20 Things You Can Do In 20 Minutes to Be More Successful at Work

There are things you can do in just 20 minutes that can have a meaningful and even a long term positive effect on your IT organization, your career, your technology knowledge, your management skills and your relationship with the business. We've gathered 20 of the best ideas we could find.

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10. Go for a Walk

You know walking is good for you. A regular, 20-minute jaunt can reduce your risk of heart attack, keep your weight down and help you manage stress. We're made for it, too. As James A. Levine, a physician and researcher with the Mayo Clinic, writes in a recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, "Our bodies evolved to walk," but in the modern world, "we have forsaken our legs as a means of locomotion, work and leisure."

Health experts advise walking at least 30 minutes a day, but "20 minutes is better than nothing," says Maggie Miller, senior vice president and CIO with Warner Music Group.

Miller finds that a short run or a vigorous walk first thing in the morning helps her think more clearly and creatively. She'll also hit the pavement "when I'm mad about something." Her strategy: "Write the zinger e-mail and park it in my drafts box to simmer while I go for a walk in Central Park or, more likely, Riverside Park, which is quieter. By the time I get back I'll usually have worked out a way to deal with whatever the issue is in a much more constructive and collaborative way." Now, get out of that chair.

-E.V.

11. Knock on a New Door

In order to create an IT organization that provides strategic value, you have to understand how your business operates. "It always starts there," says Michael Jones, CIO of the National Marrow Donor Program. "I don't mean how IT operates in the business context; I mean how the business functions. What drives profit and revenue. What the business spends money on. Who your customers are. What requirements each person has." To find out, says Jones, "you need to talk to a lot of people, from the C level down to the basement."

Chances are you already check in regularly with a defined group of business executives. Why not use your 20 minutes to venture into uncharted territory and visit someone new?

Don't go in with an agenda. Leave the strategic plan behind. And for goodness' sake, don't give a speech. Have a conversation.

If the topic turns to business, ask questions. What's his or her job like? What's going well? What's not? What might make his or her job easier? Brian Tennant, CIO of Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services says a simple Whatcha workin' on? can do the trick. "I ask people what they're doing and I gain a tremendous perspective on functions, roles, the work people do and the challenges they face," Tennant says.

If your new friend asks about you, keep it brief but keep it real. That's what friends do.

-S.O.

12. Should You Stay or Should You Go Now?

Good leaders, like good captains, often think their job is to carry on no matter what, even to the point of going down with a sinking ship. But sometimes the best thing to do is to find a lifeboat and paddle to an inviting shore. "If you find the job no longer excites you, it's time to seek another," says Steve Yates, KeyBank CIO. "When you find it grinding on you, you're done."

It should take less than 20 minutes to see if you've passed the point of no return. Grab a pen and a pad of paper (yes, do it the old-fashioned way; it'll help ground you) and set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes. (Hourglasses are optional, but recommended.) Draw a line down the middle. On one side write the reasons you should stay; on the other, the reasons you should go. If your go list is longer than your stay list, it's time to go. Finding a new job is no harder than showing up for a bad one, day in and day out.

"The CIO job is demanding," Yates says. "You have to feel good about coming to work to be able to handle all the twists and turns of politics, technology, organization change and more."

If you've burned out, your people will notice sooner or later, and it'll only be a matter of time before the decision of whether to sail for new shores is taken out of your hands.

-Al Sacco

13. What's So Funny About Company Peace, Love and Understanding?

Many I.T. staffers don't have a lot of interaction with other departments. By inviting the head of finance (or marketing,

sales or HR) to give an informal 15-minute presentation at your next staff meeting, your IT department can become familiar with the structure, needs, current initiatives and challenges of other groups within the company.

There shouldn't really be heavy lifting on either side, as department execs tend to have canned presentations about their department and their current needs-presentations they often give to the board of directors or within their own departments. The benefit to participating execs: The better IT understands their world, the better IT will be at servicing them, says Peter Kretzman, IT executive and author of CIO/CTO Perspectives Blog.

"These presentations may be the only structured opportunity that a lot of people in IT have been given to learn and ask questions about other company areas," says Kretzman. "Through these sessions, the exec in charge of those areas becomes more than just a name and a face, and real understanding and positive working relationships tend to ensue." He adds that it's often a reciprocal arrangement, one that offers a huge opportunity to evangelize what IT does and why.

-Shawna McAlearney

14. Set Up a Facebook Account

Maybe you don't like Facebook. Maybe you think it's for kids.

But maybe you're wrong and by being wrong you may be missing out on an opportunity to learn a little something about social networking. After all, with 64 million users, Facebook is the fastest-growing social network on the Web. The company claims that its over-25 demographic has grown the most rapidly. So take 20 minutes and set up an account.

Mark A. Lappin, director of IT for Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry-which owns eight retail shops in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi-has maintained an account since the site opened in 2004. "We don't allow access at work," says Lappin, "but [my] people use it on their own time at home frequently."

Lappin believes CIOs can learn from Facebook in order to build successful social network equivalents for employees behind the corporate firewall. "That," he says, "is a goal on our intranet down the line."

-C.G. Lynch

15. Encrypt Now or Regret It Later

When an employee or contractor loses a notebook PC and it turns into a data breach and PR nightmare, what are you going to say when your CEO asks why you hadn't encrypted the company's notebooks? That won't be fun. So start investigating encryption options.

"A lost PC without encryption is truly getting caught with your pants down," says Forrester Research senior analyst Natalie Lambert. "However, you would be surprised at the number of businesses that have not encrypted their mobile devices." Price used to be a concern, but encryption technology has become practically a commodity item, Lambert says. For advice from CIOs who have encrypted their mobile fleets, see "How to Lock Up Laptop Security."

-Laurianne McLaughlin

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