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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 December 4, 2020

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

    We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

    However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

    A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

    Builds Workers’ Skills

    Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

    Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

    Boosts Employee Loyalty

    Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

    If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

    Strengthens Team Bonds

    Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

    However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

    Promotes Mentorship

    There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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    Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

    Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

    How to Give Constructive Feedback

    Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

    Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

    1. Listen First

    Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

    Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

    You could say:

    • “Help me understand your thought process.”
    • “What led you to take that step?”
    • “What’s your perspective?”

    2. Lead With a Compliment

    In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

    You could say:

    • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
    • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

    3. Address the Wider Team

    Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

    You could say:

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    • “Let’s think through this together.”
    • “I want everyone to see . . .”

    4. Ask How You Can Help

    When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

    You could say:

    • “What can I do to support you?”
    • “How can I make your life easier?
    • “Is there something I could do better?”

    5. Give Examples

    To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

    What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to show you . . .”
    • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
    • “This is a perfect example.”
    • “My ideal is . . .”

    6. Be Empathetic

    Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

    You could say:

    • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
    • “I understand.”
    • “I’m sorry.”

    7. Smile

    Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

    8. Be Grateful

    When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

    You could say:

    • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
    • “We all learned an important lesson.”
    • “I love improving as a team.”

    9. Avoid Accusations

    Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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    You could say:

    • “We all make mistakes.”
    • “I know you did your best.”
    • “I don’t hold it against you.”

    10. Take Responsibility

    More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

    Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

    You could say:

    • “I should have . . .”
    • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

    11. Time it Right

    Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

    If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

    12. Use Their Name

    When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

    You could say:

    • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
    • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

    13. Suggest, Don’t Order

    When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

    You could say:

    • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
    • “Try it this way.”
    • “Are you on board with that?”

    14. Be Brief

    Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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    One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

    15. Follow Up

    Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

    You could say:

    • “I wanted to recap . . .”
    • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
    • “Did that make sense?”

    16. Expect Improvement

    Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

    By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

    You could say:

    • “I’d like to see you . . .”
    • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
    • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
    • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

    17. Give Second Chances

    Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

    You could say:

    • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
    • “I’d love to see you try again.”
    • “Let’s give it another go.”

    Final Thoughts

    Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

    More on Constructive Feedback

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

    Reference

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