Productivity – Bottom Line

Category: Productivity

Curiosity got the best of you? Well, it should. Humans are hardwired to figure things out, for better or worse. Just ask Pandora how tough it was to resist cracking the lid on that forbidden box.

But, don’t worry, you don’t need to follow in Pandora’s footsteps. Most brain boosting activities won’t land you in the doghouse—and just might land you your next big gig. So, let your curiosity run free, starting with your industry.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Who doesn’t want to feel like the smartest person in the room? Or even better, the office. The best past? It’s pretty simple to do.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in your industry by researching blogs and newsletters. Be sure to subscribe so you get notifications of new posts, or make it a habit to check in weekly. And, look for thought leaders who regularly write on topics that are relevant to your interests, and follow them on LinkedIn.

If you’re new to an industry, scour social media using keywords to find the right accounts to follow, connect with college alumni networks, and join Facebook groups focused on your field.

Clients and co-workers alike will appreciate discussing industry updates and interesting tangential topics with you. Plus, you’ll start to be seen as a thought leader in your own right.

Now that you’re current in your own industry, here are three ways to take it a step further and make that innate urge to learn work for you and your career.

1. Lunch and Learn

Wait. Learn on your lunch hour, when you could post pictures, scroll through Instagram, or just kick back and relax? It may sound like a chore, but utilizing your lunch break to learn is a great way to maximize productivity, and it can be fun too.

If your employer doesn’t already offer lunch and learn programs, it’s a great opportunity for you to help shape how those programs will look. And if you suggest a casual, inexpensive approach to continuing education, your employer just might be convinced.

Try suggesting your company tap into its natural resources—employees with varied expertise—rather than hiring expert speakers. Read: high interest, low price tag. For the cost of lunch, your company can offer growth opportunities—and everyone will want to come see the CFO’s hidden talents.

Of course, there are other ways to learn new skills. If your employer isn’t sold on formal lunch and learn programs, you can arrange your own. Seek out an expert coworker, or an office buddy who’s proficient in an area you’re interested in. Express your interest in sharing a casual session or two, and offer to bring the chow.

2. Gadget Gaze With a Purpose

If you prefer a more solitary lunch hour with your phone or tablet, resist Facebook for a couple of weeks and download SoloLearn, a free app that will guide you through coding basics.

Already a programming pro? Enhance your marketability as a creative asset by mastering a design app. You can build a website right on your Android using Infinite Design, or download Universe on your iPhone and test your skills with graphics.

You can also register for career advancing MOOCs, free online courses in topics as diverse as cyber security and marketing analytics. There’s no shortage of opportunities at your fingertips (ie: phone). Your brain will thank you for the new habits.

3. Think Outside the Box

It’s not all about learning for work. Lifelong learners don’t exclusively study subjects directly related to their job or industry. Exploring outside of your field can earn you the respect of peers and higher-ups.

So tear the plastic off that language-learning program you got five birthdays ago. Say “Buongiorno” an hour early on Sundays, and prep for your bucket list trip to Tuscany.

The more skills and subjects you master, the more you’ll bond with peers, the more roles your employers will envision for you—and the more retirement years you’ll have to put that Italian to good use.

So, consume that nonfiction bestseller, trot out that old sewing kit, and for crying out loud, learn Excel already. Your brain has been ready and waiting all along!

You already know that effectively doling out constructive criticism involves a fair bit of strategy and consideration. But, it turns out that being on the receiving end of those comments also entails a little bit of thought—and that means not just absentmindedly nodding your head while actually tuning out those critiques.

After all, you want to demonstrate that you’re an eager employee who’s willing to use that feedback in order to learn and improve—and not the employee who’s going to burst into tears and sprint to the nearest vacant bathroom stall at the first sign of adverse opinions.

So, how do you pull that off (particularly when the safety of that restroom is oh-so-tempting)? Avoid making these six mistakes when receiving constructive criticism, and you’re sure to take it all like a champ!

1. You’re Taking it Too Personally

So, your boss thinks that your project isn’t quite up to snuff, and presents some suggestions and ideas to take it to the next level.

Following the meeting, you rush out of his office with thoughts that go something like this, “He just tore my project apart! He must think I’m the stupidest employee ever. This was my very best work, so he’s just politely insinuating that I’m an idiot.”

Sound familiar? We all do it. It’s hard not to take criticisms of your work personally—it’s your work. But, it’s important that you remember that true constructive criticism isn’t a personal attack on you, no matter how much it might feel like it. And, if you become overly emotional or defensive when responding to feedback? Well, then you’re the one making things personal.

2. You’re Not Asking Questions

I tend to react the same way when presented with constructive assessments of my work: I nod along in agreement, go back to my desk, and then start back at square one—even if I’m not quite clear on what I should be improving.

While this tendency to keep your head down and push forward until that critic finally stops talking might seem like a great approach for making it through, it’s really not effective for generating the best result.

When people are making comments and suggestions, you’re bound to have questions about what they mean and where they’re coming from—you did it your way to start with for a reason. So, go ahead and ask them to expand on their ideas! The more clarification you can get, the better your end product will be.

3. You’re Assuming the Worst

Along the same lines as taking things too personally, it’s all too easy to think that those who are criticizing you are just mean, brutal, and bossy people who are only out to embarrass you.

But, if you want to respond well to feedback (and avoid getting too defensive), you need to recognize that these people have really pure intentions. Their goal is to help you learn, grow, and improve. So, don’t just assume that they’re only seeking to point out your flaws and shortcomings—they’re really just trying to help.

4. You’re Not Listening

“I think you’re on the right track, but…”

If you’re like most people, you hear that dreaded “but…” and then your eyes glaze over. You should be listening to all of the helpful information that follows—but you’re too busy internally obsessing over the fact that your work isn’t perfect.

However, if you continue going that route, you’re missing the most important element of constructive criticism—the constructive part. Being on the receiving end of feedback (even if it’s helpful!) isn’t always easy. But, do your best to be present and absorb that advice. I promise, it’s typically advantageous!

5. You’re Not Using It

Listening is one thing. But, in order to actually make the most of constructive criticism, you can’t just hear it—you need to use it.

Take the suggestions you agree with and implement them in order to actually improve your work. Not only will you demonstrate that you’re a professional who’s always looking to learn and grow, but you’ll also end up with a much better final result. It’s a win-win!

6. You’re Ungrateful

Thanking someone for criticizing you seems counterintuitive, I know. But, think about it this way: This person gave some serious thought to your work and took the time to offer ideas that will make you, your project, or your work in general better.

That’s something that’s worthy of a hearty “thank you”—even if it was a little hard to hear.

Responding to constructive criticism isn’t always easy. In fact, all too often, bursting into tears seems like the only response you can muster.

However, if you’re open to it, this feedback can serve to be especially productive and helpful. Stay far, far away from these six common mistakes, and you’re sure to take (and use) constructive criticism with grace, poise, and professionalism.

If Snapchat is for sex-obsessed teens, is the new app Confide for privacy-obsessed professionals?

Released this week, Confide follows the same basic principles of Snapchat, but instead is meant for busy professionals who are concerned about the privacy of their messages (think complaining to a co-worker about your horrific client, telling your work bestie about your upcoming interview, or rehashing last night’s date with Josh from Accounting).

As Fast Company describes it:

“The words and lines of a message arrive cloaked in solid-color blocks, like a government censored document. In order to uncover the text, you must press down and drag your finger along the words to unveil them; the blocks will reappear to hide the words when you’re no longer touching them on screen. It’s an interaction that’s certainly practical—making it nearly impossible for users to take a screenshot of the message or see the text in its entirety all at once—but it’s also pleasurable, letting the recipient play an active role in revealing the hidden message.”

It actually looks fun to use, and works really well for protecting content in a message, but will enough busy professionals want to use it to make it relevant?

We’re curious to know what you think. Would you give this app a try in the office?

Everyone has that person in the office. You know, the one who always seems to get way more done than everybody else, but who never seems stressed or frantically trying to finish an assignment. How does he or she get it done? And can you steal those secrets to improve your own productivity?

Yes. Yes you can.

Using time-tracking and productivity app DeskTime, we’ve been able to study the habits of the most productive employees—and pinpoint the working flow that leads to that incredible ability to get things done.

And the trick might surprise you. Turns out, what the most productive 10% of our users have in common is their ability to take effective breaks. Specifically, the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it (similar to the Pomodoro Method—more on that here).

The employees with the highest productivity ratings, in fact, don’t even work eight-hour days. Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer—but working smarter with frequent breaks.

The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.

Working with purpose can also be called the 100% dedication theory—the notion that whatever you do, you do it full-on. Therefore, during the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, and making progress. Whereas, during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing—you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every five minutes or just “quickly checking Facebook.”

There are a lot of surprising benefits to this rest time. First and foremost to your levels of productivity, working for long periods of time can be detrimental to your level of engagement with a certain task. Repeating tasks leads to cognitive boredom, which in turn halts your ability to thrive at whatever you’re doing. The human brain just wasn’t built to focus for eight hours at a time—the best way to refresh attention span is to take a break.

In addition, the human body has never been made to sit for eight hours straight, and research has shown that breaking up the all-day sit-a-thon can improve productivity. (Oh, it also makes you way healthier.)

This amount of off time may seem high, but if you take a look at world-class musicians, they become great by practicing in similar increments of time. Really—we’re reaching the level of the greats. We’re talking completely dedicating yourself to not working.

So, how can you make the most of your breaks in order to get the most out of your working sprints? First, step away from the computer (and the smartphone). Do some little exercises in your office, or step outside and take a walk around to clear your mind and get your body moving. Chat with some of your co-workers (not about work)—research shows that employees who socialize are both happier at work and are able to do as much as their non-socializing co-workers, who as a result spend more time working. Grab something healthy to eat to replenish your energy levels. Or, if you must stay on the computer for some reason, watch some funny animal videos—it’s shown that looking at cute pictures of cats and dogs can actually lead to increased productivity.

A person can’t be 100% productive all day. As much as you want to make the most of every minute, to get stuff done, to hustle, it’s just not humanly possible. Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.

So, make a commitment to take some serious breaks this week. If 17 minutes every hour feels like too much (to you—or your boss) consider just taking five or 10 every hour and seeing what effect it has. The results could surprise you.

There are only so many hours in a day, and you want to make the most of them. Being more decisive will help you reclaim the time you spend going back and forth (and back again).

But for many people, it’s more natural to waffle. That’s because—especially at work—you want to be sure you’ve really thought through your approach and are making the very best choice.

Now, what if you could still make good decisions, and just do it faster? Sounds pretty ideal, right?

Luckily, this is a skill you can improve at. Here are four strategies to make it easier:

1. Practice in Your Comfort Zone

You’re already stretching yourself to make—and stick to—a decision, so don’t pressure yourself to work on this skill when you have a million other things going on. If you’re distracted by a totally unrelated urgent deadline, then it’s not the moment to challenge yourself to make a choice without second-guessing.

Instead, look for a time when you don’t feel pressured to multitask. Seize that window to think through some decisions, like what direction you want to take an upcoming project, or which of two approaches you think makes the most sense.

I know, this may sound a little far-fetched at first, but you set aside time to work on hard skills and you make space to think creatively—why not block off some time to focus in on making decisions?

Sometimes pushing outside of your comfort zone is important, and there are situations when you’ll have to make a choice regardless of whatever else is going on. But part of doing it well when push comes to shove is first giving yourself time to acquainted with how you think.

2. Make Small Decisions—Fast

Decision Coach Nell Wulfhart points out that people who find themselves going back and forth on big decisions, generally struggle with the little things, too. In other words, if you can’t decide whether or not to go for a promotion, you probably also keep changing your mind about speaking up in a meeting, and even whether or not to pour a cup of coffee before you sit down.

As Wulfhart explains:

If you’re chronically indecisive, build that decision-making muscle by starting small. Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what you’ll have for dinner, what movie to watch, or whether you want to go out tonight. Follow through on that decision. Repeat. Then work up to bigger things…Making small decisions in a timely fashion will help train your brain to think through questions more quickly.

So, start with the inconsequential choices. Because if you hate the new sandwich you ordered, you don’t have to get it again—but you’ll still have made progress towards making all decisions faster.

3. Build Yourself Up

Let’s revisit the sandwich example. You challenged yourself to make a snap decision, you decided to try something new, and it ended up becoming your all-time least favorite food. In the end, whether you eat it anyhow or pick up something else on the way back to work really doesn’t matter.

What counts is what you say to yourself in the moments afterwards. One option is to berate yourself: I’m an idiot for ordering a salad with brussels sprouts when I’ve always hated them. That’s $9.00 down the drain. While that’s a completely natural reaction, it’s going to hold you up the next time, because somewhere you’ll be thinking, Don’t be an idiot.

Another option is to tell yourself: So, the salad sucks. But I’m pretty proud of myself for making a choice the moment and trying something new. That shift—from blaming yourself for a terrible outcome, to complimenting yourself for making a decision—will encourage you to make a choice again the next time.

Afraid that positive reinforcement will lead to a slew of bad choices? Keep in mind: You may’ve landed on that order whether you spent one minute or 10 minutes deciding, so it’s OK to pat yourself on the back for making a quick choice.

4. Give Yourself Feedback

Of course, you don’t want to leave it at praising yourself—especially if your choices aren’t helping you accomplish your goals or you end up going down the wrong path on something major.

The most productive thing to do next is to troubleshoot your process after the fact to see how you can do better next time. This is different than second-guessing the choice itself or dwelling on something until you make yourself feel bad. (But if you have trouble being decisive, I bet you spend time doing that, so you have time for this!)

Maybe after paying close attention, you realize that, whenever you’re on the spot you pick whatever option’s immediately in front of your face. Or, maybe whenever you’re not sure, you let others speak first and agree with whatever they say. Or, maybe you autopilot to whatever you’re most familiar with.

Dig into what your tendencies are—and why they made you fall short. That way, next time, you can catch your bad habit before it happens.

As with any other goal you work on, part of getting better means setting realistic expectations. It means there may be some setbacks, or things you think could have a bit better. And that’s OK. As ironic as it sounds—just deciding to work on being decisive is a solid first step.


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