Whetstones for the Mind: Four Fun Off-Duty Ways to Sharpen Your Mind for Work

“... a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”—George R. R. Martin, American novelist Work is work, and rest is rest. But there's no reason you can't spend a little time cleaning and honing your most important work tool (your mind), even while you're taking it easy— as long as what you do is fun and doesn't interfere with your rest. Even better, it should be as different from work as possible. Except for those happy few whose hobbies are the same as their work (meaning they don't really work a day in their lives, according to the old saw), the above description may sound like something of a paradox. On the face of it, it is. But it's mostly a matter of making sure you don't let your brain turn completely to mush during your time off. Sure, you … [Read more...]

Should We Reward Efficiency with Shorter Work Days? Five Reasons Why That Won’t Work

“The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more."—Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine. We all perform our work tasks at different rates of speed. What might take one person eight hours might take another four, due to experience, training, focus, automation, or systems. And therein lies one of the biggest issues at the heart of the standard modern business model — one that has increased annual productivity on the one hand and stalled it on the other. Until recently, the productivity increase has outweighed the slowdown; however, that’s becoming less true as time goes on. Have you ever finished your tasks and meetings for the day, double-checked everything, and then found yourself with nothing urgently due? Many of us have. Sure, you could start on some other … [Read more...]

Avoiding the Classic Productivity Drain: Six Alternates to Traditional Meetings

“People who know what they're talking about don't need PowerPoint.” – Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple. We all know that traditional meetings, while necessary and useful to some extent to make decisions, tend can be time-wasters; in some companies, they take up most of the day. Then there are the nap-inducing slide presentations, complete with lowered lighting. Whole books have been written about the shortcomings of such meetings, so I won't belabor them here. That said, there are some alternatives to traditional meetings that tend to be shorter and less stultifying. Some have arisen due to new technology; others need no technology at all. With the rise of the coronavirus, it just may be time for you to start exploring some of these other options. Here are just a few: Walking … [Read more...]

Recapturing Your Productivity: Five Ways to Stop Rationalizing

“Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one's emotions.” – Ayn Rand, Russian-American author and philosopher. It's always something, right? As the saying goes, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. You want to write the great American novel, but you can't quite get up early enough to squeeze in that distraction-free daily hour, and you decide you're not a great writer anyway. You want to start jogging twenty minutes a day, but you're too tired, or the temperature’s too cool, or the weather’s too rainy. You have a paper due in your class, but it's been a long day, so you say, "I'll work on it after dinner. I deserve a break." After dinner, you reason, "Ehhh, I'm just going to watch this episode of Bones, and then … [Read more...]

Finding Your Power: How to Determine Your Work Chronotype

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” – Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher. It's not quite a buzzword yet, but one term that's recently gained traction in business circles is "chronotype." As the name indicates, it has to do with time — specifically, the time of day a particular worker feels at their best in terms of physical energy. Dr. Michael Breus made the term popular in his 2016 book The Power of When. Breus defines four basic chronotypes:  bear, wolf, lion, and dolphin. Frankly, there's not a huge difference between the recommended wake/sleep times for Breus's chronotypes, though he does pinpoint the times when each peaks during the day. Meanwhile, the rest of us have lived for years with awareness of two basic types of workers: larks and night owls. Larks (most … [Read more...]

Regaining Your Mojo: Eight Steps for Coming Back from Burnout

“Burnout often has as much boredom in it as exhaustion.” – Ingrid Fetell Lee, American author. Productivity experts have riffed on the topic of burnout for decades, because it's a highly visible theme in the business world. We all know about karoshi, the phenomenon of working oneself to death sometimes seen in Japanese culture. We see it less in Western culture, possibly because most Western nations have limited work-weeks and lots of PTO. Or maybe we don't see it because we just don't look for it; American work-weeks tend to be longer than most, and there's no government-mandated minimum vacation. Most business articles on the topic of burnout focus on preventing it. That's laudable, but what if you've already become entrapped by it? Well, here's how to start climbing out. … [Read more...]

Maintaining Contact: The Pros and Cons of Each Managerial Communication Preference

“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” – Mike Krzyzewski, American college basketball player and coach. Whenever you start working with a new manager, make one your first goals to determine the ground rules of your relationship, especially how you interact. Some rules are baked-in, based on your relative positions in the organizational hierarchy, but a surprising number aren't. Ideally, your new leader will let you know the basics, but if they don't, it's up to you to step up and ask. One of your most significant "rules of engagement" is determining your manager's favored communication method. This is a key aspect of effectively "managing up." Ideally, the lines of communication should always remain open and clear, with communications coming to you from your … [Read more...]

When Money Whispers: Five Limits of Financial Motivation

  “Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand, Russian-American writer and philosopher. There's an earthy American saying that goes (when used politely), "Money talks, BS walks" —i.e., money persuades better than words. Interestingly, while the concept of money as a motivator is firmly entrenched in managerial culture, it seems many workers have selected the "BS walks" option instead in the last few decades. Research —some recent, some as much as a century old — indicates that money's power as a productivity motivator is more underwhelming than most people believe. Some of you may already have experienced the effects of financial rewards improperly used. For those who haven't, consider this: … [Read more...]

The Ever-Tightening Noose: Six Ways Too Many Rules Strangle Productivity

“Rules are mostly made to be broken, and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.” – General Douglas MacArthur. Too few rules results in anarchy; too many stifle advancement and kill productivity. One role of management is to find a workable balance between the two extremes. It's imminently possible, but not easy, as I've chronicled in this blog for years: hence everything from too much paperwork, emails, and meetings on one end, to excess social media and Internet use on the other, and back to micromanaging, timewasting initiatives, and overly rigid adherence to process. In some offices, productivity becomes little more than a side-effect of the workplace process. The symptoms are easily visible. There's an old tale, possibly apocryphal, about the early days of a joint … [Read more...]

Productive Worry vs. Unproductive Worry: Six Ways to Make Worrying Work for You

“If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” – Dale Carnegie, American motivational writer. We all worry sometimes. Most dictionaries define worry as unrelenting, repetitive, and unresolved thoughts about the same topic. But as any deep thinker knows, worrying can sometimes prove productive—especially if you come at a topic from different directions, one at a time, and can actually do something about it. The difficulty often lies in worrying constructively rather than allowing yourself to fall into a spiral of negativity. To avoid the latter, keep two things in mind: the famous Serenity Prayer, and the difference between productive worry and its unproductive counterpart. You may recall … [Read more...]