Team Service Opportunities That Build Character

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Character, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” It’s often composed of having the right values, doing the right thing, and being the right kind of person. Suffice to say, character plays a significant role in our success in life. The reason? It helps us develop personality traits like honesty, trust, courage, patience, and leadership.

While some believe that character is something that you’re born with, others argue that it can be changed and grown through some work. For example, you can develop your character by continuing to learn, improving soft skills, meeting new people, and spreading kindness.

If you’ve ever helped someone else, then you may see a link between volunteering and developing character. After all, giving back allows you to build important character traits like wisdom, confidence, and courage. It gives you a chance to strengthen your empathy, spread justice, improve your temperance, and encourage you to transcend.

The benefits of volunteering.

In addition to developing character, there are other perks of helping others. It’s been scientifically proven that volunteering is good for your mind and body as it counters the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also lower high blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lessen the symptom of chronic pain.

Moreover, helping others gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction. It opens up new opportunities to network and honing your skills — or trying out new ones.

But, hold on, there’s more. Giving back also comes with organizational benefits. It’s perfect for building stronger bonds among teams, gives your team a sense of achievement as a group. can be used as a learning event, and improve employee attraction and retention. Volunteering also has the power to boost morale, engagement, demonstrate your company’s values. And, if that’s not enough to sway you, it’s also beneficial for your bottom line

With all that being said, the point I’m getting at is that volunteering is one of the best things that you can do individually and as a part of a team. And, because of this, it’s time that you explore the best service opportunities for your team if you want to reap the benefits of volunteering, such as building character.

Getting Started With Team-Based Volunteering

For your team service to have an impact within your organization and others, you first need to take the following 8 steps. These have been developed by MovingWorlds, who have over 50 years of collective experience designing volunteer programs for individuals, companies, nonprofits.

Define your intentions.

Why do you want to volunteer? Is it altruistic or is there another reason? It’s alright to have another motive, like using volunteerism as a team-building activity. Discuss this with your team so that you can identify the purpose of giving back.

Audit your team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Evaluate the skills that you and your team possess. What industries are you familiar with? And, what knowledge or resources can you use to make the world better?

Document your learning and impact goals.

You don’t have to create a formal document. But, you should write down your goals so that you can refer to them as needed. To get you started, Mark Horoszowski, co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, suggests writing down goal-related statements like:

  • What can I learn about the organization and the industry I’m volunteering in?
  • What can I learn about communication and collaboration by working in a new setting?
  • Do I have any personal development areas that I can put into practice while volunteering?
  • What would indicate that we’re actually making an impact?

Pick a cause and find a partner.

Solicit ideas from your team on how you want to give back. Use your team’s strengths, interests, and passions to narrow down a cause. For example, if you’re all skilled coders who believe that this is a talent children need to learn, then you could work with a non-profit like Code.org, Mined Minds, or Girls Who Code.

You can do this during a brainstorming session or adding to an agenda of an upcoming meeting. Another way would be sending out an employee survey, poll, or questionnaire. Or, you could also work with placement partners like MovingWorlds, VolunteerMatch, or United We Serve who can connect your company with a non-profit.

Consider opportunities and threats.

Despite your best intentions, sometimes giving can have a negative impact. For example, if you’re not a doctor or teacher, then why volunteer to go to places in the world that are in need of these professions? Also, don’t get frustrated by the positive changes you are making aren’t always the most exciting, such as doing administrative work or coaching.

Develop a sustainability plan.

All good things must come to an end, like your team’s service opportunity. Come up with a plan on how you’re going to end the project. And, have a process for how others can seamlessly continue doing the work you’ve done.

Find support and sponsors.

Besides getting your team on board, find out if anyone within your network would also like to join. You should also look for other businesses to join in as well. Maybe you could get several local businesses to support various teams in a baseball little league.

Document and publicize your work.

Documenting your experience can “increase exposure of the organization and mission you worked on,” writes Horoszowski. It can also encourage you to reflect, learn, and inspire others to follow you and your organization’s lead.

Team Service Ideas

Now that we have that out of the way, here are 62 team service opportunities that you should pursue.

General Ideas

  • Plan an item drive, such as canned food, coat, book, or toy drive.
  • Cleanup up an outdoor area like a park or beach.
  • Donate or raise money for a nonprofit like the Red Cross.
  • Host a fundraiser for a local nonprofit.
  • Assemble care packages for nurses, first responders, or the military.
  • Plan a charity team building activity, such as “Pay it Forward.”
  • Participate in a charity race.
  • Mentor students or underserved communities.
  • Do pro bono work, such as the Accessibility Internet Rally in Austin, TX.
  • Help community members register to vote.
  • Volunteer as staff at an event, like a 5K or festival.
  • Offer to promote a cause or nonprofit event.

Helping Children and Schools

  • Coach or sponsor a youth sports team.
  • Tutor students.
  • Donate presents to a children’s hospital.
  • Perform at a children’s hospital.
  • Pack back bags filled with essential school supplies for teachers at an underserved school in your community.
  • Babysit so that parents can attend a PTA meeting or have a night out.
  • Donate used books to a school library.
  • Collect baby and children’s clothing so they can be donated to those in need.
  • Volunteers at a camp or afterschool program.
  • Sponsor a child in a foreign country.

Assisting Senior Citizens and Veterans

  • Pick-up groceries or medicine for elderly family or community members.
  • Visit nursing homes and spend quality time with the residents.
  • Host a bingo night for senior citizens.
  • Drive those who can not get to their doctor’s appointments.
  • Make birthday, holiday, and thank cards.
  • Host a holiday meal for seniors or veterans.
  • Plan a Memorial or Veterans Day parade.
  • Mow lawns, rake leaves, and shovel snow.
  • Teach the elderly how to use technology, like computers and smartphones.
  • Raise money for organizations like Wounded Warriors, or Charity Water.

Helping Animals and the Environment

  • Volunteer or donate food and cleaning supplies to local animal shelters, or women and men’s shelters.
  • Train service dogs or foster animals until they find a home.
  • Organize a spay and neuter program.
  • Take your pet to a retirement home or hospital.
  • Sponsor a recycling program.
  • Build a community garden or clean-up an existing one.
  • Participate or organize the cleanup of a body of water, park, or along roads.
  • Offer to watch your friends, family, or neighbors pet when they’re on vacation.
  • Adopt-a-highway or sponsor an acre of rainforest or wetlands.
  • Organize an office carpool or permit more work-from-home opportunities.

Improving Your Community

  • Help the homeless and hungry in your community, such as donating food and clothing.
  • Build a house with Habit With Humanity.
  • Volunteer at food banks, homeless shelters, firehouses, or schools.
  • Start or join a community watch.
  • Become CPR certified.
  • Paint over graffiti and repaint benches.
  • Become a local tour guide.
  • Create or sponsor a piece of pubic art, playground equipment
  • Clean up after a natural disaster.
  • Participate in and promote a community event.

In-house and Virtual Ideas

  • Celebrate as a team, like having a pizza party after accomplishing a major milestone
  • Create professional and personal development programs so your team can learn and grow together.
  • Establish a mentorship program.
  • Offer childcare for the parents on your team.
  • Raise money for an ailing or struggling team member.
  • Pick up the slack for a colleague who is ill.
  • Set up an Angel Tree during the holidays.
  • Assemble kits during work hours, such as hygiene kits, that can be distributed.
  • Host an event for your team, like a family-friendly picnic or team building activity.
  • Encourage your team to volunteer virtually if they can’t do so in-person. You can find virtual volunteering opportunities on VolunteerMatch, Serve.gov, or AllForGood.

6 Virtual-Meeting Dysfunctions to Nip in the Bud

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Even once the pandemic has passed, virtual meetings aren’t going anywhere. When team members return to their offices en masse, they’ll continue to hold digital meetings due to their convenience. 

But just like in-person meetings, you can waste a lot of employee time with virtual meetings. Whether long or short, you need to make sure that every minute of a meeting is worth it. A single hiccup can throw off an otherwise productive meeting. 

Take control of your virtual meetings. Avoid these six dysfunctions in order to keep them on track:

1. Technical Difficulties

At the best of times, technology can be tough to manage. If the meeting’s leader is having issues, the resulting disorganization can derail the entire thing. 

Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use the program. In the meeting agenda, include a tutorial about how to log into the meeting space. Offer alternative ways to attend, such as calling in by phone instead of using video.

Before logging in, cover your bases. Make sure you have a solid internet connection and the latest version of your video conferencing software. Start early to make time for troubleshooting.

2. Poor Speaking Dynamics

During in-person meetings, speaking dynamics tend to be pretty natural. In a virtual meeting, however, even the closest team may struggle to balance listening and speaking. 

Virtual meetings make it more difficult to see cues that indicate someone wants to speak. The trouble is, the most important contributions are often made in the moment. The solution is to designate a facilitator to keep things moving.

A facilitator can take on the following responsibilities:

  • Opening and closing the meeting
  • Reviewing action items
  • Polling the group to check for consensus 
  • Calling on people to give their thoughts
  • Reframing talking points when there is a disconnect
  • Ensuring nobody only speaks or listens 

A good facilitator knows when to step in and when to step back. Natural conversation isn’t the enemy, so long as it’s on-topic and constructive. Choose your facilitator prior to the meeting, ideally through a team vote to ensure the person has everyone’s respect. 

3. Waning Participation

When people attend a meeting in person, they have more incentive to participate. But in virtual gatherings, it’s easy to go unnoticed. People can mute their voices or turn off their screens altogether. 

This is another issue a facilitator can help with. By throwing out a new prompt, he or she can revive discussion if it’s died. It isn’t always obvious to the wider group when it’s time to move on. It’s the role of the facilitator to make those decisions. 

Another solution is to lay out the ground rules before the virtual meeting begins. Discuss the kind of participation that is expected in the meeting. Decide whether people should respond through the chat or audibly. You can also provide a shared document for silent brainstorming.

4. Personal Distractions

When you’re not in the same room during a meeting, distractions can be a big problem. Someone’s child or pet might interrupt them during the meeting. Their computer may make notification sounds that reverberate in the meeting room. 

Personal distractions can quickly become group distractions. Don’t be rude about them, but do address them promptly. Remind everyone of the meeting’s goal, and remember to be compassionate. There’s no reason to get upset if the distraction is one they can’t control. 

5. Too Many People

You could hypothetically fit a whole company into a virtual meeting. But just because you can include the whole team doesn’t mean you should. Huge meetings can be overwhelming for everyone involved.

The only exception? General meetings intended for a specific announcement. But that’s a situation in which you could pre-record your message and let employees watch it on their own time. 

Instead, utilize breakout groups. Convene multiple virtual meetings, perhaps divided along departments or functional groups. Ask the leader of each meeting to report back with the consensus and action items.

6. Unprofessional Aesthetics

Just because a meeting is virtual does not mean it should be unprofessional. Paying attention to your surroundings and personal presentation is key.

To make sure your look doesn’t distract attendees or communicate “I don’t care”:

  • Use a neutral background.
  • Emphasize books or plants around you.
  • Make sure your room is silent.
  • Keep your camera at eye level.
  • Dress as you would for an in-person meeting at your company.

That isn’t to say you can’t have fun on certain video calls, such as team happy hours. With that said, it’s important to distinguish between meetings that call for professionalism and those that let you cut loose a little bit. 

Don’t let digital meeting dysfunctions get in the way. There’s never a good time for kinks, so work them out now. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with them at the worst time: when the team needs to get down to business. 

Should Your Startup Have Summer Hours?

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It happens every year as the weather gets warmer — employee productivity comes to a screeching halt. Employee productivity taking a slight dive at the beginning of summer isn’t breaking news. Business owners have noticed this trend for years. It’s said that when agencies in New York realized that employee productivity decreased in the summer, specifically on Fridays, they began to offer “Summer Fridays.”

More recently, studies show that productivity drops by 20 percent, attendance dips by 19 percent, and project turnaround times increase by 13 percent. Additionally, 45 percent admit that they get more distracted. In particular, 63 percent socialize more with coworkers, 51 percent take longer breaks, and 49 leave early a few days a week.

While there some ways to keep your team motivated throughout the dog days of summer like having meetings outside, providing refreshments, encouraging more frequent breaks, and rewarding proactive staff, is there something more useful than establishing summer hours?

Some research reports that having a shorter workweek is counterproductive because to leave earlier on Friday; people have to put in more time Monday through Friday. As a result, they become more stressed and less productive. At the same time, most people can work from home — which can improve their output.

So, before making a final decision, let’s go over the pros and cons of your startup having summer hours. And, if you think it will work for your business, I’ll throw in some pointers on how you can implement them.

The Benefits of Summer Hours

The main advantage of summer hours is that it grants employees a more flexible schedule so that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. While this is important for year-round, this is especially true during the summer. For example, if you have children, you may want to work four days a week so that you can enjoy a three-day weekend with them. Or, you may have to adjust your hours so that you work when they’re not around.

Having a flexible schedule increases employee productivity since it prevents burnout, builds trust, and makes people happier. “Our policy is basically that if you need to leave early to get somewhere, you come in early to finish your work or make sure all of your responsibilities are handled before you leave,” David Heath, CEO, and Co-Founder of the sock company Bombas, told Entrepreneur. “It shows your team that you trust them to handle their own responsibilities.”

Consulting firm Adecco also found that shortened workweeks “increase employee morale and all the good things that go with that, such as higher retention, candidate attraction, and productivity.” Roy Cohen, author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” tells CBS News that “A half-day on Friday motivates employees to work as hard as possible to get as much done as they can in four hours, and it is empowering.”

Finally, technology allows most of us to work whenever we want. Believe it or not, getting away from common workplace distractions, and changing up your routine can boost your productivity.

The Drawbacks of Summer Hours

Of course, there are some disadvantages to summer hours. Most prevalently, it’s the additional stress some of your team members may have. They may feel too much pressure to get as much done as possible in less time. Instead of having five days to complete all of their work, they’re done to three or four days.

Moreover, some people may use shortened workweeks as an excuse to slack off. It can also be more challenging to schedule meetings since employees aren’t in the office as much. And, it may be conducive for your specific business.

“Flexible schedules may not work with certain client-facing positions that are heavy on client service and which require the same employee to interface with the client,” Midge Seltzer, co-founder and executive vice president of Engage PEO told Business News Daily.

These types of schedules are also harsh on new business ventures. “Companies just starting need every minute of every day to ensure their success,” David Daneshgar, co-founder of BloomNation.com told Care.com. “We are a growing startup facing major competitors.” For his company, June through August is a summer hustle.

Types of Summer Hours Policies

As you weigh the pros and cons, you should also take into consideration the various types of summer hours models. These include:

  • Half-day Fridays. Here employees can leave work early, such as noon or 1 PM. To make-up, for these hours, they will have to put in an additional hour Monday – Thursday.
  • Early Friday dismissal. Another option is to let your team depart in the afternoon, such as around 3 PM. Having an early day allows them to wrap-up their priorities and still get out early.
  • Shorter hours on any day they chose. Having a few days where employees can decide a shorter day can be a win-win since it keeps your startup open five days a week while also allowing employees to enjoy their summer.
  • Every other Friday off. Another way to keep your business operating while also giving people Fridays off is to alter their schedules. The schedule means one employee works on Friday but will have off next week. Another employee is working when their colleague is off.
  • Every Friday off. You may wish to shut-down the shop every single Friday. Again, your team may have to put in more hours during the week. Or, you could be generous and give them unlimited time off.
  • Allow employees to work from home. Working from home doesn’t have to be on Fridays. For example, you may only need your team to come in three days a week. They can then work from home the other days.

Making Summer Hours Work For You

If you want to implement summer hours at your startup, there are a couple of final factors to consider. At the top should be knowing how flexible your business and specific jobs are. If you provide a service, you may need to have some technical support available as much as possible.

Additionally, you should be aware of deadlines, the stress level of your team, and whether or not they’re reliable. To get a better understanding of this, you may want to survey them to gather their feedback. You could also give the shortened hours a trail run and track your team’s progress.

If you do decide to go forward, make sure that you communicate the new policy and stay consistent with it. You don’t want to start off giving employees off every Friday to backtrack and implement half-days on Fridays. It’s confusing, and they may have already made plans.

And don’t forget to keep track of everyone’s hours. Depending on the state where you operate, you may have to pay overtime to employees if they work more then 8 hours per day — this is the case in California.

If your startup has summer hours, how have they worked out for you and your team?

How to Plan Your Perfect Eating Schedule

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As wonderful as eating is, it takes a lot of time. Planning your meals can give you more time to enjoy your food, as well as more time to get things done. 

Meal-planning is not just about figuring what to eat. Eating at the right time can boost your energy, keep you feeling full throughout the workday, and cut down on your snack intake. 

We’re wired to think about eating in terms of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The trouble is, the same eating schedule doesn’t work for everyone. What if you work the night shift? What if you need to spend your lunch break running errands?

The solution is to find eating times that work for you. Here’s how to do it: 

1. Keep tabs on your productivity.

Everyone has their own daily rhythm. Some people are most productive in the morning, while others crank out their best work in the afternoon or at night.

To figure out when you should eat, think through your peaks and troughs. If you usually take lunch at noon but always feel groggy afterward, try a different time. Eating earlier in the day could keep you from crashing as hard. 

2. Monitor your hunger.

Hunger is your body telling you to feed it. Even if you’re in your groove at work, don’t ignore it. 

Try not to think of hunger as a binary. Are you hungry enough for a full meal, or would a granola bar be enough? There’s nothing wrong with putting a 3 p.m. snack on your schedule, as long as it’s truly a snack. 

Realize, too, that our body isn’t great at distinguishing hunger from thirst. Practice mindful eating: Sometimes, a drink of water is what we really need. At other times, our body might be responding to a nutrient deficiency rather than a lack of raw calories. 

3. Snack responsibly. 

Snacks can be part of a healthy diet, but they should not be arbitrary. Plan out your snack times so you don’t overeat, and so that you can focus on your work. 

Try to combine snacks with other break-time activities. Maybe you bring a bag of trail mix along with you on a walk. That way, your sole focus isn’t shoveling food into your mouth.

If you struggle with snacking, get an accountability partner. At home, encourage your spouse to say something if you grab the bag of chips right after dinner. 

In the office, social norms can keep people from speaking up. A good alternative is to ask your office manager to choose healthier snacks, which are both less tempting and less harmful if you do decide to binge. 

4. Consider when you exercise.

Planning meals around your workout schedule can be tough. If you prefer to exercise first thing, then you need to think through your morning routine: How are you going to wake up, work out, shower, eat breakfast, and still get out the door in time for work?

If you want to exercise after work, be sure you get a bite to eat 2-3 hours in advance. Depending on when you get off work, this might mean taking a later lunch than people typically do. And because making dinner takes time, it might also mean eating supper later in the evening. 

As important as exercise is, don’t let it dictate your meal schedule. Find a balance: Perhaps you work out earlier than you otherwise would so that you have time for a filling breakfast before heading to the office. 

5. Factor in your sleep schedule.

Most people have trouble falling asleep on a full stomach. Especially if you exercise after work, avoid eating dinner so late that it gets in the way of your sleep. Popping into the kitchen for a midnight meal is almost never a good idea.  

One exception? If you’re so hungry that you can’t sleep because of it, feel free to grab a late-night snack. Just be sure to practice portion control: Especially when you’re tired, it’s easy to overeat. 

6. Keep it consistent. 

Eating at regular times in the day keeps your metabolism stable. That, in turn, prevents swings in your mood and energy levels.

Be proactive: If you worry that you’ll be so busy tomorrow that you won’t have time for lunch, then it might be best to work a little more before you leave the office today. If you need to wake up early one day, postpone breakfast until your normal time. 

What about special occasions? Events like office parties and birthdays may require you to eat at odd times. That’s OK, as long as you get back to your routine afterward. 

Don’t let eating be a haphazard activity. Prepare healthy meals, choose the right time to eat them, and listen to your body afterward. For finding your ideal eating schedule, self-awareness is key.

Top Appointment Apps For Scheduling Your Business

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Schedule

Are appointment apps and calendar software a necessity? They are if you want to schedule and track appointments, accept online bookings from clients, and send appointment reminders automatically. The top appointment apps and calendar software programs are also useful in blocking off internal meeting times, organizing your schedule, and even accept deposits or prepayments. As a result you can save time while increasing revenue.

Here is our guide for what makes up an appointment app, why you should use an appointment app, and what to look for when you decide to add this tool to your business. We’ve also selected the top ten appointment app solutions for this year and into the future.

What is an Appointment App?

An appointment app is a convenient way for your clients or customers to schedule appointments. The application may also be referred to as online scheduling software or mobile booking software.

Many of today’s appointment apps go beyond just a basic scheduling portal. They now offer comprehensive business,  calendar, and time management capabilities that add efficiencies for your clients, team, and business as a whole.

Benefits of Using an Appointment App

There are many compelling reasons to add an appointment app to your business:

Around-the-Clock Scheduling

Rather than only be able to take appointments during business hours because you rely on staff to create the schedule, you can use an automated scheduling system that can make appointments at any hour and any hour. Customers may not always be able to reach you during business hours. Or, they may prefer to make an appointment without having to call and then be placed on hold.

With 24/7 scheduling through an appointment app, your customers and prospects can schedule their appointment when it’s convenient for them. Doing so can help you attract and retain more customers.

An Enhanced Experience

The traditional appointments process can take a lot of time, with multiple back and forth communications about the best day and time. Even then, the appointment may not be set and require more time to reschedule. It can start to feel like a real hassle for your customer.

With an appointment app, your customers have access to a simple scheduling process where they can see the available time slots and reserve a time that fits their needs. They can also get reminders or use the system again to easily reschedule the appointment.

Increased Search Visibility

As a service business, attracting local customers may be your top priority. It’s important to have a strong online presence and appear in front of prospects on their search queries. Appointment apps can help you do that by integrating with search engines through Google Search and Maps so you appear when those customers look for your service..

More Business Insights

Appointment apps often include data analytics tools so you can learn more about your audience, such as your most popular service or the busiest days and times each week for your business. You can then take this data and make better business decisions about when to schedule employees, types of promotions, and more. A physical appointment book will never be able to reveal such business insights.

Time and Cost Savings

Removing a legacy appointment system that uses paper processes and consumes significant amounts of time can be a real savings for a small business. An appointment app eliminates paper costs and reduces manual processes, saving both time and money. Those savings can be applied to other parts of your business, allowing you to focus more on service as well as use the extra money to grow your enterprise.

Less Risk of Human Error

Humans make mistakes. For example, when scheduling an appointment, one of your employees might have transposed the numbers in a phone number or they added the customer to the wrong time slot. Multiple people could be using the same appointment book and double-booked in a time slot. Those human errors create dissatisfied customers.

An appointment app reduces those human errors by automating the scheduling process. The customer puts their information in while the app sends reminders and only schedules open time slots. Fewer human errors mean happier customers.

What to Look For in an Appointment App

Those benefits all lead to greater business success. The only problem is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of appointment apps and calendar software to choose from. Here are some factors to consider when you researching the ideal appointment app for your business:

Ease of Use

It’s important to have an appointment app that your customers can immediately feel comfortable using. It’s got to be simple and convenient, including a clear process for scheduling an appointment with the fewest amounts of clicks and screens to navigate.

Booking and Attendance Features

The appointment app solution should include features designed to ensure that customers compete the booking process and actually show up for their appointment. Look for features like rescheduling, appointment confirmations and reminders, and waitlists.

Marketing Tools

The appointment app should also be able to help you get the most out of your marketing efforts. Features that can help you do this include a shareable booking link, search engine booking tools, and social media booking buttons.

Staff Capabilities

Along with customer service and marketing, you also want an appointment app that can help oversee your team. It helps to have an appointment app that can support multiple users so other team members can see or change anything in the app as well as plan the employee schedule for the week or month.

Payments

Although it is not a must, being able to integrate payment processing with your appointment app adds a new level to your customer experience and further reduces the labor required for your service business. It is especially beneficial for those businesses that take deposits at the time of booking, often used for late fees, cancellations, and/or “no-shows.”

Overview of Best Appointment Apps

Although our list of appointment apps may not include all these factors in every solution, you can’t go wrong with the following 10 solutions for 2020 and beyond. Here are the top ten appointment apps we selected and why each one stands out as an ideal tool for your business.

  1. Appointment: Appointment app with longest track record of success
  2. Calendar: Appointment app with powerful technology like machine learning for intuitive assistance
  3. 10to8: Appointment app with integrated payment processing
  4. VueMinder: Appointment app made for Windows users
  5. Setmore: Appointment app with a live call answering service
  6. Grapple: Appointment app for scheduling meetings
  7. Calendarwiz: Appointment app for sharing schedules with groups, teams, and clients
  8. Evie: Appointment app that automates your entire meeting schedule and calendar management process
  9. Square Appointments: Appointment app that embeds social channels in your scheduling process
  10. Bookeo: Appointment app with text notifications

Now, dive in deeper to each of our top appointment apps for 2020 and beyond.

The Best Appointment Apps for 2020 and Beyond

1. Appointment

Appointment

Considering that Appointment.com has been providing online appointment scheduling since 1999, you’d be hard-pressed to find a company with more experience in this area. What makes Appointment.com continue to stand out among other leading online appointment scheduling software is that the company continually evolves to meet their modern user’s needs.

Appointment.com comes packed with features like allowing customers to book an appointment with you 24/7 — even if you don’t have a website. Customers can also cancel or reschedule an appointment on their own. If you have several locations, employees, or services that’s not a problem either since Appointment.com handles these multiple options for you.

Additional features include the customers ability to pay through PayPal, allowing them to create gift certificates, and send out reminders via email or SMS. It also syncs with leading cloud-based calendaring solutions like Outlook, Google, and iCal.

If none of these features are right for your business, Appointment.com’s powerful API allows you to customize it to fit your specific needs.

Following a 30 day free trial Appointment.com offers plans starting at $29/month.

2. Calendar

Calendar

If you want to meet with a client or your team, scheduling events can be a time-consuming process. Calendar can be a major time-saving assist for you.

With Calendar you simply share your existing cloud-based calendar, such as Google Calendar or Outlook, via email or an embedded link on your website. Those persons trying to schedule with you can then see your availability and pick a date and time when you are both free. After they’ve chosen a time, the event is automatically added to everyone’s calendar.

Even better, Calendar harnesses the power of machine learning. This means that it can analyze your previous meeting data to make smart suggestions on where, when, and what type of meetings to schedule.

You can currently sign-up for Calendar for free.

3. 10to8

10to8

If you’re tired of no-shows, then you may want to look into 10to8.

This online appointment software sends automated confirmation emails and SMS to clients. It also sends them reminders and gives them the ability change or cancel the appointment. Because it syncs with Google Calendar and Outlook all new appointments or changes are automatically updated in your calendar. If there are any questions or concerns, there’s a helpful two-way calendar-integrated chat so that you and your clients can address them in real-time.

10to8 also accepts online payments through PayPal, Stripe, SagePay without additional charges. You can also coordinate between multiple staff, calendars, rooms and locations seamlessly.

10to8 offers a free plan if you book fewer than 100 customers per month. If you book more than that, monthly plans start at $9.6.

4. VueMinder

VueMinder

VueMinder is a calendar program specifically designed for Windows users. Unlike some of the other apps and software you can view your schedule directly on the Windows desktop background. However, it does sync with Google Calendar and Apple Calendar. This means you don’t have to completely switch to Outlook.

That’s just scratching the surface. With VueMinder you can schedule daily, weekly, monthly, or annual events and appointments. You can also define tasks and break large tasks into smaller sub-tasks. Other useful features include the ability to store contact information, color-code your calendar, and create customized popup reminders. VueMinder will also send reminders through SMS and email.

While you can download a free version, access to more of the robust features require you to purchase the software starting $49.95.

5. Setmore

Setmore

Setmore is the only online appointment scheduling calendar software that provides a built-in live call answering service. To ensure that appointments are kept it will then send out alerts and reminders. If an appointment must be rescheduled you can easily do so by using the software’s drag and drop feature where you just move the appointment to a new time slot.

What makes Setmore unique is that it integrates with Facebook, Instagram, Slack, WordPress, and Weebly. This gives your clients more opportunities to share your calendar with clients and team members. Thanks to Setmore’s mobile app, you can book, manage, and sync your calendar while on the go.

For those of you have have under 20 staff logins and calendars, Setmore is free. For larger businesses, plans start $25/month.

6. Grapple

grapple

One of the newer meeting schedulers on the market is Grapple Meetings. Through the app you can select various meeting times and then create a poll. Once you do a page is created where clients and team members can select the availability that works best for them.

Participants can then view what selection other individuals made. That may not sound important, but it makes scheduling and rescheduling for groups much more easier and efficient.

You can sign up for Grapple for free. Doing so gives you access to both it’s collaborative software and in-built meeting scheduler.

7. CalendarWiz

Calendarwiz

CalendarWiz is a customizable calendar that can be shared with groups, teams, or clients. Just simply create a single or recurring event and share it with invitees through email, your website or social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can brand your calendar by changing the calendar colors to match your brand and adding your logo.

After an event has been created and shared, you can send an invite with a request to RSVP — you can also track who has accepted or declined the invite. Everyone will then receive automatic reminders and announcements to reduce no-shows.

CalendarWiz also lets you color code events, prevent double-booking with the self-service feature, and let your community suggest calendar events.

Following a 30 day free trial, plans start at $9/month.

8. Evie

Evie

Evie is an AI scheduling assistant that automates your entire meeting schedule and calendar management. How? Just Cc Evie whenever you mail attendees. Then ask Evie to help schedule a meeting or a call or to send out an invitation. That’s it. Evie handles the rest by finding an optimal time for everyone to meet based on everyone’s calendar.

Evie can then send out calendar invites and request meeting follow-ups automatically. More advanced features include the ability to include location information in emails, reschedule or cancel meetings, set meeting duration times based on your preferences.

If you schedule five meetings or less per month Evie is free. If you schedule more than five, you’ll have to choose a plan starting at $20/month.

9. Square Appointments

Square Appointments

With the free Square Appointments your customers can book an appointment with you 24/7 via a free online booking website. However, Square Appointments can also be embedded on your social channels like Facebook and Instagram. Because it syncs with your calendar, your availability will always be accurate and up-to-date.

You can also prevent no-shows by sending clients appointment reminders through email or SMS. You even have the option to charge a no-show fee. And, if the client must cancel or reschedule the client can do so on their own — meaning no more back-and-forth emails.

With Square, you can also accept payments remotely.

10. Bookeo

Bookeo

Bookeo can accept client bookings from your website and Facebook page anywhere, anytime. It then sends out automatic confirmation emails and email and text reminders. You can also receive email or text notifications when an appointment is cancelled or rescheduled.

Furthermore, Bookeo allows you to customize your calendar. You have the option to set business hours, appointment lengths, and color-code your various services.

Bookeo also lets you accept online payments and can be integrated with your existing marketing tools like Google Analytics and MailChimp.

You can try Bookeo for free for 30 days. After that, plans start at $14.95 per user/month.

5 Myths About Optimism That Lead to Toxic Positivity

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In times like these, it can be easy to catastrophize. Treating work situations as worse than they truly are can hurt your company culture. Be careful, however, not to swing too far in the other direction.

Optimism isn’t a bad thing, but it has its limits. Positivity becomes toxic when it’s used as an excuse to ignore negative emotions or realities. 

Social pressures, particularly at work, can push you to be positive to a fault. Just think about how easy it is to say “I’m fine” when you’re anything but. The trouble is, inauthenticity is contagious. 

If you’re looking to strike the right balance, you need to know the myths that lead to toxic positivity. Learn the truth of each, and use it to enhance your work culture:

Myth No. 1: You can fake it ‘til you make it.

If you can fake positivity, this myth claims, then you’ll be happy. Some versions even suggest faking a smile when you are feeling sad to change your mood.

There is some truth to this. In the long run, however, faking your emotional state is unsustainable. Researchers have even found that smiling through sadness eventually makes your brain associate smiling with sadness. That’s the exact opposite of what you want. 

It’s important to stay true to your feelings. Don’t put on a smile at work just to make others happy. To connect, your team needs to know that your emotions are genuine. 

Myth No. 2: Positive thinking requires ignorance.

Ignorance is bliss, right? Perhaps, but it’s also impractical and dangerous.

At work, you can’t ignore problems simply because they’re stressful. Client messages must be answered. Work relationships have to be tended to, especially when they’re weak. Rarely is personal growth comfortable or achieved through ignorance. 

It’s important to grapple with the things that need to be addressed. If you find yourself engaging in avoidant behavior:

  • Meditate
  • Reimagine and reframe negative thoughts
  • Discuss the issue with a close friend or family member
  • Join a group, either at work or outside of it, dedicated to addressing the issue
  • Seek professional mental health counseling

Myth No. 3: It helps to remember that “things could be worse.”

You’ve probably consoled yourself with this myth at one point. But speculating about how your circumstances could be worse doesn’t help you solve them. In fact, it implies that someone in a situation worse than yours couldn’t possibly be happy. 

The truth is that comparisons are wastes of time. You’ll never know the whole story behind why someone was promoted ahead of you, or why your position was cut instead of someone else’s.

What counts is being content with where you are and who you are. Once you can do that, you can start to build the best version of yourself. 

Myth No. 4: Positivity will keep you motivated at work.

At times, positivity can be motivating. The problem with this idea is that it’s a simplistic answer to a complex problem. 

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the loss of motivation. Maintaining a positive mindset doesn’t solve most of them. Dysfunctional coworker relationships, for example, will not improve simply because you’re in a better mood. 

You may not be able to control what’s going on at work, but you are in charge of your personal life. Give your home life a motivational makeover. Start by:

  • Unplugging from technology, especially in the morning and before bed 
  • Keeping a journal of your thoughts
  • Diving into your hobbies
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Exercising every day

Myth No. 5: Always looking on the bright side draws people in. 

Think about the people you like to be around: Are they always happy, or do they clue you in when something is stressing them out?

What actually attracts people to you isn’t militant optimism, but rather the courage to be genuine. Ignoring negative emotions you’re experiencing can actually push people away. 

Of all the myths on this list, this one might be the most dangerous for business leaders. Excessive cheerfulness can come across as distrust, especially if team members feel forced to match your degree of positivity. Remember, company culture starts at the top. 

Positivity should not be performative. You should strive to be relatable, thoughtful, and sincere. If you’re in a joyful mood, great — but don’t assume it’s the only reason people want to be around you.

As tricky as workplace positivity can be, here’s the good news: Getting it right doesn’t mean you have to act any certain way at all. In fact, all you have to do is stop acting. 

Being sincere is one of the smallest, yet most significant things you can do to build a healthy company culture. Your team can when something is on your mind, so you might as well share it with them. 

Leading With Empathy From Home

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Leading with Empathy

As you’re all well aware, the world is going through a pandemic. As a result, people are anxious, frightened, and suffering. And, they’re looking for answers on how this crisis is affecting them and when things can go back to “normal.” Here are a few suggestions about leading with empathy from home. Recently, I returned to the quote listed below.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  — Leo Buscaglia

While you can’t address all of their concerns, as a leader, you can at least be empathetic with your team. Even before COVID-19, empathy was often seen as one of the most important leadership skills to possess. After all, empathy is in our DNA and can create a more loyal, engaged, and productive. Empathy can also increase happiness, teach presence, and foster innovation collaboration.

However, empathy is more important than ever before. But, how can you be there for your team when this virus has forced you to be apart? Well, you can fix that problem by leading with empathy from home using the following ten techniques.

1. Support your team’s emotional and mental health.

I don’t think that I need to pull up any figures that highlight just how stressed and anxious everyone is right now. With that in mind, you don’t want to put any additional emotional or mental strain on your team. So, ditch the “tough love” approach and offer your support during this trying time. Social support has been found as the best way to alleviate stress.

How can you be supportive right now? The most obvious place to start is merely letting your team members know that you are there from them. Make it known that they can reach out to if they need to discuss any issues — even if it’s not work-related. In a way, this kind of like having a virtual open-door policy.

You should also schedule frequent check-ins with them to see how they’re doing. If they’re taking care of family members or busy homeschooling their children, you may even want to suggest that they take some time off. Most importantly, if you notice signs of distress, please have them contact outside sources like a support group, crisis outline, or mental healthcare professional.

2. Ease-up on rigid schedules.

Not that long ago, having a regimented schedule was one of the drawbacks regarding flexible schedules. Right now, though, that doesn’t matter.

Yes, for many businesses, they still need their team to be accountable and meet deadlines. But, they can still achieve these without putting in a specific set of working hours each day. As long as they’re getting stuff done, it doesn’t matter when they’re working or for how long.

In the past, studies have found that flexible schedules leade to happier and more productive employees. And, considering that they currently have other priorities, like taking care of themselves and loved ones, this is the best gift you can give them. And, they will reward by continuing to deliver quality work.

3. Rethink how you ask questions and listen.

Actively listen to your team. While that may sound simple, it’s going to take some effort. For instance, listening means giving the other person 100% percent of your attention when they’re conversing with you via Zoom, the phone, email, or Slack. Listening also involves making yourself as available as possible without wearing yourself out — I suggest sharing your calendar with your team so that they can see when you’re free to chat.

Additionally, you also need to ask empathy-building questions, like:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What’s distracting you?
  • How can I support you?

If they respond with a short answer, like “fine” or “nothing,” don’t accept that. Be honest with your team, and encourage them to open up so that you can get to the root problem.

4. Model healthy work habits.

Although you need to be available for your people, the truth is you also need a break. So, set regular “business hours” and lay down some guidelines. For example, suggest that there’s no work-related contact after work hours or during the weekend.

And, even though you can’t go out, let your team know how you’re spending your downtime. Maybe share with them a project you’re doing around your home or a new hobby you picked-up. And encourage them to let you and the rest of the team know how they’re enjoying their downtime.

5. Train yourself to be more patient.

Whether if everyone is adjusting to working from home or meeting virtually, expect some growing pains. We’re all trying to adjust and get through this together. And, one way to handle this is by training yourself to be more patient.

Personally, this is something that I’m still working on. And, according to studies, it depends on your personality, history, and situation. But, it is possible by:

  • Identifying when you’re impatient and what emotion you’re feeling.
  • Reframing how you think about the situation.
  • Thinking with purpose in mind.

6. Normalize the new normal.

If you’ve ever sought advice about effectively working from home, you were probably told to get dressed and set up shop in a quiet, dedicated workspace. Both suggestions are correct in working at-home procedures. But, that was a different time and place.

Take that home office you’ve carefully set up. It’s now being shared by your spouse for their work stuff and likely even your kids while they are on the “learning virtually” track. At this time, because of the non-virtual sharing — your team might have to use the kitchen table to work, or even meet on a video chat. Don’t chastise them for choices that they have to make that may be totally out of their control. Space is limited, and they need to work whenever they can.

Problematic choices have to be made right now — even down to getting dressed. Obviously, if a team member is on camera they’ll be wearing clothes, but let it slide if they’re in sweats or jeans and a T-shirt. The last thing that should be on their minds is getting all dressed up like they would if they were in the office.

7. Educate your team.

There are several ways you can do this. Pass along information on how your team can stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. Advice from the CDC and WHO are reliable sources for this. You could also let them know what your insurance plans do and do not cover.

What’s more, keep them up-to-date on your business and the industry so that they’re not left out in the cold. And, while you’re at it, provide them with resources on how they can be more focused while working from home.

8. Give them something to look forward to.

It’s impossible to make too many plans right now. But, you can still give your team things to look forward to besides work. You could start a virtual book club or host a number of events remotely. Ideas could be a happy hour, movie night, or online game tournament. Another idea could be sending them a care package containing handwritten notes, healthy snacks, or items that could make them more productive at home, such as headphones or a standing desk.

9. Meet more frequently.

Yes. Meetings are usually dreaded because they are boring, pointless, and distracting. But, right now, connecting with others is crucial — particularly for your team members who live alone.

Schedule more meetings than you normally would, like a brief 10-minute daily huddle or weekly progress meeting. Besides offering your team to interact with others, it also gives you more of a chance to monitor how they’re doing with their work and life.

Just remember to follow some basic virtual meeting etiquette guidelines. These include picking the right technology, speaking clearly and concisely, not multitasking, and muting your mic when not speaking.

10. Help others.

Finally, lend a helping hand to your team. If you have the means, this could be financially assisting them. But, you could also purchase an app like Calm or Downward Dog to help them relax.

You could also ask each person how, as a team, you can help each other. Maybe you could purchase gift cards to local businesses, put together with care packages for health care workers, or volunteer virtually.

Helping others isn’t just a welcome distraction. It gives back to the community, builds camaraderie, and puts you and your team in a better mood.

6 Tips to Improve Your Posture at Work

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It may not be back-breaking labor, but office work can take a toll on your body. Sitting for long periods has serious health consequences.

The good news is, most of them can be avoided or improved with better posture. Sitting upright can boost your energy levels, fight anxiety, and reduce back pain. Mental and physical wellness are valuable in and of themselves, but they can also benefit your job performance. 

Don’t wait to worry about your posture until something goes wrong. Chiropractors aren’t cheap. Get ahead of misalignment issues with these simple steps:

1. Exercise your core muscles. 

Regular exercise is a critical part of your daily routine. And if you want to improve your posture, core exercises are a must. 

When you hear “core,” you might think about your abs. But the core also covers your midsection and trunk, including your lower back and glutes. Those muscles are directly connected to your spine, so they affect your posture. 

Your core workout regimen might look something like:

  • Leg extensions: 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps
  • Sit-ups: 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps
  • Planks: 3 sets, each sustained for one minute 
  • Crunches: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Superman: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps 
  • Back extensions: 1-2 sets of 6-8 reps, each sustained for 15 seconds

If that workout routine looks like a lot, don’t sweat it: Start with a single set of each, and work your way up. 

2. Mind how you sit.

Your biggest obstacle to better posture? How you sit while you work.  

What’s good sitting posture? Practice it by:

  • Sitting on the edge of your seat. 
  • Putting your feet flat on the floor so that you can bend your legs at a 90-degree angle to the ground. 
  • Sitting up as tall as you can without arching your back. 
  • Broadening your chest and pulling your shoulders back. 

Hold that position for as long as you can. Even if it’s uncomfortable, resist the temptation to slouch or use your chair’s backrest. 

3. Adjust your work setup. 

Once sitting properly becomes second-nature, you can tweak your workspace to suit. An ergonomic desk setup will boost your productivity while reminding you to sit upright. 

First, invest in a good chair. Look for one that’s cushioned but not plush, and make sure its height can be adjusted so you can keep your feet firmly planted.

Once you settle on the right chair, think about your equipment:

  • Adjust your chair so that your computer monitor is eye-level. 
  • Keep your keyboard in a comfortable position so that you don’t have to completely extend or bend your elbows to type. 
  • Place your mouse, water bottle, and frequently used items within reach.
  • Situate your printer, fax machine, and infrequently used tools so that you have to get up to use them.

4. Stand up while working.

Who says you have to sit down while working? Standing encourages upright posture, burns more calories than sitting, reduces the risk of heart disease, and keeps you more alert at work.

Invest in a desk that lets you alternate between sitting and standing. You’ll eventually get tired of either position, and many of the health benefits of a standing desk stem from switching between the two.

5. Take breaks frequently.

When you start to feel sore or jittery, don’t soldier on; instead, get up and move around. Take a walk outside, stretch your back, or just go grab a coffee refill. 

Aside from improving your posture, breaks benefit your productivity in other ways. Getting some space from your work can heighten your focus, fight burnout, and refuel your creativity. When you come back, you might see a simple solution to that problem you couldn’t solve earlier.

Try the Pomodoro Method: Work for 25 minutes, do something else for 5 minutes, and then do it again. Taking smaller breaks more often keeps your blood moving and your mind fresh. 

6. Use gadgets as a last resort. 

Start with exercise, a better chair, and a standing desk. If those don’t work, consider a back brace or other posture-correcting gear.

Why shouldn’t you reach straight for medical devices? Because they can also cause harm. Get a doctor’s opinion before you put anything on your body, and avoid wearing it all the time. Otherwise, your back could become used to the extra support, resulting in weaker core muscles.

What’s more, posture-correcting equipment can be embarrassing. Although your co-workers should understand that you’re trying to improve your health, you don’t need the extra distraction. 

Worry first about your own posture, but don’t underestimate the value of better posture across your team. Instead of commanding your team to sit a certain way, however, be a model: Sit up straight, feel better, and share how you did it. Taking better care of yourself has a way of spreading to those around you. 

Reclaim Your Time by Learning the Art of Saying No

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Regain Your Time by Learning the Art of Saying No

As a parent, there’s a two-letter word that drives you wild whenever you ask your kids to do something. And that word is the dreaded “no.” Anyone with young kids will relate to the beginnings of the “no” word at about two years old. But here is how you can reclaim your time by learning the art of saying “no.”

For as infuriating as that response can be, there are times when there’s a lesson you can learn from them. And, that’s the gentle art of saying no.

To be fair, that doesn’t mean rejecting every time request — or just being defiant because you can. If so, you could be potentially missing out on opportunities. Besides, you don’t want to earn that reputation of being difficult.

The power of saying “no.”

Instead, it’s all about being more selective so that you aren’t wasting your valuable time. In turn, you’ll be able to improve your focus, performance, and productivity. And, most importantly, as Steve Jobs once said, “It’s only by saying NO that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Furthermore, mastering the art of saying “no” gives you more control and lets you establish your own boundaries. If not, because you’re a people pleaser or just afraid to upset others, you’re giving up control to them. I mean, if you don’t respect your time, then why would anyone else?

“One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that no one will protect my time or prioritize my needs as vigilantly as me,” Damon Zahariades wrote in The Art Of Saying NO: How To Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time And Energy, And Refuse To Be Taken For Granted. “That’s understandable. Most people act out of self-interest; they naturally put their own priorities ahead of others’ priorities,” Zahariades states. “But it means each of us is responsible for making sure our personal needs are met.”

“No one is going to do it for us,” adds Zahariades. “Moreover, it’s important that we attend to our own needs before attending to the needs of others.” Will this make you uncomfortable? Sure. “But allowing your needs to remain unaddressed while you continuously cater to others is the path toward resentment and bitterness. It can even become a health issue if you run yourself ragged.”

What you should say “no” to and how?

Most of you know that I write for Entrepreneur magazine — let’s quickly go over the things that you should say “no” to, courtesy of Matthew Toren in an Entrepreneur article.

    • Tasks that can be easily outsourced. Are you spending the bulk of your day on tedious activities that aren’t pushing you closer to your goals? I’m talking about administrative work, accounting, lead generation, HR, IT, or marketing as some common examples. If so, hire someone else to take on these tasks.
    • Actions that don’t match your vision. Before saying “yes,” ask one simple question; “does it match your vision?”
    • Things that distract you destroy your time. Whether if it’s smartphone notifications, chatty co-workers, meetings without an agenda, or unproductive uses of your downtime, identify these and eliminate them.
    • Unhealthy habits. Eating junk, not getting enough sleep, smoking, and toxic relationships can do serious harm to your health and well-being. And, when you spend time on unhealthy habits, you’re taking time away from more productive ways.
    • Things that aren’t up to you or in your control. “There are things in this life that are inevitably out of your control — lots of them, actually,” writes Toren. But, you do have a choice. “You can fret and freak out about things such as the government, the economy, your partner, the weather, or any other variable outside your power, or you can choose to say ‘no’ to the stress that comes from getting upset about things you can’t control.”

Practicing the art of saying “no.”

Now that you have an idea of what time requests to decline, how can you say “no” to them? Well, here are seven ways to achieve that goal effectively.

1. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.

So many of us struggle with saying no because we don’t want to offend others. After all, we don’t want others to believe that we’re selfish or unkind. But, in reality, that’s not the case.

As Chantalle Blikman perfectly explains over at Tiny Budha, this was something we were taught as children. “If you said no to your mom, dad, teacher, uncle, grandparents, and so on, you were most certainly considered to be being rude, and you would have probably been told off for it.” As such, “Saying no was off-limits, and yes was the polite and likable thing to say.”

But, as adults, we are “capable of making our own choices, as well as knowing the difference between wrong and right,” adds Blikman. “Therefore, no shouldn’t be an off-limits word, but rather something that we decide on ourselves, based on our own discretion.”

While this is still a challenge, the first thing you must do is realize that you should never feel guilty or ashamed of saying no. If you’re direct and honest, then others will respect and understand your decision. You will not believe how much your decisions to say no will up your productivity.

2. Plan your “no’s” in advance.

In my opinion, this will make saying “no” a breeze going forward mainly because it’s almost like creating an automatic response. For instance, if you have implemented a “No Meeting Wednesday” rule, and you have a meeting invite for a Wednesday, it’s much easier to turn down that request.

If you haven’t instituted such policies yet, then identify where you want to spend your time. Ideally, this will be based on your priorities. If you have to finish a task by the end of the day, then you can’t leave the office to play golf with a friend. Quality family time a priority? Then you would reserve Friday evenings as the night that your family spends together.

3. Take baby steps.

“Choose some easy, low-risk situations in which to practice saying no,” recommends Peter Bregman for HBR. “Say no when a waiter offers you dessert” or “when someone tries to sell you something on the street,” Bregman writes. “Go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and say no out loud ten times.” While this may sound ridiculous, it’s a great way to build your no muscle without serious repercussions or guilty feelings.

4. Consult your calendar.

Unless it’s an extremely urgent matter, don’t feel pressured to say “yes” or “no” on the spot. Go ahead and respond with a phrase like, “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Obviously, you want to be respectful of the other person’s time. So, set a time limit, like by tomorrow or the end of the week.

The reason why this strategy works well is that it gives you time to pause and reflect. Maybe you weren’t gung-ho about the request initially. But, after sleeping on it, you decide it’s worth your time. So, you check your schedule and see when you’re available. But, I strongly suggest that you share your calendar with them so that they can know when you’re free.

There’s another variation to this. Let’s say that you get invited to a BBQ next weekend. Before committing, let them not that you have to speak with your family first to make sure that you don’t already have plans.

5. Be brief and polite, but firm.

“You don’t always have to explain yourself when telling someone no,” notes Daniel Potter over at Grammarly. “Still, it’s often more considerate to provide a straight-up no rather than a non-response, because leaving people wondering tends to read as thoughtless.”

At the same time, you don’t want to offer too brief of an explanation. As an example, instead of responding with “I can’t help with that,” try, “Sadly, I’m afraid I can’t help with that.” Using “sadly “shows you recognize the answer probably won’t thrill the recipient, and it brings you no joy to say so.”

Another example? “Thank you for thinking of me for this assignment. I can’t take more work on right now, but please keep in touch.” What makes this response work is that it shows your appreciation while also leaving the door open for possible work in the future.

What if they aren’t taking “no” for an answer? Bregman recommends being “just as pushy as they are” without being a jerk. You may also want to incorporate a little humor here as well.

6. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”

Here’s an example from the pages of Greg McKeown’s bookEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. A friend needs a lift to an important meeting, and their car is in the shop. You can say that you’re “welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.”

Using this phrase lets them know, “I won’t be able to drive you.” McKeown explains, “saying what you will not do, but you are couching it in terms of what you are willing to do.” It’s an efficient “way to navigate a request you would like to support somewhat but cannot throw your full weight behind.”

“I particularly like this construct because it also expresses a respect for the other person’s ability to choose, as well as your own,” statesMcKeown. “It reminds both parties of the choices they have,” while setting reasonable boundaries.

7. Offer an alternative.

Let’s say your business partner wants to meet for lunch tomorrow. You already have plans. But, you suggest this Friday since you’re available. It turns out that this works for them as well. Crisis averted.

Another alternative could be referring them so someone else who has more experience, knowledge, or interest than you do. Or, let’s say that you have a team member who has volunteered to take on a new project. While this is encouraged if the project is time-sensitive and you’re concerned that you would have to micromanage them to ensure it’s completed on-time, suggest another project that has more leeway.

 

Don’t Let Vacation Season Dampen Team Productivity

By | Time Management | No Comments

With summer on its way, you’re likely receiving more requests for time off. While you want your team to enjoy the season, you’re also worried: How will all the vacations affect productivity?

Even with a strong PTO policy, this can be difficult to manage. And as workers will point out, vacations can boost individual productivity. The wrinkle is, missing hands can slow down the rest of the team.

But before you deny those requests, beware: You don’t want to create a company culture in which people are afraid to take time off. Workers are already taking fewer days off out of fear of appearing “replaceable.”

You need to strike the right balance. Here’s how to keep your team strong while ensuring everyone gets a taste of summer:

1. Preview the season’s work.

Setting expectations before summer takes off is a great way to get team members to think about timing. If they know a major project will be due in early July, then you shouldn’t see a flood of PTO requests for the week before.

This is the kind of discussion to have at a team meeting. Plot out upcoming campaigns and talk through how much work each will take. Revisit the company’s mission, and explain how each campaign connects to it. 

If employees know what’s coming and why, they’ll plan ahead. There may be phases of a project that involve them less than others, during which workers can squeeze in a summer camping trip. 

2. Review your PTO policy.

During the same meeting when you preview the summer, bring up your company’s PTO policy. Often, violations occur when workers simply forget the rules. 

Explain how many consecutive days they can request off. Also, discuss how much prior notice employees must provide beforehand in order to get approval.

Be transparent about the approval process. There are a number of ways to decide who gets to take time off if requests conflict:

  • On a first-come, first-serve basis
  • A rotating vacation schedule
  • Based on seniority
  • Based on who took time off least recently

If you do have to deny someone’s request, work with them. Perhaps they get first dibs over another desirable slot, such as Labor Day weekend. 

3. Create a company vacation calendar.

A calendar that shows who’s taking time off when is an important organization tool. This can help cut down on overlapping vacations.

Make sure you have a system to separate pending from approved requests. Consider color-coding them, or perhaps you simply reply “Maybe” to requests you’ve seen but have yet to approve. That way, workers can be courteous of others’ vacations and rearrange their own schedules to stay productive.

4. Ask people to work ahead.

There’s no substitute for working ahead. Not only does it help the team member on vacation keep their mind off work, but it also minimizes dependencies. Otherwise, the rest of the team may have to wait for the worker to return. 

Before they go on vacation, help employees outline what they’ll accomplish before they leave. Encourage them to get a jump start on a project they’ll be expected to contribute to when they return.

Remember, this applies to leaders as well: If you were expecting their help on a project during their week off, you may have to put together the brief ahead of schedule. Model the behavior you want to see from your team.

5. Over-communicate.

It’s critical that nobody on the team is caught off guard by a vacation. A vacation calendar identifies who’ll be out when, but it’s not enough.

Before someone’s time off begins, initiate a conversation: What’s been done, and what’s left to do on projects that span the out-of-office period? That way, team members can plan to work around the missing person’s portion or pick up the slack when necessary.

If you need to cross-train an employee to handle the work, touch base with them before the other worker leaves. Encourage them to shadow the vacationer for a day to see how he or she works.

6. Promote working at peak vacation times. 

If you get an overwhelming number of requests at similar times — say, around the Fourth of July — consider rewarding employees who hold down the fort. Doing so can give those who really need a vacation more space while showing appreciation to the rest of the team.

Great ways to incentive working at peak times include:

  • Bonus pay
  • Gift cards
  • Additional time off to be used later
  • Free snacks or meals

Don’t buy them a yacht, but don’t worry too much about how much those incentives cost. A fully functional team is more than worth a catered lunch or a few Starbucks gift cards. 

Vacation season doesn’t have to mean making new hires or sacrificing productivity. If you plan ahead and prepare your team, everyone can enjoy the summer. You might even be able to take a vacation of your own. 

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