Three Steps to Greatness: Using Your Habits to Influence Your Goals

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “First, forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit is persistence in practice.”— Octavia Butler, America author and MacArthur Fellow. As complex as people are, when it comes down to it, you might consider us intelligent meat machines fueled by chemical reactions and guided, in large part, by programs we call habits. These boil down to repeated, automated actions—something like those of a robot on an auto assembly line, though not as stringent, and not always occurring in the same order. One of my colleagues almost always makes a large cup of coffee first thing each morning, eats a bagel, and gets to work. After years of doing it daily, he doesn't have to think about the process of … [Read more...]

Out of Whack: Five Reasons Tracking Work Time Wastes Time

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE "Here's my timesheet, filled out in increments of 15 minutes. As usual, I coded the useless hours spent in meetings as "work," whereas the time I spent in the shower designing circuits in my mind as "non-work." Interestingly, even the time I spent complaining about my lack of productivity is considered "work.""—Dilbert to an HR colleague, in the comic strip Dilbert by Scott Adams, September 15, 1995 Anyone who's ever labored in a corporate environment has been required, at one time or another, to track their work time. You've probably been there, scrambling to figure out what the heck you did from 1:15 to 1:30 last Thursday afternoon. Were you working on Project A, B, or C? Were you cleaning your cube or organizing files to enhance your long-term … [Read more...]

Bearing the Burden: Five Tips for Handling Your Cognitive Load

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE Even after more than a century of R&D, the human brain is the still the most efficient computer on the planet. That's likely to remain true until we invent quantum computers, assuming that's even possible. Pound for pound, nothing beats the brain's processing and command-and-control ability. It finds patterns where mechanical and digital computers don't, can make intuitive leaps, holds astounding amounts of information, and to some extent can even fix itself when damaged. Its only limiting factors are the speed of synaptic connections, and how fast the body can respond to its commands. That said, your brain has limitations. The old saw about using only 10% of your brain is a myth; you may use only 10% of your brain consciously at any time, but the … [Read more...]

Preparing to Succeed: Six Ways Front End Work Assures Productive Success

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. While a journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step (whether you're hiking, driving, or flying), what you do before taking that step is crucial. There are always at least a few things you'll need to prepare before you head out. For example: you wouldn't go camping without packing a tent, sleeping bags, food, and a lighter, would you? So why go off half-cocked on a work project? When starting a new project or task, few things are as crucial as the "front-end" work. Often, this is the sort of thing where you can adapt existing methodologies or create new ones before moving forward. … [Read more...]

Stumbling into Proficiency: Four Ways Mistakes Can Improve Your Productivity

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE  "Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth."—Richelle E. Goodrich, American author. Experience sets veteran workers apart from novices and is a large part of what makes them attractive and important to any organization. Most veterans aren’t necessarily smarter than their younger colleagues or more talented. They have much more experience, wisdom, and better connections. More significantly, veteran workers know what they're supposed to do, how to do it, and have done it so many times it's become ingrained habit. But here's their real advantage: Veterans not only know what to do — they also know what not to do, and when … [Read more...]

Managing Expectations: Five Ways to Ensure Co-workers Follow Through

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”—Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England during World War II Not so long ago, it seemed most Americans had dropped the word "accountability" from their vocabularies—or perhaps had never learned it. When things went awry, it was never the fault of those responsible, because they refused to be held responsible. Even politicians would admit only that "mistakes were made", hiding behind the passive voice instead of admitting their errors. I feel we've mostly gotten beyond this style of double-think, as the Millennials and post-Millennials — those so vilified by the previous generations of workers before they took over the economy — have jettisoned old, failed ideals and taken responsibility for all aspects of their own fates. The … [Read more...]

Disengaging Autopilot: How to Recognize and Fix Workplace Sleepwalking

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”—Elie Wiesel, American-Romanian writer, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel laurate Indifference is the death of productivity. We've all seen the employee disengagement figures, with more than two-thirds of all American workers partially or completely disengaged from their jobs. When you don't care, you let your work degenerate into routine, mindfulness abandoned, so you can just survive the day. Your job becomes little more than a paycheck, so you do just enough to keep that paycheck coming in. This is something many observers of the rank-and-file overlook: most … [Read more...]

Calling It a Day: Five Ways to Leave Work on Time and Still Be Productive

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ lists.” —Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States. Part of crafting a work/life balance that you can maintain indefinitely is knowing when it's time to pack it in for the day. You may not have the option of leaving at 5 PM, but then, who does these days? Still, setting a reasonable time to leave work will keep you sane — and profitable. If you regularly read my blog, you probably know that after about 50 hours a week, the typical worker stops being productive due to both mental and physical fatigue. Those who work 80 hours a week rarely get more done than those who work 40-50 hours a week, according to studies, and too many hours endanger your health, too. There were good reasons why labor and … [Read more...]

Bumping Up Productivity: Five (Relatively) Easy Team Performance Boosters

“Great acts are made up of small deeds.”— Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher Sometimes it's hard enough just ensuring your own performance is up to snuff, much less implementing techniques to push it higher. But since few of us work alone (even I have a small entourage, virtual and otherwise), team performance is just as important. This is especially true if you happen to manage or otherwise lead your team. Even if you lead other co-workers, you can do many things to help boost team productivity. During my career I've studied hundreds of workplace performance boosters, from silly games to solid concepts. Some are difficult, and others are a pain.  As Warren Buffet once said (a bit crudely, perhaps, but vividly), “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take … [Read more...]

The Right of Refusal: Six Ways to Politely Say No to More Work

“It's only by saying "no" that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”—Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Longtime readers of this blog know that one of my least-favorite phrases is, "That's not my job." I believe most workers should willingly try to handle all aspects of their positions. Taking on new tasks is the only way of really understanding and internalizing them, no matter how well-documented the task is. Some nuances only become evident when you're in the thick of things. However, sometimes "That's not my job" is a valid, if ill-advised, excuse—especially if you already have too much to do, or find yourself on the verge of overwork, where one last procedural straw might break the back of your ability. I recommend you phrase it in a way that doesn’t destroy … [Read more...]