Career Advancement

Time and Productivity

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What part of the work day is most productive for you? While many employers might like to hear a response along the lines of, “all day, every day,” research into organizational science and behavioral economics suggests otherwise.

"Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire," writes Christopher M. Barnes in the Harvard Business Review.

QIP's founders Beth Young and Tom Szuba have noticed this phenomenon in each other many times: Beth’s peak output is in the early morning, and Tom’s top productivity is in the late afternoon. It is so predictable for them that they often reserve those times of day for thinking deeply about an issue, writing an important report, or cranking out a proposal. After all, we all should be at our best when we have to accomplish our most important tasks. Does this mean that Beth and Tom aren’t productive during other times of the day? Of course not; they simply plan to undertake certain energy-demanding tasks during windows in which they expect to be most productive.

Peak productivity can certainly be a function of habits and routines, but it goes much deeper than that. In fact, it is at the core of our human biology—circadian rhythms and our natural body clocks. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks, from resolving conflicts to thinking creatively.”

Unfortunately, according to Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke whose work is profiled in the Washington Post, the vast majority of people do not take advantage of their body’s peak hours:

"Almost 80 percent of people take their most productive hours of the day, between, say, 8 and 10 a.m., and basically squander them on things like Facebook and e-mail. I have nothing against them, but they're not something you need high capacity to do. You have very few hours in the day when you’re at peak performance, so every minute of these hours that isn't spent doing something important is just waste."

How might this affect your work? For starters, do you schedule your (and your team’s) most demanding tasks to reflect your most productive times in a work day?

"Consider this circadian rhythm when setting assignments, deadlines, and expectations," writes Barnes. "This requires taking a realistic view of human energy regulation, and appreciating the fact that the same employee will be more effective at some times of the day than others. Similarly, employees should take their own circadian rhythms into account when planning their own day. The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness … [and] least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower."

Of course, you can’t schedule work for your peak performance windows if you don’t know when they are… so, if you don’t already recognize your performance patterns, we encourage you to take some time to identify them. Perhaps even keep a journal to see when you feel most alert and how it affects your output. Once you get your head around these periods of “peak” time, schedule your most important and energy-consuming tasks for those windows.

As for the rest of the day? There are plenty of less demanding tasks that will fill your time—including time sheets, status reports, and desk straightening—so you’re still working a full day but, hopefully, more productively if you are using this awareness of your body’s natural performance rhythms to get the most out your “peak” windows.

If you find this to be of interest (like we do), check out the following links for more information about performance science and peak productivity windows:

https://turnerproofreading.com/identify-peak-productivity-hours/

https://www.lemonade.com/blog/how-to-be-more-productive-at-work/

https://www.inc.com/oscar-raymundo/how-to-maximize-the-two-most-productive-hours-of-the-day.html

https://examinedexistence.com/the-science-of-productivity-video-by-asapscience/

Maximize the Benefits of Your Next Professional Conference

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Attending a professional conference should not be an exercise in hoop jumping, but an opportunity to enhance your career in meaningful ways. After all, attending a conference consumes more resources—including money and time, for you and your organization—than staying at the office. It makes sense to get the most out of every conference you attend. Consider following these tips to gain the most benefit from your next conference.

Choose a conference carefully. It is likely that there are more conferences in your professional field than you have the resources to attend. Instead of choosing one at random, or based on one factor, such as location, take time to research options and weigh multiple factors. Here are questions you might ask:

  • To perform my job, is it necessary that I acquire the information presented or shared at the conference?
  • Will I learn a new or relevant skill?
  • Is there a way for me to contribute to the conference as a presenter or participant?
  • Are the people who attend the conference people I should communicate and network with?
  • Is the cost of the conference worth what I will get out of it?

Prepare beforehand. Decide which sessions you’d like to attend, and create a schedule of how you will spend your time. You might make spur-of-the-moment adjustments, but having a general itinerary is important so you don’t miss an important session or event. Also, look into whether there are any pre- or post-conference sessions or meetings that you might be interested in attending. Finally, update and remember to bring your business cards and any other materials you may want to share with others.

Talk to people. The word networking gets so much press that it can seem more complicated than what it really means—talking to people. No matter how shy you feel, strike up conversations, and engage with those who speak to you. Great relationships often begin with a spontaneous conversation between strangers. Conversations can occur before sessions begin, after sessions have ended, in the hallways between sessions, and at social receptions. Networking is at least as important as learning at conferences—some suggest even more so. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article about academic conferences, “networking is the whole point.” Networking is also one of the most commonly overlooked opportunities by conference attendees.

Take (the right amount of) notes. While attending sessions, write down important information that you may find useful later. However, don’t focus so much on taking notes that you don’t actually listen to what the speaker is saying. QIP Proposal Manager Mary strives for a balance between engaging with what’s happening and recording key details that she can refer to later. That way, she doesn’t miss out on the learning opportunities of the moment—or the learning opportunities that will come when she’s back at the home office. You can also look into whether presentation slides will be made available to participants after the conference. If so, you will not need to write down anything that’s on a slide, just a note to yourself to access the slides later.

Follow up afterward. It’s easy to slip back into your day-to-day routine without incorporating anything you learned or reconnecting with anyone you met—but don’t allow this to happen. It is important to be proactive after the conference has ended. Capitalize on the benefits of attending, because otherwise they slip away. For example, QIP Project Associate Dee makes sure to use the business cards she obtained to contact the people with whom she networked. Other QIP employees have contacted speakers whose presentations piqued their interest. By contacting fellow conference participants, you can continue, or begin, professional conversations for mutual benefit. Also remember to incorporate the knowledge and skills you learned into your professional life. Refer to your notes and any available slides, and make changes accordingly. You might also share your findings with your teammates. For instance, QIP Communications Director Deanna has given presentations on what she’s learned at conferences and on how the organization can incorporate the lessons into their work.

Maximizing the benefits of a professional conference takes a bit of effort and initiative, but the career advantages you will gain are worth it. Attending a conference allows you to learn new things and connect with people in your field, and these insights and connections will stay with you long after the conference has ended. Remember, for best results, it is important to take actions not just during the conference, but also beforehand and afterward. Following these tips can help you advance your career and be a leader in your organization and professional field.

The World Is Changing . . . What’s Your Resolution?

We’ve recently welcomed the year 2018 into our lives. With it will come new experiences, lots of growth, and many changes. Some of us made personal New Year’s resolutions as we contemplated the preceding year as well as looked to the year ahead. January is also a great month to make resolutions for your 2018 work life.

How do you hope to grow as a professional this year? If you haven’t yet identified a work-related resolution, you could try thinking in terms of the ways you want, or need, to change in response to shifting circumstances around you. Since the world is constantly evolving, it’s important to adapt and keep abreast of new trends and technologies.

Also keep in mind that not all resolutions have to be related to completing discrete tasks or learning specific skills (though they can be, of course). For example, consider Maya Angelou’s advice: “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” Whatever you do, however, don’t remain the same in the face of the rapid transformations our world is experiencing.

The majority of what we do at QIP involves ensuring that education data are as accurate, available, and useful as possible. Therefore, in 2018 we will be thinking about how we can improve data operations, quality, accessibility, and use. We will also be seeking to improve our professional capabilities to support these goals—for example, by focusing on being effective teammates, learning new technological skills, and showing leadership and initiative at work.

Here’s to both continuing to improve education data and developing ourselves professionally this year—sound and reasonable resolutions for 2018. At QIP, we’re proud of what we do because improving education data directly impacts the quality  of education . . . and education, more than any other field, sows seeds that can change our world for the better. We wish to all a wonderful 2018 that’s filled with positive growth and exciting transformations.

[Source of quotation: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/28/maya-angelou-in-fifteen-quotes]

Leadership at All Levels Reaps Rewards

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It may seem paradoxical, but leadership is something that everyone should practice in the workplace. That’s right—leadership isn’t just for the designated “leaders” of an organization. It’s for everyone, from the recent college graduate starting his or her first job, to the experienced professional who’s been working in the field for thirty years. Leadership also isn’t just for large crowds and big meetings; in fact, it’s useful in work situations we experience every day.

American financier and presidential advisor Warren G. Bennis explains that “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” At QIP, almost all of our staff are in the business of converting clients’ ideas into the products we develop for them—and, given Warren G. Bennis’s definition of leadership, that makes everyone at QIP a leader.

How might leadership play out in an individual’s day-to-day work? Here are a few best practices we use at QIP:

  • We schedule meetings with clients regularly and make a point of listening to their needs—which is an important, but often overlooked, leadership tool.
  • We share draft products with clients as a standard practice to make sure that our work reflects their needs. Being responsible for meeting clients’ needs is leadership, too.
  • Finally, it’s important to feel empowered to share assessments of client needs with senior management, project directors, and colleagues throughout the organization, so everyone can stay aware of how the team is helping clients achieve their objectives and goals. Collaboration helps to ensure high-quality outputs; this is leadership.

When you listen to client needs, incorporate their direction into your working drafts, and share ideas and project progress with your colleagues, clients will find your support critical to their success. If you do this on a regular basis, you are surely acting like a leader on your team, throughout your organization, and for your clients.

Teams benefit when everyone is actively leading: working to translate clients’ visions into the products and services they need. We’ve found this to be true at QIP, and it will also be true for you.

[Source of quotation: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Warren_Bennis]