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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16. What Users Want

Are you sure you're making the right IT investments? Here's a novel idea: Why not ask?

According to David Hatch, research director at consultancy Aberdeen Group, IT management spends way too much time researching the latest technologies and virtually no time asking users what they want. There's a huge disconnect between strategic thinking at the senior management level and real-world usage and adoption among end users, he says. That's why Hatch recommends taking 20 minutes to conduct an informal, anonymous e-mail survey of all company employees that asks the following questions:

  • Which of our apps are most useful to you? Why? (Be sure to provide a list.)
  • What app is so critical that you simply couldn't do your job without it?
  • Which app don't you use at all?
  • Which app causes you the most problems?
  • What new business application or capability, currently not provided, would instantly make your job easier and improve your performance?

-Diann Daniel

17. The Kids Are Real Smart

Sure, your seasoned vets have great ideas but why not shake things up and ask the kids on your staff to come up with ideas to improve efficiency, quality or the workplace? Organizational newbies can have a unique perspective, says NeoIT's CEO Eugene Kublanov, but they're rarely tapped effectively.

C-level executives rarely solicit or hear the ideas of their junior team members, says Kublanov. And that's a waste of a valuable resource. "Many technologies that started in the consumer or peer-to-peer world, such as mobile technologies, video games and wikis, are making their way into the business realm," Kublanov points out. "Who better to provide input on how to apply these technologies to make business more effective than those for whom using these tools is second nature?" Of course, you don't want to look like you're going around the chain of command to solicit the input, so keep it casual, says Kublanov. Try something like, "Hey, I'd like to get your thoughts on how we might improve efficiency in the organization. Think about it and get back to me with your top three ideas by next Friday."

This isn't pie-in-the-sky, do-gooder, morale-boosting theory. Kublanov and his clients have put it into practice successfully. "Some of the outcomes have included leveraging wiki tools as a more effective knowledge management system, distributing training videos on iPods and using social networking tools to create internal knowledge hubs," Kublanov says. Reward your young innovators by involving them in the implementation of their ideas. And "it never hurts to recognize the person for the idea in a group setting," says Kublanov. And a simple thanks from the boss goes a long way, too.

-S.O.

18. Does Your Vendor "Get" You?

Sharing your strategic plan with your vendors can help both of you. Maybe your plan relies on products that are going end of life. Wouldn't that be good to know? Maybe there are products in the pipeline that can better meet your future needs. How would you know that?

First, invite your strategic vendors to an IT strategic plan presentation and allow time for a Q&A. Stephen Guth, executive director of the Vendor Management Office at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, says limiting the number of representatives from each vendor and targeting the key players, such as the account executive, his or her manager and an executive representative, is important. And the strategic plan should not be e-mailed or handed out to vendors; they may not read it, and copies are difficult to control.

"Having a roomful of vendors listen to an IT strategic plan presentation, even when there is no product or service overlap," says Guth, "creates a sense of competition."

All of them competing to help you. How can you beat that?

-S. M.

19. iPhone Fun

Hugh Scott, VP of IS at Direct Energy, has a team that supports some 500 smartphones, all BlackBerrys. But at home, he's an iPhone convert.

Why? Scott believes it offers lessons for IT people regardless of their chosen mobile theology. "The first thing is the sheer usability of the product," Scott says. "You don't even get a user manual with it. You can just figure out how it works. That's quite an important lesson for CIOs."

Scott also says that Apple extended that usability well beyond the user interface, a fact that became clear when he activated his iPhone for the first time. "I had all my personal e-mail accounts on my [Apple notebook]. And after I set up [the iPhone], all of my e-mail accounts had all been set up. I was used to having to set up the POP [mail] address myself. But this thing figured it out on its own." And users will come to expect the same kind of ease from the technology they find at the office.

Even with its advantages, Scott says he has no plans to migrate employees from the BlackBerry's secure, enterprise-tested RIM platform. But while he's not yet moving his corporate budget to the iPhone, his home budget is another story.

"This Christmas I bought my wife an iPhone," Scott says. "We're a two iPhone family now."

-Christopher Lindquist

20. Take a Google Test Drive

Okay, so it might be another decade before you use a productivity suite other than Microsoft Office. But if you're tired of paying the licensing fee for workers who use just a few Office features, it's worth taking a peek at the consumer version of Google Apps.

By default, when you start a Gmail account, you have Google Apps. Try the docs & spreadsheets, calendar and Gmail chat functions and you might find the lightweight tools to be pretty helpful. Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research, says CIOs should have a Google Apps account if only to show their users that they know what's going on in the consumer space. "It can be a great way to gain credibility with a user base that sometimes sees IT as being all about servers and storage and not about software innovation," she says. For only $50 per user per year for an enterprise version of Google Apps with Postini security for e-mail, you might find it a compelling option for "nonpower users" of productivity applications.

"As Google Apps' functionality grows, CIOs may want to consider migrating some users from Microsoft Office to Google Apps and showing the CFO a nice return on investment," Wettemann says.

-C.G.L.

Related:

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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