kind and compassionate. But in reality, her actions were just the opposite. When we work with people, it’s important to ask ourselves: “What is my motivation? Am I really serving the best interests of the employee?”
What employer policies do you have in your workplace that help employees?
Recently, my husband Bill and I were traveling home from New Orleans after visiting Katie, who is experiencing a new chapter in her life as a college freshman at Tulane University.
We knew that we would get to the airport very early. I had decided to use the time in the airport to write a blog, but I have to admit I was distracted. My head was filled with concern about friends and colleagues living in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, and my emotions were on overload having just hugged Katie goodbye. The creative juices were not flowing.
The topic I wanted to write about was how to re-engage with your work. And then, if you believe in miracles, one occurred! Janez Eli, gate agent for Southwest Airlines, appeared at the desk at Gate 9.
Janez picked up the loudspeaker and said confidently, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to have some fun. When a customer walks up to me and requests anything from me, I am going to say to the customer, ‘before I can help you, the travelers at this gate want you to do something.'” None of us really understood what she wanted, and there was little reaction. Then, Janez continued, “When I say that, it’s your cue, to say, ‘Sing.’” Again, none of us really got it, and not much changed in the terminal.
I waited about 5 minutes and then realized that I did need to ask Janez for something. Bill and I wanted to have our tickets reissued in order to rebook to a flight that would leave 90 minutes earlier.
I approached Janez and made the request. She smiled a huge smile that seemed to show, “This is how it’s done,” and she said to the travelers, “This woman needs something from me, what would you like her to do?” The group all said, rather weakly, “Sing.”
I asked if I could dance instead of sing. Janez was even more excited about that! She whipped out her cell phone, she played music, and I danced – right there in the middle of the airport! True to her word, Janez switched our flight. A stranger took a video, and she sent it to me. It can be seen here.
This process continued for an hour. Once the mood was set, many travelers came forward with requests…and a willingness to perform! We heard an assortment of songs, including a fabulous rendition of the national anthem.
So, I suspect for most of my readers, asking your customers, patients, students, or co-workers to sing might not always work out so well. But humor and creativity are welcome, no matter the job. So my question to you is, “How can you have more fun?”
Please let me know the ways you have increased employee engagement and found more fun in your work.