A Little Breathing Room: Five Ways to Catch Up and Improve Your Productivity

“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” – Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, and inventor.   The to-do list is a basic tool of time management, and nearly everyone uses one to some extent. We all know they work best when they include fewer than eight or ten items: ideally a couple of high-priority, high-impact tasks supplemented with other "want to do" tasks. Despite our best efforts, however, "task creep" invades our lists, and often we add more and more items, taking on additional projects that require daily allotments of our time. Eight or ten becomes 15 or 16, and suddenly the to-do list becomes impossible to complete. This requires you either to divide your time into ever-finer increments per task, work late to fulfill those … [Read more...]

Too Tired to Decide: Seven Simple Ways to Avoid Decision Fatigue

“I prefer physical exhaustion over mental fatigue any day.” – Clotilde Hesme, French actress.   By some estimates, the average worker makes 35,000 decisions during their work day. They include what to wear and eat, the type of latte to buy at Starbucks, and whether to open a new tab on your browser or check email. Every click is a decision. According to some experts, you start the day with only so much ability to decide. Once you get below a certain level of "ego depletion," you reach "decision fatigue." At first, researchers thought this was purely a mental effect. But as with the candy commercials, where someone turns from a mean grouch into a cool character after eating a Snickers bar, other research has convincingly linked decision fatigue to your level of the brain's favorite … [Read more...]

Prelude to Ashes: Five Signs You’re on the Brink of Burnout

“Burnout occurs when your body and mind can no longer keep up with the tasks you demand of them. Don’t try to force yourself to do the impossible. Delegate time for important tasks, but always be sure to leave time for relaxation and reflection.” – Del Suggs, American author and leadership development speaker.   In our high-stress business world, burnout is always a danger. After overloading on work, life may lose its luster. Things you once enjoyed are becoming dull. You start to wonder if your work matters. You can barely get out of bed in the morning. You're not just exhausted; you can't get unexhausted. Stress isn't the mind-killer most people think it is. It's strain—unrelieved stress—that gets to you. It breaks you emotionally and physically, putting you so deep in a hole of … [Read more...]

Creativity and Innovation: Six Ways to Foster Productive Ideas

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation.” – American businessman Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.   Success depends on working both hard and smart. Hard work gets things done; smart work boosts your productivity and gives you important things to do. Those who can grow a vast crop of ideas tend to reap high productivity, even if the ideas that survive to harvest prove few and far between. It only takes one idea to make you rich—or to save your team and organization a fortune. Consider drive-through windows. Band-Aids. The top-down squeeze bottle. Post-It Notes. My favorite management guru, Peter F. Drucker, wrote a whole book titled Innovation and Entrepreneurship for good reason. He saw plainly that innovation and creativity drive … [Read more...]

Is Your Procrastination Laziness or Fear? Five Fears to Face to Find Out

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an unfulfilled goal.” – American Philosopher William James.  We all procrastinate sometimes, despite its negative impact on our productivity. The word "procrastinate" comes from the Latin roots pro (forward) and crastinus (belonging to tomorrow), which developed into ­procrastinat in English, meaning "deferred until tomorrow." Perfect, right? So why do we knowingly put important things off that we know we need to do? Many of us believe procrastination arises from laziness, and maybe that's true sometimes. Maybe it's mostly true for some people. But I believe the chief cause of procrastination is subconscious fear. So let's take a look at the five fears I believe contribute most to procrastination. If you see yours here, that might … [Read more...]

Reining in Your To-Do List Monster: Six Mistakes You May Be Making, and How to Fix Them

“Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list.” –Patti Digh, American self-help author.   As an experienced professional, you may think you know your way around a to-do list…but do you really? Possibly you've gotten a bit off track. Is that list you're putting together really a to-do list, or just a big pile of things you wish you had time to do but don't? Whether your list has just a few tasks tough enough to make you cringe, 37 tasks that don't matter much, or everything is marked "high priority,” you may be doing it wrong. Here are some common to-do list mistakes, along with ways of Doing It Right. There's too much stuff on it. This is why I don't like productivity philosophies that recommend you put everything in one pile before getting to work. … [Read more...]

The Beauty of Cross-Pollination: Four Ways It Can Increase Your Productivity

“The cross pollination of disciplines is fundamental to truly revolutionary advances in our culture.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, influential American astronomer. In agriculture, cross-pollination occurs when pollen from one field of crops interacts with another, creating hybrids. This is often deliberate, as a form of experimentation when trying to create new crops (like the grain triticale, a cross of wheat and rye).  However, it just as often occurs naturally when genetically modified crops cross-pollinate and fertilize traditionally modified crops. Scientists have long since learned that mixing experts in multiple disciplines can "cross-pollinate" and spark new ideas. For you Big Bang Theory fans, think of Sheldon (a physicist) and Amy (a neurobiologist) working together to determine … [Read more...]

Ready! Fire! Aim! Five Trial-and-Error Steps to Perfecting Your Productivity

“Ready, fire, aim. Do it! Make it happen! Action counts. No one ever sat on their way to success.” – Tom Peters, American business writer In the business literature, especially in articles written by academics lacking practical experience, you occasionally see tut-tutting about those who just "throw mud at the wall and see what sticks" in terms of execution. This deserves eye-rolling, because that "mud-flinging" is what people outside the ivory tower call testing. More on that in a moment. For now, let's go back to the origin of so many modern business practices: the military. Yes, the military teaches the "Ready, Aim, Fire!" methodology. However (and it's a big however): You must sight-in every new rifle using Ready, Fire, Aim until you adjust its sights to hit the bullseye … [Read more...]

Keeping Your Head Above Water: Five Reasons Why You Get Bored at Work, and How to Fix Them

“The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, influential German philosopher. No one really likes boredom, because it often makes us do unwise things. If ever an old saying was accurate, it's "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." You're better off staying busy at work. Now, it would be nice if you could just point your brain in a direction, press go, and have it keep moving steadily that way until you told it to stop. But it doesn't work that way for most of us, no matter how dedicated. Free will and a tendency to chase new ideas can derail our best efforts at focus, sometimes leading to boredom. This, in turn, causes us to engage in unproductive behavior—even when we know we’re doing it. You'll probably recognize these five common reasons why … [Read more...]

Simplifying Your Life: Four Easy Ways to Automate Your Work

“The first rule of technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. When people think of the term "automation," most visualize robots designed to take jobs away from ordinary workers. But this is less common in the white-collar field. Personal automation involves not large machines but small ones, along with simple smartphone and computer applications. Let's look at four remarkably simple ways to save little chunks of time, especially if you spend most of your time with a computer. Learn computer shortcuts. This one may seem obvious to you, but even people who use their computers … [Read more...]