From lessons gathered from forty years of observation, reading and discovery. I have broken the smarter ways into the following categories. Making Work Fun, Work Habits, Communication, and Innovation.

Lets look at Work Habits

Beware of becoming a workaholic

Whilst some of the greatest discoveries ever made have been the by-product of workaholics there are also many who simply pursue meaningless targets, working through the night because they have the false notion that it is important.

They live in a fantasyland, frequently having their sleep disrupted by work thoughts and often work weekends as they have little outside interests. If they are in a management position, they are dangerous, as they will suck their staff into the vortex of their meaningless pursuits. They can be the worst managers but the best talkers.

There is only one thing certain in life and that is our death. What would you like your obituary column to read like? Will all the meaningless deadlines that drove us, those reports that we worked on a 3am that nobody read mean that at our funeral there will be an outpouring of respect?

Many of us are task driven. We are driven to succeed no matter how stupid or meaningless the target is. We feel we will get a great deal of satisfaction from it and yet, on completion, were we not disappointed by the fleeting moment of pleasure?

Here are some cures if you are a workaholic.

Look at deadlines carefully before committing to them. Are they going to make a difference? Are they connected with the organisation’s critical success factors? Would we celebrate the achievement?  For surely, if you would not celebrate the accomplishment, it cannot be that important.

Avoid working through lunch. All that working through lunch signals is that you are not on top of things, or worst, lack perspective. You need a break in times when you feel that is the last thing you can afford to do. Breaks give you a clearer perspective on the issue at hand. Why not schedule three lunches with people you need either to work better with or should network with. Yes, we all may think we are heroes working nonstop for 14 hours, whereas in reality, we are going nowhere quickly. Always take breaks.

I went to the funeral of my GP. He was no ordinary G.P., as 600 attendees at his funeral will attest. He went beyond the call of professional duty to get the care for his patients. So, the next time a deadline comes up make sure it is going to mean something. Otherwise it is far better to go home earlier and visit that elderly neighbour or help charge someone’s car battery. It is these gifts of time that will be remembered, that will make your life richer and more meaningful.

Three Screens

One common response I find when asking workshop attendees who have three screens, if they would go back to working with one or two screens, is a resounding “Hell, No!”

In this picture you see that I have a stand—up desk with three screens. The middle one being my laptop. I would have four, except it would cut out my sea view.

If you have one or two screens you are driving a model T Ford. Try three screens for a week you will never go back.

Move to a stand-up desk

Research points out that stand-up desks will increase life expectancy and your productivity. Interestingly, if you sit for more than eight hours a day you have:

  • 91% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • 14% increased risk of heart disease
  • 15% increased risk of early death

No amount of exercise in the early morning or after work can eradicate the damage caused by sitting for this length of time.

Whilst working at my stand up desk, I stand on a special rubber mat, allowing me to work standing up all day. If you can limit sitting to less than three hours a day you will notice the benefit.

Search the article “Five Health Benefits of Standing Desks” for more information.

Greeting the guest

I will never forget the day I visited the CEO of Pilkington Automotive Glass in New Zealand. On arrival, the security man at the gate was expecting me. Once I was at the ground-floor reception area, instead of going up to the executive floor the CEO came down and greeted me. This was the first and only time this has happened. I ended up asking the CEO why he came downstairs to meet me, to which he replied, “I take great care vetting meetings. Once I have agreed to a meeting, I will personally greet my guests at reception and return them there after the meeting. It is a sign of respect.”  Yes, it is, and a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Remember you /remember me

They say that the most important word to us all is our own name. Successful managers can remember names and even any small incidents relating to the last meeting to show that they remember you and treated you as a person of significance. This skill makes a lasting impression and is one of the reasons why former US President, Bill Clinton is still so popular.

There are a number of tricks to remembering names. One is to look at the person and convince yourself they remind you of another person with the same name. Another technique is to ensure that you use the person’s name as much as you can while in conversation with the individual. Finally, never say you are bad at remembering names, as you are effectively telling your subconscious to wipe this information out of your memory banks!

Full attention at meetings

Many times, pressing issues will mean your attention will be elsewhere. It might be a family issue, a work issue, or a worrying quirk in your golf swing (just kidding). Attending a meeting with your mind wandering is, in fact, worse than not attending. The attendee’s perception of you will be negative and that impression unfortunately will remain weeks after the meeting. Do the wise thing. If you cannot give full attention at a meeting, do not go.

Returning phone calls

Probably the easiest way to lose credibility at home and at work is not to return calls. How does one return calls and yet be efficient at work? My suggestion is to set aside specific times in the day to do this, such as right after lunch and in the last hour of the day and book these times in your schedule. Naturally, there will be those return calls to the CEO or your partner that are done immediately. The rest, however, can wait.

Network within your organisation

Only a fool believes that achievements speak for themselves – All managers need to walk about more. Ways of doing this include:

  • Use morning or afternoon break times for networking with your colleagues, your peers and other stakeholders. (You should count working through a coffee break as a lost opportunity rather than a badge of honour);
  • Invite new staff from major subsidiaries or departments to call in when they are next in the head office;
  • Consider running events where your team organises a coffee break to raise funds for a local charity, with attendees donating a nominal amount to enjoy some hospitality in your team’s offices. You will win points just by organising such an event.
  • Ensure that you talk positively to others. Popular people are seldom known for their negative thoughts – so learn to keep yours private.
  •  Finally, no matter how much pressure you are under, remember to smile every time someone comes to your desk.

Have a cluster of mentors

Over the last 10 years I estimate that less than 10% of all attendees at my seminars and workshops have mentors – it is no wonder that so many of us are so isolated. Jack Welch, author and ex-CEO of General Electric, talks about having a cluster of mentors. One will never be enough. Feeling that you have arrived and do not need a mentor is like a matador who turns away from the bull to the adoring crowd to show his bravery – a gesture of utter stupidity that will one day have painful consequences.

Mentors have many invaluable functions, from helping you navigate tricky stages in your career, to advising on managing relationships, to steering you towards great career opportunities.

A mentor is normally someone older than you, wiser, with more grey hair, who knows something about what you are doing. In other words, it could be a retired CEO, a retired board member who has known you for a while, a professional mentor, or someone in the sector where there is no conflict of interest.

In business many costly failures could have been averted if advice had been sought from a trusted and wise mentor. A wise mentor will save your career a number of times.

The key is the selection (and use) of your mentor/adviser and realising that just because you have asked once, does not preclude a second or third request for help.

When looking for a mentor, start at the top and work down. Even the most successful people are happy to mentor up – and – coming younger guns. Asking someone to become your mentor is one of the greatest compliments you can give.

Whilst organisations need to get behind mentorship programmes it is important that there is a real chemistry between the mentor and “mentoree”.

Four types of mentors

Mick Ukleja and Robert Lorber believe there are four different types of mentors.

Upward Mentors: These are the people to whom you respect and admire. They have helped and are still helping you become who you are. They can be a parent, grandparent, coach, author, pastor, rabbi, or boss. They may be someone you have yet to meet.

Friendship Mentors: These are the people with whom you experience life. You have gone through various stages with them—college, career, or family and work life. They are your peers and you’ve learned from them in a mutually giving way.

Sandpaper Mentors: You don’t have to look for them; they always find you! These are people who rub you the wrong way. Don’t reject all that they say simply because they are critical or cranky. They can help you—if you are observant, open and non-defensive.

Downward Mentors: These are the people in whom you are investing time to help them progress. They may be younger than you, but not necessarily. When you invest in others in a giving relationship, you learn a lot about yourself. You experience what’s important to you and what should be emphasised and reinforced in your own professional and personal life.

Having a safe haven – a second passion

All leaders will have many soul-searching moments during their journey. The magnitude of these can be quite severe if the leader is taking their team/organisation on a significant conquest. In order to cope with these “downs” you need to have built a safe haven for yourself; a place where you can retreat and recover. Leaders need to nurture close family relationships and hobbies that offer relaxation and enjoyment. Without a safe haven, leaders will succumb to the sense of failure that can permeate them when all they have in their life is their chosen conquest that has now gone off the rails.

The importance of the second passion, Drucker noted, was that it acts as a failsafe and at the same time stimulates the brain in different ways leading to clearer thought patterns and better decision making. For Sir Winston Churchill his safe haven was his beloved Chartwell House. For Jack Welch, during his GE days, it was golf.