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Small steps to self discipline: 3 basic concepts students should know before graduating

If you have already graduated from college, please skip this article as I don’t want you to waste your time on very basic things you already know. This article is dedicated to high school and college students who have never been involved in any group study/work in their life.

Dear students,

Whether you have a role in a student community or you work on your start-up or you have an internship in a company, there are several basic tools that you should definitely be aware of to make your life easier. These tools will help you optimize your time, provide discipline, increase your efficiency and support you on keeping the track of every task you will deal with. Good news is, you are already familiar with these concepts since you have used them in a smaller scale and in an amateur way (maybe with a paper and a pen, or just in your mind) ever since you use your mind. These concepts are the products of the tendency towards organizing yourself, which means, regardless of the lifestyle of each individual, these concepts are derived from logical thinking and reasoning intuitively.

What the world of grown ups makes differently is to organize these tools in more professional, more efficient and unfortunately, more boring way. Thankfully, the use of these concepts are facilitated through a variety of tech products such as Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint.

I tried to keep it as simple as possible, and left you a room to search the ones that you would like to know more about.

1) Organizational structure & chart: Based on my personal experience, the most common issues that all companies or communities face are related to the weaknesses in the organization itself. Well, this is not surprising because human being still constitutes the main input in all types of works, although machines became the crucial resource in our working life. Never forget that it is much harder to manage people than to manage machines, systems or technology. Human beings are composed of millions of variables and therefore managing (or leading) group of people have millions of dimensions, which is not even comparable with managing a product/service or a technology.

Once you join to a community or a company, the first thing you should do is to obtain the organizational structure and to get to know people as quickly as possible. (Hint: You should also know about the powermap in order to understand the political dynamics between people if any. (e.g. whom you should win over, who you should be careful about etc..))

On the other hand, if you gather a group of people for a purpose that involves collaboration (be it community, project or a company), you need to build the organizational chart. Here are the main components:

  • Departments
  • Work functions
  • Headcount
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • The objective of that role
  • RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) matrix
  • Governance processes
  • Reporting lines (reporting to and reported by..)
  • Span of control (optional: if you have a big organization, larger than 40 people)

You should make sure your organizational type (classical, functional, divisional, horizontal, vertical, centralized, dispersed etc.) fits in to the goals of that organization

2) Tracker: Let’s say you have a role in a project. If you don’t want to lose the track and if you want to stay hands on, you have to keep a tracker. I think the benefits of keeping a tracker are very obvious, so no need to elaborate. The components which you need to include in your tracker are as below:

  • Task categories
  • Tasks (keep it very concise)
  • Task details
  • Start date of task
  • End date of task  (the deadline)
  • The owner of the task
  • The status of each task (should be very simple, not more than 5 different status)
  • Notes/comments
  • Update date
  • Person updated (optional: if the tracker is used by multiple people)

3) Meeting notes: We are always confident that we would never forget the discussions we were involved in an important meeting. However, we always forget things and/or we spend time on less important points after the meeting is held. My advice is, always keep meeting notes for all meetings and fill out the notes with information as precise as possible. Key points should be stand alone so that another person who was absent in that meeting can read and understand what has been discussed in that meeting afterwards.

The components of a typical meeting note are:

  • Date & time of the meeting
  • Place
  • Brief agenda (should be short and concise)
  • Attendees
  • Attendees from other parties (optional: if people outside of your group were involved in that meeting)
  • Key discussion points (this is where you will detail what has been discussed in that meeting)
  • Next steps (I think this one is the most critical in terms of the utilizing the meetings afterwards)

I hope these concepts help you when you actively engage in a group work or a community for the first time in your life.


Image source: Flickr

Orkun Basaran

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