Boost Morale with a Thank You

As your organization faces the twin challenges of strained budgets and burned-out workforces, what can you do to keep your employees engaged? While it may not be as impactful as a promotion or a raise, don’t underestimate the power of symbolic awards, such as private thank-you notes or public displays of recognition. These simple interventions can significantly improve employee motivation, according to research.

To maximize their effect, it’s essential to customize these rewards to each unique context. Specifically, ask yourself: Are you the best messenger, or would this expression of gratitude be more impactful coming from someone else? When is the best time to offer the message? And should it be communicated privately or publicly? Whatever you decide, your message can be short and sweet — as long as it’s thoughtful. When employees feel that it’s sincere, a symbolic gesture of recognition can go a long way.

Stop Overthinking Big Decisions

Thoughtful deliberation is an essential leadership quality that can help you make better decisions and produce better outcomes. However, it can also devolve into overthinking, which can be paralyzing. Here are three ways to avoid a thought spiral that can slow you down:

  1. Curb your perfectionism. Perfectionism is one of the biggest blockers to swift decision-making because it operates on faulty all-or-nothing thinking. To curb this tendency, ask yourself questions like: What’s one thing I could do today to bring me closer to my goal? Or what’s the next step based on the information I have right now?
  2. Pay attention to your intuition. When it comes to difficult decisions, your gut reaction is often a critical data point, particularly when time is short or you don’t have all the information you need. Research shows that pairing intuition with analytical thinking helps you make better, faster, and more accurate decisions and gives you more confidence in your choices than relying on intellect alone.
  3. Construct creative constraints. Determine a date or time by which you’ll make a choice. Put it in your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, or even contact the person who’s waiting for your decision and let them know when they can expect to hear from you.

Don’t Neglect Your Career While Focusing on Your Job

Are you so focused on your job that you’re neglecting your career? Here’s how to strike a better balance between your short-term responsibilities and your long-term goals.

Start by analyzing the strategic value of your tasks. Create a Venn diagram, with one circle representing your existing responsibilities, and another the job description you aspire to. Use this diagram to help you identify the tasks you’d like to hold on to, stretch toward, and eventually let go of.

Next, work with your manager to build toward the future you want. Explain the career path you’d ultimately like to take. “I’m committed to doing a great job in this role,” you could say, “and I’d also like to position myself for success in the future. If you’re willing, I’d love your help in strategizing around how to make that work.” Ask for their help in identifying and recommending you for stretch assignments or opportunities to develop new skills and contacts.

Finally, be willing to experiment with “120% time.” This means carving out extra time to experiment with activities outside the scope of your current job requirements.

What Can You Really Accomplish in a Work Day?

Many of us overload our workdays, only to find ourselves facing an unfinished to-do list at the end of the day. How can you break free of this magical thinking that causes you to disappoint others, miss deadlines, feel depleted, and lose your inspiration?

To get a realistic sense of how long your current and future projects will take to complete (and how to prioritize them), start by reviewing your major projects from the past year. Which were planned and which were opportunistic? This self-audit will help you paint a more realistic picture of how your future calendar will be populated. It will also help you prioritize the top of your to-do list and renegotiate the rest by saying no, lowering expectations, or requesting help.

Crucially, you need to stop convincing yourself that next time will be easier. This kind of optimism may be misguided, leaving you at risk of falling short. Always lean toward building in more time for your work, not less.

Finally, look for opportunities to build your team’s capacity, and delegate when you can. You don’t need to go it alone.

3 Strategies for Presenting When Your Time Is Cut Short

One of the most common—and unpleasant—surprises you can face as a presenter is having your time cut short. Maybe there’s a technical issue that causes a delay, or maybe the previous speaker(s) ran long. How can you still nail your presentation when you have less time than you expected? Keep these three strategies in your back pocket.

  • Come prepared with two versions of your presentation. Create a full-length slide deck and a short, backup one—and practice delivering both from start to finish. If you have to go with the shorter one because of an unforeseen time constraint, be sure to let your listeners know that you’ll provide additional context after the meeting.
  • Deliver the headlines. Don’t just write bland headers for each slide; instead, write complete, descriptive headlines that tell the story. For example, rather than titling your slide “Economic Outlook for 2023,” write “Economic Outlook for 2023 Is Optimistic.” This small tweak will highlight the important, bottom-line information up top, making it easier to go through your presentation quickly in a pinch.
  • Don’t apologize, throw your colleagues under the bus, or sulk. Act like this is exactly the version you’d always planned to present all along. If you do, it’s highly likely that your audience won’t be able to tell the difference.

Performing Under Pressure

No one is immune from freezing during high-pressure moments at work. Maybe you lose your voice or your ability to think straight when speaking with an important client, manager, or audience. That’s normal, but also preventable. To set yourself up for success in your next big moment at work, use visualization. Bring to mind your previous successes to remind yourself that you have what it takes. This will reduce your anxiety and boost your comfort level.

Next, visualize the upcoming moment in as much detail as you can. What will it look and feel like to walk into your manager’s office and ask for that raise? How do the lights feel as you walk out in front of the audience, into the boardroom, onto the stage, or even sign on to Zoom? What will be the first words you say? You might develop a short ritual — such as a breathing exercise, repeating a phrase or mantra, listening to a particular song, or sipping a favorite tea — that can get you in the right mindset to get through those first nerve-wracking moments before autopilot kicks in. Once you’ve got a routine you’re comfortable with, you can use it whenever you need to.

Finally, consider simply writing down your fears ahead of time. Doing so can help to both normalize them and make them seem not so daunting after all.

Integrate Learning and Development into Your Employees’ Workflow

As a manager, one of your biggest responsibilities is to foster your employees’ learning and development. 

The best way to do that? Make growth an integrated part of their work lives. Try organizing regular “learning meetings” — simply setting aside a small amount of time for your team to learn and discuss a new concept, framework, or skill. A collective, conversational approach to learning is more likely to help your employees retain and apply new information.

Next, use little nudges, such as short emails or daily Slack reminders, to reinforce the content of your learning meetings. These messages can encourage your people to use what they’ve learned in real-world situations.

Finally, measure progress. This means conducting assessments to understand your employees’ learning experiences, as well as tracking real-time changes in their habits, behaviors, and outputs.