The Best Meetings Happen Around The Block
Because a bunch of people slumping into their iPhones never got anything done anyway.
Because a bunch of people slumping into their iPhones never got anything done anyway.
Want to get more done in the next hour? Take 5 minutes to read this.
There might be some productivity-minded part of you that scoffs at the whole idea of reading about how to be more productive. After all, why would you read about doingwhen you could do?
Well, you can tell that part of you to stop being so addicted to being right and acknowledge that you can work smarter, not just harder. And when you can tap a multitude of perspectives of how to work smarter, you can get extremely productive.
Alice Boyes at Psychology Today has done that by gathering the productivity insights of a range of psychologists. Let’s unpack a few here.
“Without realizing it, I spent years trying to be productive in the most unproductive way,” says Susan Newman, “sitting at a desk for hours.”
Now she de-tethers by getting away from the office. She finds that moving around—be it to grab a cup of coffee, water a planet, or take a walk, makes her sharper. While it runs against what Anne Marie Slaughter calls “time macho” culture—“a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you”—more and more research shows that if you spend less time doing, you can get more done.
L. Kevin Chapman starts his productivity quest by closing the door to his office. While he likes to welcome colleagues and students, closing the door ensures that he stays on task. The next move: scheduling the tasks he wants to avoid. If he puts the put-off tasks into his schedule (and sets reminders on all devices), he is sure to tackle what needs to get done. “Action precedes motivation,” Chapman says. “These small steps facilitate more action and lead to me feeling accomplished.” And apps can help, too.
“Plan exercise breaks,” advises Craig Malkin. “Stress leads to binary (either/or) thinking, distractability, and procrastination.”
We know at least one company that’s putting that into practice. Why does stress relief help you get better work done? You’ll stay sharp, Malkin says, and you’ll boost your capacity for creative problem solving. That’s because creativity is a mammalian trait—and the protective parts of you won’t let it come out unless you feel safe.
We’ve discussed how where you work affects the work that you do, like how if you’re cold, you’re being physically distracted from the task at hand. Similarly, what you associate with your environment affects what happens there.
That’s why you should work in a place you associate with work, says Amy Przeworski, like an office building, library, cafe, or maybe a coworking space. If you need to keep your attention on something for a long time, it’s going to be hard to do so in a place you usually relax in—ever notice how you can’t work as well in the family room?
“Your surroundings set the stage for your focus,” Przeworski says. “If they are associated with work, you will focus on work.”
The space can also make your work a pleasure—that’s how Susan Cain sidesteps writer’s block. The Quiet author trained herself to love writing by “always writing in a beautiful cafe while drinking a latte and eating a chocolate chip cookie”—that’s one sweet way to love your work.
Kristine Anthis says that while you can’t always decide what projects you take on, when you do—like your college major or if your boss lets you select from a range of assignments—go after what you’re most interested in. It worked for her.
“Being passionate about what I do means that juggling the demands of teaching, writing, mentoring students, conducting research, and serving on committees is not necessarily always effortless,” she says, “but certainly gratifying.”
It’s also how you know if you have a career—or just a job.
[Image: Flickr user botterli]
James Franco is one of the biggest multitaskers in show business. In 2013 alone, he has promoted three films at Sundance (because any less than three would be un-Franco-like), written a presidential inauguration poem for Yahoo! News and announced a bushel full of projects—adapting a James Ellroy novel, directing and starring in the Jay Sebring biopic Beautiful People, and producing a Gucci documentary. He’s also starring in Oz: The Great and Powerful, debuting this week, and Spring Breakers, which premiers later this month.
How does one man do it all? We asked Franco for some nitty-gritty insights.
If you’re coming up with ideas as constantly as Franco is, you can’t possibly do them all on your own. The solution? Enlist collaborators to help manage projects and keep you updated on their progress. This way, your project gets to see the light of day—but you don’t necessarily have to be the one dotting all the is and crossing all the ts. “I try and always collaborate, and that’s allowed me to work on a lot of things. If [a project] pops into my head and I haven’t heard about it lately, I’ll text that person and find out what the status is.”
Just because you can’t start a project now doesn’t mean you should discard it. Keep a running list of ideas, and sooner or later the good ideas will find their way back to the drawing board. “I do have a list—it’s sort of all in my head. We have to plan certain things way in advance, like movies to get financing, especially if they’re large movies. Other things I keep in the back of my head, and they gestate there. By the time they come around, sometimes they’ve taken on a new form or have new participants—and in a lot of ways they’re maybe better because of that.”
As far as Franco is concerned, calendars and daily planners are not a prerequisite for multitasking. “I don’t have a daily planner. I find that I never use them when I get them.”
When at home, Franco finds he does his best creative work away from desks. “I gravitate towards couches and beds.”
Now-a-days we’re all polymaths to some degree. How do you do it all?
Ditch Time-Wasting Meetings By Turning Your Office Into An Ant Colony
Scientists have started applying lessons from how ants operate to the corporate world. The result: fewer meetings, more time working, and tasks completed much more quickly.
Ants may free us from that scourge of modern society: the meeting (and maybe even the overbearing boss).
If that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, know that scientists are serious about recruiting ants to improve human collaboration. Ants pull off remarkable feats of collective cognition and action with no one (not even the queen) running the show. Despite possessing tiny brains, the world’s roughly 11,000 species of ants regularly construct massive colonies, share food, repel intruders, and formulate efficient foraging strategies without the help of a single memo or meeting.
…Scientists at Wayne State University drafted ant-inspired algorithms to find the optimal balance between the time spent on planning and execution when moving a product from concept to market.
You need to find the sweet spot of ‘right amount of communication, at right time,’ and ‘good quality’ to make the whole work together seamlessly,” says Yang by email. Corporate teams waste significant time coordinating among different groups. Managers must always decide (usually sub-optimally) on the tradeoff between time spent in meetings (potentially wasting time) and building something (potentially locking in mistakes).
“Finding the right balance between ‘doing the work’ and ‘communicating with each other’ will achieve wonderful results in job completion time and quality,” says Yang. His team’s study, which appears in the International Journal of Production Research, cut project cycle completion times by 17% (158 to 130.5 days), while raising costs by only 8%.
Yang found that it was far more efficient to make normally separate, sequential tasks (such as communication and execution) a parallel process, rather than strive to keep a perfect balance between them. This incurs some extra costs (rework and extra communication), but the system as a whole functions more efficiently.
How will all this fare in the real world? The model was necessarily oversimplified, so there are plenty of ways for it to derail in the wild.
But since humans have only worked in big teams for a few millennia (and have walked the planet for about 200,000 years), ants’ expertise working in tight-knit groups for the last 100 million years might teach us something about collaboration.
You’re constantly looking two, three, four moves ahead,” explains Moore. “If you do this move, what’s the countermove? In a chess game, your mind is constantly running permutations of decision trees. In business, your mind should be doing the same.
So, too, in many sectors of business, in which many competitors vie for one or a few dominant, winner-takes-most slots (pending SEC approval).”You’re looking out a year, two years, three years,” says Moore. “Sometimes that means in the short term you make sacrifices.” You might make a tactical decision that appears to put you behind, but actually strengthens your position for when the smoke clears, and each side’s knights and bishops have fallen.
“One of the biggest mistakes in business is to lose focus,” says Moore. It’s easy to get distracted by what your competitors are doing. But just because a competitor launched a flashy feature doesn’t mean that you need to match that feature. What you need to do is ask yourself whether matching that feature will advance you towards the goal you’ve already identified.
“The vast majority of startups will fail,” says Moore. You have to believe that yours won’t. But part of you has to know, too, that though “it’ll sting, and part of me will be devastated” if yours does fail, ultimately any battle scars will make you stronger and smarter for the next venture.
Playing chess teaches you to recognize patterns: the tempting bishop sacrifice that actually led you into a trap, the queen swap that looked favorable but prevented you from castling. You play, you learn.
In some ways, chess is a laboratory for human resources problems. “You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team, of your employees,” says Moore. “You have to understand that the pawn has its role, and it’s a very important one, just as important as the queen, rook, or bishop. Every piece is critical, and the only way to win is to leverage all those pieces’ skill sets together.”
[Image: Flickr user Martin Lopatka]
Over at 99u, iDoneThis cofounder Adrian Chen writes about cultivating the (in)discipline ofstructured procrastination, a productivity technique that cooperates with your urge to put things off, so long as you get other to-do’s done now.
The technique happens in two steps:
The key, then, is to make sure that you’re not clicking through Facebook photos or scrutinizing TMZ instead of doing work, but rather taking on tasks that are less frightful than that Very Important Task that you ought to be getting done. So, in reality, there are three steps:
As Chen writes, structured procrastination transforms a negative habit into something much more positive.
“You can take that feeling of ‘I’d rather do anything than this particular thing’—which normally sends you to sort the sock drawer or go on a Netflix spree—and use it as a force for productivity.”
The trick: The to-do list, with the most urgent and important on top, and still-worthwhile tasks live down below. Ergo, in order to not do the Very Important Thing, you do the Still Important Things, so that do-it-later turns into do.
[Image: Flickr user Max Sang]
1. The Save Out
Copy and paste the entire email to a word document and file it there for safekeeping. Word docs are designed to be saved and stored but emails are not. There is an emotional attachment to every email in your inbox so get it out of sight so that it’s out of mind.
2. The Offline Attack
Nothing is more emotionally defeating than spending 2 hours in your inbox and having a net gain of only 2 emails completed because responses were coming in as fast as you were sending them out… Instead, work “offline” every single time you answer emails.
3. The Extended Out of Office
When you go out of town for vacation or a work conference, turn your “out of office responder” for one day longer than you’re actually gone. The magic—which I discovered by accident—is in adding one extra day to it so that you legitimately have a catch-up day to get your feet back under you when you return.
4. Multiple Strings
Unfortunately a large number of people lack what should be required prudence in using the “reply all” button. Therefore it’s incredible the number of emails in your inbox that will be “strings.” In other words, you’ll have 10 emails that are all the same conversation. …Quickly glance at your email list for emails with the same subject line and delete the oldest ones, leaving the newer ones for you to read later. This is a quick way to process several emails all at once.
5. Email Date Night
Create the same protected time every so often with your inbox. It’s astounding how much you can get accomplished in four uninterrupted hours of office time.
6. Scan and Flip
When you sit down to finally catch up on email, work with a 2-minute drill. Per #2 above you should be offline and start to build momentum by first tackling any emails that can be processed and completed in less than two minutes. If it will take longer than two minutes to deal with then skip it for now and just continue scanning—get through the easy ones first. Then once you get to the bottom of your inbox (you will likely have made a large dent) “flip” your emails so that the oldest are at the top and the newest are at the bottom. By eliminating the base of emails at your inbox you’ll find that it’s less likely to pile up on top of itself.
7. Learn the “Let Go”
Truly one of the most substantial growth areas for me in managing my office work was learning to let go of my own deep-rooted desire to share my opinion on everything. And even fewer items yet will be handled significantly different in our organization solely because of my one additional insight. People are generally capable of making good decisions and often things end up being better than they would’ve been had I stuck my nose in it. This mental shift in your attitude will show up pragmatically in your inbox by you learning to enjoy the delete button—without needing to share a response.
[Image: Flickr user Chris Gunton]
Why: Echoing Quiet author Susan Cain’s point that the loudest people don’t have the best ideas and can, in fact, hamstring the ideas generation process.
“Vocal, overconfident team members have a disproportionate influence while shy contributors lose faith in their own proposals,”
Solution: Make sure everyone involved notes their ideas and prediction before the discussion—and influencing—begins.
Why: “…downfall is often caused by project groups growing isolated and inward-looking, a symptom of the “unrealistic optimism that often bedevils creative teams.”“
Solution: “…air out reservations with a “pre-mortem,” a thought experiment where members forecast that their project fell apart in the future—and then backtrack to the present to find out why.”
f you’re having meetings, research suggests that you need them to be crisp. Jarrett notes a 2011 study that found that 367 American employees across industries didn’t care so much about how long a meeting lasted, but whether it started and ended on time.
And when in a week should you have a meeting? According to a 2009 analysis by scheduling service When Is Good, people’s flexibility peaks at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
[Image: Flickr user Patrick Hoesly]
Here’s Emotional Intelligence specialist Howard Jacobson’s Most Embarrassing (And Effective) Productivity Technique.
Easier said than done. But good thoughts from Tony Schwartz for NYT.
Since the early 1970s, productivity—the amount of output per hour worked—has been steadily rising in America. Between 1973 and 2011, the productivity of the American worker has grown an astonishing 80 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Since 2000 alone, the productivity of average Americans has risen 23 percent. How are we achieving this extraordinary rise in productivity? In large part, it’s because we’re finding new tools and techniques to increase our focus and efficiency.
Below, some of the most productive people—from successful investors to “always-on” executives—share their secrets on how to be your most productive self, despite the overflowing in-boxes, the constant buzz of the phone and the never-ending ping of meeting alerts.
Clear Your Mind, Define Your Focus
“I send an email to my team each Monday morning with the top five things I will be focused on for the week. This really keeps me on track and gives me the focus I need.”
- Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, principal at The Chatham Group, investor, advisor, mentor.
Cut Back On Meetings
Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), said he keeps productive by being diligent about meetings—sticking to the allotted time and only scheduling in-person meetings when it’s absolutely necessary.
All About Evernote
Dylan Tweney, the executive editor at VentureBeat, said Evernote, the popular note-taking and archiving service, is his go-to productivity tool. “I use Evernote to collect everything I might possibly need to save for later, with the exception of emails—Gmail is fine for that. I store all of my important documents—from notes to interviews—in Evernote.
I also use Evernote tags as a kind of to-do list: I have a set of tags that I can use to prioritize things that need to happen immediately or that I’m waiting for someone else to finish: (“1-next,” “2-soon,” “3-later,” “4-someday,” and “5-waiting”).”
Get Tunnel Vision
“Most people tend to focus on the 100 things they should do, which can be overwhelming and result in the failure to actually accomplishing anything of importance. I try to focus on the three to five things I absolutely have to do. I don’t get distracted by those ninety-seven other unimportant things that don’t ultimately contribute to my success or the success of my company.”
- Kevin O’Connor, the serial entrepreneur who founded both DoubleClick and more recentlyFindTheBest.
“I love to run in the morning before I get into work. Running clears my mind, gets the blood flowing and ultimately makes me much more focused and productive. During my morning runs, I try to come up with solutions to any unresolved problems at work, brainstorm new ideas, and really prioritize my work in terms of the top things I want to accomplish that day. By the time I get into work, I already have a set of focused priorities, and I also have the energy to make them happen.”
- Patrick Dolan, the EVP and COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
Police Your Own Internet Habits: Notifications Are Evil
“I also have a tendency to begin earnestly researching something online with the very best of intentions and then get lost viewing irrelevant content and wasting way too much time. To limit this, I turn on a browser extension to Chrome called StayFocusd where I maintain a list of sites I can get lost on for hours—the New York Times and Facebook are my top two. StayFocusd alerts me after ten minutes have passed and then blocks the offending sites to help me resist temptation and stay focused on the task at hand.”
- Fred Bateman, the CEO and Founder of Bateman Group.
Put Email In Its Place
“More generally, email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action.”
- Anne-Marie Slaugher, an author and professor of politics and international relations at Princeton University.
What are your productivity tips? How will you be more productive today?
[Image: Flickr user Massimo Regonati]
A change of environment stimulates creativity.
Even in the most awesome of offices we can fall into a routine, and a routine is the enemy of creativity.
Being surrounded by awesome team and officemates means being interrupted for water cooler chats and work questions. Being interrupted kills productivity. The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of exciting activity.
Community and meeting new people.
Meeting new people always provides me with new ideas, a different perspective at existing problems, or an interesting connection to a new person doing something awesome that inspires me.
Rotate coffee shops.
Avoid the stifling feeling of routine you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Coffee shop workers are awesome, and they’ll be awesome to you if you are a good customer. That hidden power plug will be revealed, an extra free refill will be given, an introduction will be made.
Don’t sit near the door or the register, if you can avoid it.
Come with a full charge.
[Image: Flickr user Kyle Hale]
Where will you work today?
This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak with my friend Mike Del Ponte, who resembles the character of Joe. Today he launches a Kickstarter campaign for his company Soma, which aims to revolutionize the water industry using sustainable design. (It’s awesome. Check it out.) Surprised by how cool, calm, and collected Mike was so close to launch, I asked him what his secret is.
“Every day I need physical energy, mental clarity, and emotional balance to tackle everything that comes my way,” Mike said. “Self-care is the secret to performing at the highest level.”
Here are the six simple rituals he uses to perform at his highest, which you too can begin implementing right away:
1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up. Your body loses water while you sleep, so you’re naturally dehydrated in the morning. A glass of water when you wake helps start your day fresh. When do you drink your first glass of water each day?
2. Define your top 3. Every morning Mike asks himself, “What are the top three most important tasks that I will complete today?” He prioritizes his day accordingly and doesn’t sleep until the Top 3 are complete. What’s your “Top 3” today?
3. The 50/10 Rule. Solo-task and do more faster by working in 50/10 increments. Use a timer to work for 50 minutes on only one important task with 10 minute breaks in between. Mike spends his 10 minutes getting away from his desk, going outside, calling friends, meditating, or grabbing a glass of water. What’s your most important task for the next 50 minutes?
4. Move and sweat daily. Regular movement keeps us healthy and alert. It boosts energy and mood, and relieves stress. Most mornings you’ll find Mike in a CrossFit or a yoga class. How will you sweat today?
5. Express gratitude. Gratitude fosters happiness, which is why Mike keeps a gratitude journal. Every morning, he writes out at least five things he’s thankful for. In times of stress, he’ll pause and reflect on 10 things he’s grateful for. What are you grateful for today?
6. Reflect daily. Bring closure to your day through 10 minutes of reflection. Mike asks himself, “What went well?” and “What needs improvement?” So… what went well today? How can you do more of it?
Do you have any other tips or practices?
Here are 6 Things That Really Productive People Do from inc.com
1. Pick your priorities.
“Focus on spending time that for you is fun and productive.”
2. Go for efficiency.
“Don’t take on something with a steep learning curve if you don’t have the available bandwidth.”
3. Integrate your activities.
“Many people go crazy trying to figure out how to spend time with friends, family, work, play, etc. Stop trying to balance time between them all. Find ways to enjoy them in a combined manner.”
4. Actively manage time-wasters.
“Budget your time for necessary activities. Make a choice to limit non-supportive interactions that don’t energize you.”
5. Be an active learner.
“…there are always new tools and new ways of doing things that can save you time on mundane tasks freeing you up for your priorities. Always be looking for a new way to gain back an hour here or there.”
6. Lighten up.
“Celebrate progress and keep refining toward a happy productive existence… Every completion is a small victory that adds up in a big way.”
Productivity is a big topic for Fast Company, we even made an entire issue about it.
What are your tips for productivity? How are you being productive today?
[Post: M.Cecelia Bittner]