efficiency

Poll: How Long Should Meetings Last

Meetings are a common part of working for a company. And while they can prove to be incredibly inspirational, motivating and powerful, on the flipside, they can disrupt employees and take up more time than necessary. If attendees are tardy or get off-topic, meetings can turn into more of a social gathering than a productivity gathering.

Additionally, depending on what time the meeting is scheduled, they can prove completely ineffective. I’ve known companies with policies to only have emergency meetings on Friday afternoons because they knew the chances of attendees retaining and acting on the meeting topic Monday morning was slim.

What do you think? How long should meetings last? What are your meeting tactics? Please vote in the poll below and comment with what has worked best for you or meeting horror stories from meetings gone too long.

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Fixing the Dryer: How to Tackle a New Project and Succeed

Throughout my life and career, I’ve been tasked with completing projects with neither the knowledge nor the resources needed.  Growing up without a lot of money, I became accustomed to learning how to do things on my own and always looking for practical, inexpensive solutions to everyday problems.  If something at home broke, I’d ask my parents what to do and they’d help me figure out how to fix it.

Recently, our on-its-deathbed dryer finally stopped tumbling.  It had been making sounds which we should have investigated, but alas, sometimes the saying “if it ain’t (completely) broke, don’t fix it.”  We had been expecting to have to replace the dryer sooner than later and I had planned on finding a working, second-hand one at the local Habitat for Humanity store.  We figured we could get one there for less than $50, which is less than what we’d pay to even have someone come take a look at our dryer.  Granted, our dryer was nice, but not worth spending a couple hundred repairing.

Me, being stubborn as I am, decided to see if we could fix it ourselves.  The thing was still heating and partly working, it just wouldn’t tumble.  Maybe it was a broken belt.  We figured the dryer was already broken, the worst we could do was break it a little more then give it away to someone who knew what they were doing.

I found dryer repair videos on YouTube so I learned a few tips on how to do repairs, and firstly, how to open the dang thing.  Once I got the dryer open and we slowly took it apart, we discovered that dryers aren’t so complicated inside.  We found the problems and less than $80 worth of parts later, our dryer is running in better shape than it has in years.  And we feel confident to make repairs on it in the future.

Had we never made an attempt to fix it, we never would have know how capable we were at doing it on our own.

Self-reliance has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned and it is applicable to nearly every situation in life.  When I did have to call a professional for help, as annoying as it may have been, I stayed in the room, watching what was being done and asking questions about the job.  If I had to pay someone several hundred dollars to repair my furnace, plumbing or an appliance, I wanted to know what the problem was, what caused it and how it could be fixed.

The same thing goes for complications that arise at work.  I’ve developed a mindset for requests of “tell me what you’d like to accomplish and I will find out if it’s possible.”  So many people are quick to shoot down ideas, which can actually complicate them more because if you only do bits and pieces of a project, you’re extending the time and energy it takes had you evaluated the request as a whole.

For example, a coworker wanted me to put together an order form in Excel that would allow his customers to calculate full container loads of a variety of products that were not only different sizes, but different designs and categories.  Originally, this had been done by a back and forth exchange in which the customer gave an overall request of what they wanted, my coworker would look up dimensions, minimum order quantities and product availability, consult with the customer about increasing or decreasing items to  fit and so on.  It was about a week-long process and very understandable why an automated order form would be highly desirable.  These were huge, once a year orders.

I spent weeks working on the spreadsheet.  There were so many factors to include, minimum order quantities, case packs, availability of design, products that could not fit on certain containers, etc; it was extremely complicated.  I had to generate item numbers, existing as well as contingent on a customer selecting them.  There also had to be a meter to show the container reaching full capacity and drop down lists that gave options off a previous selection.

I knew that once I completed this Excel order form, ordering was going to be so much easier.  The customers could order exactly what they wanted and do so quickly.  The salesman wouldn’t spend time trying to translate the customer’s order, the order processor wouldn’t spend time trying to determine item numbers or pricing—everything would be consistent and simple for everyone involved.

Every time I think I’m good at a software program, someone challenges me to stretch my abilities.  It seems the more I learn about Excel, the more I realize I’ve barely broken ground.  So I spent a lot of time Googling formulas and have pages of notes on how I performed my calculations.  I used data validation, vlookup, hlookup, lists, if, named ranges and countless other formulas to finally compile a near perfect form for the salesman.

It worked pretty well the first year, but with a few bugs.  It worked even better the second year and was near perfect.  I was even able to start training others on how to make changes, what not to change and successfully passed along my work in progress to my predecessor.  It was a success and because I put effort into making it happen, I saved weeks of work for the salesman, the order processor, supply chain, and most importantly, the customer.

The moral of my story is to never limit yourself because you think you might not be able to do something.  If you don’t try, you won’t know.  There’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet to explain how to do things, so take advantage of it!  Always take precautions and stop if you find that you truly are unable.  But if you don’t try, you’ll never know whether or not you can fix a dryer yourself.

Video Tutorial: How to Schedule Posts on Facebook

If you manage a Facebook page, it is imperative you know how to schedule posts. You can spend 30 minutes scheduling a months’ worth of posts and save yourself from scrambling to come up with content at the last minute.

One great example is for the holidays. If you know you’re going to be closed during the holidays or have special hours, you can schedule a post to wish your fans well and note the hours up to months in advance so you don’t have to worry about it at the last minute.

Scheduling posts is super easy, especially with the recent updates made by Facebook, and scheduling in advance can save you tons of time by planning ahead.

Video created using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org)

Recommended Books About Facebook

Don’t forget to check out my book!

Everything I’ve Learned About Facebook: A complete guide on how to create, strategize, manage and promote your Facebook page to increase customer base and brand awareness for any size business

Video Tutorial: How to Use the Left & Upper Functions in Microsoft Excel

This video tutorial demonstrates how to use the LEFT and UPPER functions in excel.

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In this example, we have a fictional address list in which part of the data is in all caps and the rest is in sentence case. Additionally, some zip codes have the additional 4 digits and for this example, we only want to use 5-digit zip codes.

We use the UPPER function to change all the text to uppercase and the LEFT function to choose only the first 5 digits of the zip code. Also shown is paste values.

Video recorded using Cam Studio (www.camstudio.org)

Also be sure to check out my additional video tutorials on my YouTube channel.

Thanks for watching, I hope this was helpful to you!

Become Amazing at Excel: Recommended Reading

Video Tutorial: How to Create a Drop Down List in Excel Using Data Validation

This tutorial demonstrates how to create a drown-down list in Excel using data validation.

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In this video, we are creating a simple HR employee hire form and limiting the user to selecting numeric months and years from a drop-down list on a separate tab. The tab can be hidden from the workbook once the form is complete so the user cannot alter the data.

The tutorial was done in Microsoft Excel 2010, but the function will be similar in previous versions.

Video was made using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org).

Learn Everything There is to Know About Microsoft Excel

Video Tutorial: How to use the vlookup function in Excel

Here’s a video tutorial I created to demonstrate how to use the vlookup function in Excel.  Excel 2010 was used, however this function works very similarly in most versions of Excel.

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The vlookup function allows a user to find data that matches a field in a spreadsheet. In this example, we look up fictional employee numbers based upon employee first and last name.

Also shown is two ways to copy the formula to several other cells by dragging or copy and pasting.

Video created using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org)

Learn Everything There is to Know About Microsoft Excel

7 Steps to More Productive Meetings

I’m not a big fan of meetings, but I also understand how important they can be. Meetings are a great way to share ideas, set goals, and accomplish large tasks that would be complicated to do over the phone or email. But meetings can also be very counterproductive if they are unfocused and lacking executable goals.

Below are seven steps that can help you make the most out of meetings and yield excellent results through preparation, communication and follow-up.

1. Have an agenda prepared. Avoid having the “meeting before the meeting” by creating an agenda covering all topics you want to discuss, any materials or data you would like the attendees to bring with them, goals you want to achieve and a call to action. Send a copy to all attendees noting anything in particular they should be aware of. By notifying everyone of the purpose of the meeting and intended goals ahead of time, everyone can come to the meeting prepared and ready to tackle your objectives.

2. Stick to your time limit. Creating an agenda will allow you to estimate approximately how much time will be needed to accomplish the goals listed so use that as a basis for the length of the meeting. If you are halfway through your allotted meeting time and still on the first point of your agenda, decide if you can still cover all of the topics within the timeframe you scheduled. If not, consult with the attendees on whether they are able to stay for an extended meeting, if they can meet later on to finish the meeting or if the balance can be handled by email or phone. Remember, the longer you keep employees in a meeting, the less time they have to complete their work and the more they feel their schedule has been disrespected. Keep it relevant, on topic and on schedule.

3. Timing is everything. If you work in an office in which employees work different schedules, make sure you are aware of the schedules of those attending as well as what time of day you are scheduling meetings. You wouldn’t want to schedule an action-oriented meeting at the end of the day right before employees go home because they won’t be able to act on the meeting’s objectives until the next day. Meetings right before or after lunch may bring distracted hungry attendees or slightly sleepy siesta attendees, so try to avoid meetings around lunchtime. Friday afternoons can be one of the worst times for a meeting because employees are distracted, thinking about weekend plans and trying to tie up loose ends before they leave for the weekend. Avoid them at all costs. Early morning meetings may prevent employees from being prepared—give them time to get settled in, check email and prepare for the meeting.

4. Be punctual. Since you’ve taken the time to set an agenda and a schedule, make sure you start your meeting on time. This is out of respect to those who were prompt and to you as the meeting setter. If anyone has not arrived by the start time, start the meeting without them and let them catch up on their own time. If you continually blow off meetings or allow late-comers to delay your meetings, attendees will stop respecting the schedule you have set.

5. Stay on topic. Nothing is more stressful to employees than thinking about all the work they have piling up while they are stuck in a meeting. What makes it worse is when others in the meeting go off-topic and the objectives quickly get lost. The meeting has quickly become deemed pointless and a waste of time. Be aware if the meeting starts getting off-topic and nip it in the bud immediately so you stay on topic and respect the time of the attendees.

6. Set clear goals. The whole reason for having a meeting is to discuss an idea, set a call to action and delegate which team members will work to accomplish the goals set at the meeting. Make sure each attendee understands his/her responsibilities and deadlines. This can be written as part of the agenda or created in the form of a checklist, but make sure each attendee has a clear understanding of what he/she is responsible for completing.

7. Follow up. After the meeting, send a brief summary to all attendees re-stating the purpose of the meeting, the goals, responsibilities and deadlines. This reinforces the goals you clearly stated and serves as a reminder of what is expected by all attendees. This also a way to illustrate the big picture of the meeting and how all contributions will tie together in the end.

How do you make the most out of your meetings?

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