Boosting Willpower: Getting a Handle on Your Compulsive Behavior

“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive, no matter what they feel, by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt, or fear.” — Dan Millman, American author.

 Boosting Willpower - Resisting the 3 o clock dance party by Laura Stack #productivityDid you know that you have a limited supply of willpower—and that when you use it up, it’s gone until you replenish it? That’s the conclusion of Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. in “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get More of It” and Roy F. Baumeister in “Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength,” who have studied the issue.

Believe it or not, even something as simple as deciding between a pumpkin spice latte and a Frappuccino, or what you want for lunch, can use up part of your day’s limited supply of willpower. Interestingly, your willpower also corresponds to your energy level. Neurologists believe insufficient glucose (the body’s primary fuel) in certain areas of the brain makes you reckless. If you find yourself running low, stabilize your glucose level. Some researchers recommend replenishing your glucose throughout the day to stay on an even keel. You can do this by sipping juice or lemonade sweetened with real sugar, or eating multiple small meals or snacks.

Why is a steady energy level important? When your glucose is low, and your willpower is flagging, you can end up making compulsive decisions, wasting time, and doing things you’ll regret later. Ever wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?” regarding a business decision, or an hour-long splurge on social media when you should have been working and producing? It’s not just something you can brush off as a momentary aberration or a lapse in judgment. Usually, you did it on purpose. It’s an actual physiological response to lack of energy—you didn’t have the capacity to do anything else—and you needed to recharge. This is compulsive decision making at its finest, and you can fix it.

Here’s an example of an exchange from October 2013 that demonstrates compulsive behavior on both sides of the management gap—behavior that had severely negative repercussions for both people involved. During a conference call including 1,000+ workers, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fired creative director Abel Lenz for taking his photo while he was speaking—in keeping with a company directive that private conferences were not to be recorded in any way. The other employees, who had expected to be fired up by a patented Tim Armstrong rally-the-troops speech, were aghast that someone was fired instead.

Needless to say, this was leaked to the press almost immediately. Armstrong took a lot of flak for the abrupt dismissal of the man who had created the Patch website in the virtual presence of a thousand of his co-workers. A few days later he apologized deeply, including to Lenz personally, for firing him—but he didn’t hire him back, because Lenz had broken a firm rule. He had compulsively decided to take that photo, and Armstrong had compulsively fired him.

Counting to Ten

Has a lack of self-control caused you harm in the past? For example, have you ever received an inflammatory message and responded with the same, only to later wish you hadn’t fired off that response? Take it from me—next time, choose to hit SAVE and do not send it. Go do something productive for a while, and then come back to the message and respond as positively as you can, as calmly as you can.

Self-control has to be practiced constantly. If you finish a task, don’t waste time just because you “deserve” it (unless it really is time for a break). If you have to make a conscious choice, you’re in danger of compulsively deciding to do the wrong thing. Instead, tackle the next item on your list in order of value. Ideally, you should work on your highest remaining priority first, but if you can’t bring yourself to do that, at least do something on your list, instead of playing around on the internet or checking and rechecking your email for the rest of the day.

Running on Empty

In general, you’ll have more willpower if you feel good, so get your sleep, hydrate yourself properly, eat well and moderately, exercise, and surround yourself with happiness. Don’t let compulsiveness teach you a lesson the hard way—as Abel Lenz and Tim Armstrong did.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

It All Comes Tumbling Down: How Much Is Too Much?

“A man’s gotta know his limitations.” — Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Magnum Force.

 It All Comes Tumbling Down by Laura Stack #ProductivityHave you ever watched someone juggle chainsaws? I have—my speaker friends The Passing Zone do it several times a week. Scary right? I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, would you? But in fact, you already have been, at least in a sense, if you’re in a position of any authority at work. The difference is that this crazy duo juggles dangerous objects for fun, as you may have seen on America’s Got Talent.

You might have a job with one big responsibility (a single chainsaw), such as a bodyguard (protect someone), lifeguard (keep people from drowning), grocery store bagger (pack up groceries), or personal assistant (make someone’s life easier), but they’re uncommon—especially in the business world. Managers and team members alike tend to find themselves juggling multiple responsibilities and projects (three to five chainsaws), in addition to the job’s normal maintenance tasks.

But as my friends Owen and Jon can attest, juggling in any sense is subject to two things: gravity, and the limitations of the person doing the juggling. We all have our project-juggling tipping points. You have to know where yours is, so you know when to cry uncle (no, sorry I can’t juggle 17 clubs). Furthermore, when juggling your tasks, you come up against the hard barrier of time. There’s only so much time you can spend at work, keeping all the chainsaws in the air, before you compromise your health and sanity.

The good news is that with practice, all jugglers can expand their realistic repertoire. There was a point where they went from three clubs to four. Once you’ve mastered four and put it on autopilot, you can move to five.

For example, I currently have three key responsibilities in my company: I’m the brand builder, the rainmaker, and the talent at The Productivity Pro, Inc. Everything I do has to fall under one of these three key responsibilities. Over time, I’ve taken on more tasks, until I reach the point where I know that just one more straw will break the back of my productivity. Then I back off a bit, while working on expanding my capacity. Now that these three main responsibilities are easier after 22 years in business, I don’t just sit back and take it easy. Now I want to become an internet maven. To do so, I need to increase my productive capacity through training, mentoring, prioritizing, organizing, systematizing, and outsourcing. But I have to make sure this new responsibility doesn’t make me fall behind on my other work.

When you can get your main responsibilities on autopilot and then add more capacity and create greater results, you’ve expanded your productive potential. Your boss will love you. Love means you have guaranteed employment, better pay, and more bonuses, and rightly so, because you produce like no one else on the team.

Being the team’s biggest juggler will make your manager your biggest fan, who is the one applauding the loudest in the audience. What have you done to increase your productive potential or capacity?

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Timesaving Technology Tools

Timesaving Technology Tools by Laura Stack #productivityWith so many gadgets, applications, software, and devices available to us today, it’s hard to know which ones are truly timesavers, and which ones are a waste of time (technology toys versus tools). Since I’m frequently asked what the Productivity Pro recommends to save time, I wanted to share a few timesaving technology tools for you to explore:

1. Decrease keystrokes with shortkeys. ShortKeys is a Windows text replacement utility designed to help you type faster and more accurately. You basically create abbreviations for words, phrases, and paragraphs you use frequently, and the software types them out automatically. I’d estimate it saves me 15 minutes a day! To use it, you define a “shortkey” in place of a longer text string, such as TVM for Thank you very much. Now instead of typing Thank you very much, just type ##tvm anywhere (email, Word, LinkedIn, etc.), and ShortKeys will do the rest, instantly replacing the shortkey abbreviation with the longer text string. So ##sig is my signature, and ##l is my email address. I have over 100 shortkeys saved and memorized (you can print out a cheat sheet until you get it down).

2. Do more with Xerox’s Digital Alternatives. Now save time completing the most common tasks with a single application uniting your multiple devices, applications, and file formats. For example, take notes on any document during a meeting, highlight key points, and then take advantage of the integrated share capability. Instead of printing a contract for signature to be signed, scanned, saved, and sent, use the sign and share capability. Imagine the difference when you’re on the road! With Digital Alternatives, you are always one step ahead—and with automatic synchronization, you always have your latest work, whether you’re in the office on your PC or in transit with your tablet.

3. Auto-fill websites and passwords with RoboForm. I’ve always had a difficult time remembering my login IDs and passwords, especially when some sites require you to change them continually! Copying and pasting them into a Word document or Outlook Note isn’t secure. Instead, using a master password with your browser, RoboForm remembers all your logins and passwords, even when you change them. When you login to a site, RoboForm knows where you are, and you simply click one button to fill in and submit to the site. Better yet, we can synchronize across all approved computers and devices with everyone in the office, so our team can keep track of each other’s logins as well. This saves me tremendous time and frustration!

4. Print smarter with Xerox’s Print Awareness Tool. Many people tell me they want to reduce their footprint on the environment, but they don’t know how to do it. One way is with Xerox’s Print Awareness Tool, an ingenious solution that provides easy, fun ways to print smarter. This desktop widget is like a Fitbit® for printing—it monitors your behaviors and provides tips on changing bad print habits. With less paper, you’ll have less waste, less cost, less to file, less to handle, and less clutter—which is great for the environment—and a real win for you and your company. Plus you can add some team fun by competing against other departments!

5. Schedule Meetings Online with Doodle. When you want to schedule a meeting with multiple people outside of your organization, it’s tricky since you can’t see their calendars. People generally resort to listing available dates and times in an email and manually attempting to find a good time for everyone. Instead, set up a Doodle poll online! Recipients receive a single email with a link to an online poll, where they “vote” on good days and times for the meeting. After all attendees have voted, you can easily see the most popular slot and send the final result to the group.

6. Access travel itineraries on your phone with TripIt. I use the TripIt app to access my trip details right from my phone: no more printing and schlepping hardcopies! My team simply forwards confirmation emails I receive from airlines, hotels, and ground transportation to plans@tripit.com from my account, and the app automatically populates my itineraries. You can add location and map data and other logistics to your trips and access all your information either online or from any mobile device.

And there you have it: six of my favorite technology tools. Give them a whirl and see how much time you can save! I’d love to hear about your favorite technology tool as well. Please let us know in the Comments below.

Laura Stack, aka The Productivity Pro®, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, her speeches have helped professionals, leaders, and teams improve output, lower stress, and save time at work. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of human performance and workplace issues, Laura writes for the Huffington Post, The Business Journal, and Success Magazine, and she has been featured by the CBS Early Show, CNN, USA Today, and the New York Times. Laura Stack is the author of six books, most recently Execution IS the Strategy.