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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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