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8 Ways to Translate Tasks

8 Ways to Translate Tasks

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    Emails. Memos. Project descriptions. It’s not uncommon to have a stack of communications each day that we have to translate into tasks that we can actually make a little progress on. It’s a skill that is becoming more and more important if you want to actually maintain a reasonable level of productivity. Even if you plan to say ‘no’ to any of the requests coming your way, you still have to identify them first.

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    1. Scan for requests
      More than a few people will bury their requests in polite communications. In between questions about your family and catching you up on what’s actually been done of a project, they’ll slip in something along the lines of “I need you to…” or “Could you…” or “Please take care of…” These words are like tags, noting what part of a particular memo or email is actually the task you need to complete. Jump right to them and skip all the long lead-ins in order to process requests faster.
    2. Look for action verbs
      Not everyone uses the phrases that make requests easy to identify. Stating the specific task is equally common — and such statements can typically be found by scanning a document for action verbs. Some action verbs can translate into big projects — or are difficult to actually translate into a task. Action verbs are easy to find but aren’t easy to act on.
    3. Take the sender into account
      Comprehending just what someone’s asking you to do is an issue of context. While it’s nice to think that we can just flip through a list of email messages and pluck out tasks with ease, the fact of the matter is that you have to at least read who sent you each message to provide the context of what the message means. After all, if your mom asks you to help her with a website, the request means something far different than if your supervisor asks you to help her with a website.
    4. Find the first step
      For the larger projects that get dropped on your desk, don’t bother trying to plan out a whole time line immediately. That, in and of itself, is easily a large task. Instead, identify the first step you really need to take and make a note that planning out the rest of your approach is also on your to-do list. There’s not always an easy way to identify a first task immediately, but if you routinely work on similar projects, you can probably guess what the first step will be on your next assignment.
    5. Process first
      There’s some debate over whether you should try to accomplish small tasks as you become aware of them. Personally, I stick to processing all but the smallest tasks first. For instance, as I read my email, I generally make a note of what I need to do to take care of whatever question, problem or specific task I find in my emails. I can process faster when I’m not stopping to complete minor tasks.
    6. Get everything in one inbox
      Even if you have to move around messages yourself having one inbox where you can sort through everything can make it easier to extract information from all the emails, documents and more that get passed your way. It especially helps you see when you’re getting the same request through different channels, minimizing the chance you’ll duplicate your work. Even if you’re just picking up a pile of papers and moving them to your physical inbox, you can help speed up the time it takes to process this sort of information, just by having it all in one place.
    7. Ask for clarification
      One of the few things I will do while processing new tasks is to get any necessary clarification. If there’s anything at all that confuses me, I immediately send an email requesting any necessary details or clarifications so that I can be sure that I’m adding the right task to my list. If you’re not sure that you’re correctly interpreting a message, go ahead and confirm you’re thinking the right way: send back an email restating the task and ask for a little confirmation.
    8. Avoid skipping complicated questions
      Skipping an email or memo and promising to come back to it later is an easy way to make sure something slips between the cracks. Rather than avoiding complicated requests or tasks, get them out of your inbox now. That doesn’t mean that you have to figure them out, though — if it’s taking forever to try and figure out just what’s being asked for you, ask for a clarification. You can even turn down the request if that’s a better option. Either way, though, don’t put it off until a later that will never come.

    There’s one bonus tip I can offer: make the emails and memos you send to others easy to translate into tasks. While it may not help you complete your own tasks, making the effort to streamline others’ efforts means that you can minimize back-and-forths about what a colleague really needs to accomplish. It will save you more time than you might expect and might just convince someone else to communicate tasks more clearly as well.

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    If you have any tips on processing all the communications that cross our desks into actions we can actually move forward on our tasks, please share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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