5 Proven Tips that Will Improve Your Productivity

pomodoro

I had just poured myself my third cup of coffee and I realized something very important. I remember because as I put the coffee to my lips I looked up at the clock. It was 11am on the dot.

I had accomplished nothing at all. I rebooted my computer. I visited with a few friends. I went to meeting that was cancelled at the last minute.

Literally nothing was accomplished in 2 and a half hours.

Have you ever had a morning like this?

Working in a shared or open environment is a challenge. It’s easy to get distracted or distract a friend.

After years of procrastination and lack of concentration, I finally took it upon myself to do something about this. I set out on a mission to enhance my mental state so that I could improve my focus, productivity, and just feel a lot happier at work!

I’ve been working on improving my own concentration for nearly a decade. I never look at the clock and think I haven’t accomplished anything yet today. I’ve made big strides in my productivity.

Here is how I did it.

Special notice: The Unlock Your Career Happiness Guide is now available. Click here to see how the 7 step process helps my clients become happier and get better results.

1. Buy into Brain Food (and Drink!)

Avoid the cereal bars and mid-morning chocolate. Foods that are rich in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, can help fight brain decline and improve thinking skills, so go for them instead.

Pumpkin seeds are a convenient office snack too. I normally pack a small Tupperware pot of mixed seeds, which I can sprinkle over my morning yogurt or simply snack on whilst checking emails first thing.

You might also want to consider bringing in fresh blueberries. Blueberries are packed with vitamins C and E and the flavonoids in these berries activate an enzyme that improves the flow of blood to the brain. In one office I worked at, fresh fruit was delivered on Fridays for staff to snack on. All for free. Who doesn’t like free snacks? Definitely an incentive to eat healthier.

Other brain-friendly foods include omega-3 rich walnuts and oily fish. Omega-3 has been shown to boost your mood, prevent cognitive decline and there is proof that that it can even enhance your memory. Walnuts might be the preferred choice for the office, unless you want to alienate colleagues!

Fill up on plenty of water as well. My office has a huge water cooler, which I am lucky enough to be positioned right next to. Not only is dehydration the number one cause of headaches, fresh water has also been proven to help your brain work faster.

2. Sit Properly

Invest in a decent chair and practice good posture throughout your day. Bad posture is not only distracting, as it can cause brain fogginess and pain, but it is also dangerous. The long-term implications of not choosing to invest in a suitable office chair, or take part in any exercise, can mean that you might not even be able to work, let alone have problems concentrating in the working environment.

Get up and talk to your colleagues as well. Not only is it better for maintaining professional relationships at work, it gives your back a break from ‘the chair’.

3. Tune into the Right Music

Are you allowed to play music in your office?

My office prohibits music, but you can listen to headphones. And thank goodness. Certain types of music can help aid concentration. Forget your favourite playlist on Spotify and use a recommended service, such as Focus@Will, which lets you tune into music specifically selected to help you focus on the task at hand. Choose from channels such as Focus Spa or Up Tempo and engage in scientifically proven music to tune into your brain’s limbic system. This is the part of your brain that regulates the easily-distracted fight or flight mode.

I now work in an energetic environment, people are always moving and talking to each other. This is great, but only when you’re in that kind of mood too. So what about when you just want to zone out and actually get something done? Yeah, well head to the headphones. And don’t feel like you’re missing out. You’ve got work to accomplish!

4. Ban Digital Time Suckers

Facebook is my nemesis. I love it and hate it, all at the same time. Time suckers, in my opinion, are any apps, websites or media devices that crave your attention. It’s difficult to switch off from notifications on your mobile or constantly checking your email account. But in order to do your best work, you need to be able to escape from these time consumers.

I like to enlist the help of a dedicated resource, such as Rescue Time. This app sits silently in the background and records all the time I spend on different websites. I can review my progress by checking statistics at the end of the day or get sent a weekly email.

I can track my time conveniently and see where I’m tripping up with social media. (And my favourite place to shop, the ASOS sale.)

5. Work in Chunks

This is my favourite tip. Working in chunks and taking breaks.

This method of chunking, the Pomodoro technique, has been around since the 1980s.

It works by breaking your time into manageable, twenty-five minute chunks. Each chunk is called a ‘pomodoro’ (Italian for tomato). After each pomodoro, you take a five minute break. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer break, typically around twenty minutes.

So, I normally check my emails, take a break, work on my biggest project for two Pomodoros, then move on to something a little lighter. After that, I take a longer break before hitting my biggest project again.

You get to keep motivated and boost your concentration. And you get a great excuse to buy a 1980s tomato timer.

I have been working on improving my concentration in the work environment for almost 7 years. At last, I feel like I am finally nailing it, but there has been a lot of trial and error along the way.

Remember: eat right, drink lots of water, sit properly, don’t be afraid to zone out (but not on social media!) and reward yourself with breaks. After all, no employer wants a distracted employee or contractor.

Do you have a proven productivity tip that has helped your career? (share in the comment section so we can help each other become more productive.)

Alex Sebuliba loves to read write and share tips on how to excel within the working environment. Alex’s aim in life is to become a recognised motivational preacher.

* Image courtesy of Luca Mascaro

10 Habits of Brilliant Leaders

Zuckerberg quote
I recently shared a drink with a friend who runs a small company. He told me a secret that I’ve never heard him discuss before.

He talked with me about his employees’ moods and how they can fluctuate in such a broad way, which really affects the quality of their work.

“A few years ago I caught one of my employees sleeping at his desk. He wasn’t a bad employee, but he wasn’t great either. He was never late, but there were times he didn’t seem interested in his work at all. Then there were other times he was fantastic. It would fluctuate like this all the time. I didn’t know what to do.”

Shortly after finding his employee asleep he decided he had to make some changes. He told me he took my advice from a conversation over a couple beers last year. He began to explain his vision and why he made certain decisions. He opened up his thought process to all his employees every month. He explained the companies income and costs, what direction the company was trying to go in and why. This also opened up a dialog with his employees that he never knew was possible.

His employees responded better than he thought they would. He even got ideas from his employees of how the company could save money and how to improve the customer experience.

“It was like someone flipped a little switch on in our company. I wished I had done it sooner. Almost everyone was happier and much more engaged. It’s funny though. I never got through to the guy that sparked it all. I eventually had to let him go. Hope he’s at a job he enjoys. I still think about him and feel grateful for the idea he sparked.”

People often stop looking at the larger picture because they get comfortable. This comfortable feeling reduces their desire to go above and beyond. They coast along, slowly disengaging and disliking their work.

A study at the University of Alberta showed that people need a sense of purpose in order to feel engaged with their work. A ‘Spirit at Work’ intervention program for a group of long-term health-care workers boosted morale and job retention. This program urged employees to rethink their job, which reduced absenteeism by 60% and turnover by 75%.

“We discovered that people who are able to find meaning and purpose in their work, and can see how they make a difference through that work, are healthier, happier and more productive employees,” said Val Kinjerski, a University of Alberta PhD graduate who co-authored the study in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

By helping your people understand why they do what they do – you can increase happiness and productivity.

I’m going to give you a few ideas that should help your employees feel more engaged with their work.

Are you interested in bringing more fun and happiness to your team? I’m creating a beta program to help you improve employee engagement. I would like to help a small group of leaders grow a happier culture and improve communication at work. If you are a team leader, manager, HR, or CEO then reach out to me. The program will be extremely affordable (big discount) in exchange for your help in making the program better. If you are interested please fill out this short form and I’ll get back to you right away.

1. Empower employees to improve the company

When a leader listens and empowers his employees to fix the small things, there are more people responsible for creating a great customer experience. Each small improvement quickly adds up, improving innovation and helping keep customers happy.

“We try to have as many channels for expression as we can, recognizing that different people, and different ideas, will percolate up in different ways,” Laszlo Bock, VP of Google

When employees believe that their voices matter, they are more likely to feel appreciated by the company. This feeling then encourages each employee to do better work.

Your organization employs smart people, otherwise they probably wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. They just need a chance to unleash that creativity and wow their co-workers and customers.

2. Share positive stories

Your organization has many stories of how employees solved problems, helped others in need, and other ways in which they went above and beyond to make someone happy. However, a lot of companies like to play the modesty card. They hesitate to flaunt their achievements.

Great leaders understand the power of positive stories when they show the value that they bring to the customer.

A client recently told me about how I helped her feel happier. She explained that medication that she took to keep her emotionally balanced didn’t help, but I did. She thanked me profusely. (I put her quote on my Happy Employees page.) I sent the email to my editor. I think she got a better understanding of who I’m trying to help and why I work so hard to create great content. Since she edits many of my articles, I need her to feel engaged with the work, so we keep putting out the best content to help the readers of this blog.

You need to flaunt your greatness!

You have to share similar stories with each other. Talk about how a customer gushed over your attention to detail. It shows the rest of your co-workers why you do what you do. Most of you aren’t working just for the paycheck. You are also working because you make a difference in people’s lives.

The more stories an organization can compile the more powerful it becomes. If your organization is huge, then break it down into departments. Even departments such as marketing and accounting need to compile stories. Many of these stories may be more internal, but it’s still important to document what is happening so you can share with your people why you do what you do.

3. Focus on great culture

Great results are the bottom line of every company. The only way to get great results is to have support at every level. If one domino falls short the customer experience weakens. You can’t have great marketing and bad customer service. That’s why empowering employees to create their own happiness systems, we’ll discuss more in #5, is vital to improving every aspect of your company culture.

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Simon Sinek

When a leader makes the company’s culture a top priority it ripples throughout the whole organization. They want create as many avenues for employee happiness that their resources will allow. It’s this habit that helps an employee feel engaged with their work and deliver great results.

4. Explain the vision again and again

A great leader has vision that guides everyone in the organization. They are able to plan for next year like it’s next month. They know how they want to get there and help explain what he wants done to make it happen.

It’s this vision that helps put into focus every action an employee makes within the company. Without explaining this vision many employees become lost, unable to see what is truly important.

“If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.” – Larry Page, CEO of Google

Every company helps someone. It’s up to the leaders in your company to bring clarity to who you serve and how you will make it happen. The more ways you can explain your visions the clearer it becomes.

5. Allow employees to design their work systems

Your employees know their strengths. They know whether they enjoy certain projects and which ones drive them crazy. Utilizing this information is vital to getting great results out of your employees.

Allow your employees the freedom to design how they would get the task done. They will own the project and work harder to make sure it succeeds.

6. Listen to Feedback

In order to stay engaged in our work, we have to recognize our mistakes and understand how to fix them. By listening to employee, customer, and vendor feedback, an organization is taking the time to understand their mistakes and correct them.

I have known many people who like to solve problems. They get an energy boost from making a solution happen. I worked at K-Mart in my teenage years and I’ll never forget a look on one customer’s face because of what one of my co-workers was able to do for her.

A woman came into the store asking for a patio umbrella that wasn’t in stock. The salesperson called 4 different stores before she found the lady’s umbrella. He asked the store to transfer it and he would call the lady as soon as it came in.

I remember when the lady came into the store to pick up the umbrella. She was gushing because it was the only one that fit her patio furniture.

You could see the manager of the employee beaming with pride.

I’ve seen and been on the receiving end of an employee just not caring. They can hear and/or see that I’m upset and they choose not to help.

You need to give your people a chance to create solutions so they can feel like they are a superhero.

7. Encourage employees to fix mistakes

Yaro Starak wrote a blog post about his experience at Starbucks. It made great advertising for Starbucks. Starbucks empowers their employees to make good decisions, which leads to the best type of advertising in the world: word of mouth.

Yaro ordered a tea and an oat brownie. He waited for it to arrive on the counter. After a few minutes he told the barista that he was still waiting for his tea. The Starbucks employee had forgotten about his order. He quickly made the tea, apologized and handed him a piece of cardboard that said…

We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful. We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better.

Yaro might bring a friend in with him the next time he goes to Starbucks. Now that extra expenditure almost balanced itself out.

Yaro explained how he felt…

I waited about an extra minute longer for my tea than I should have. That is definitely not long enough for me to get angry and I was served very quickly once I notified them that my tea was missing.

Yet, despite this, the Starbucks policy is to offer a complimentary beverage even if their system is slightly out of whack. I walked away impressed that I scored a free beverage voucher, but not really because of the beverage itself, I was impressed with the customer service policy I just witnessed (hence I’m writing a blog post about it!).

Starbucks did not diminish in my eyes as a result of this incident. In fact they impressed me, so much so that I’m now writing a blog post that will be read by thousands of people proclaiming good things about Starbucks service (that’s some good word of mouth). Of course not every Starbucks customer has a blog they can rave to when something happens, but every person has friends and people they talk to, and this one policy of Starbucks will encourage word of mouth through normal social interaction too.

It all started because Starbucks empowers their employees to make the customer feel good. That’s the benefit to happiness at work. The employee corrects a mistake, and the customer is happy after receiving a free voucher for something of such little inconvenience. Everyone feels good. The drinks that Starbucks make don’t cost them that much, so in reality they are probably losing less than a dollar on the whole transaction.

Gaining a loyal customer.

8. Recharge internal battery every single day

When you run a company you can’t go 9 hours straight without stopping. You probably can’t even go 4 hours without recharging. That’s why smart leaders take the time to recharge their mind and body.

Listening to your body instead of powering through, it’s vital to making quality decisions.

“Manage your energy, not your time.” – Tony Schwartz

Next time you feel sluggish try going for a walk or taking 10 deep breaths. The idea is to do something that gets you away from thinking about work and allows you to let go of your tension loop. You’ll feel refreshed, happier, and make better decisions.

9. Celebrate hard work and great results

The number one reason people leave their job is because they don’t feel appreciated. If you are ho hum about showing your appreciation then your people may stop trying.

You can do something simple like walk up to them and just thank them for their hard work.

People want to know that what they do matters. That means celebrating all the good things.

This should be done in large and small groups. The larger gatherings can occur about 1-4 times a year, while the smaller groups (celebrations within a department) should be done more often.

Making your celebration a regular routine is the key, because you want to make a habit out of celebrating your successes. Try celebrating once a quarter to start. If you overload people and celebrate too often, they will get bored and also be unable to find reasons to rejoice in their hard work.

To avoid allowing this practice to fall away, it’s important to make the celebration fun. That might mean bringing food, let people play a game, and finding other ideas that get people excited about attending your party.

10. Develop company core values 

Making the values visible for the employees to read and hear every day helps each employee connect to a larger vision. We all need to believe that our work means more than just completing our tasks.

“Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”
― Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

I suggest to my clients that they encourage their teams to come up with core values as well. What truly matters to the company is important, but team values are just as important. They will help guide daily decisions.

Help your people connect to a larger purpose. Ask them what they believe are the core values of the organization. You may be surprised by the responses.

Good Habits Build a Better Company

After implementing just one of these habits, assess how these changes affect your organization. You will probably notice that people are more engaged and willing to try a little harder.

“I think as a company, if you can get those two things right — having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff — then you can do pretty well.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

I know one of these ideas will help make a big impact in your company. The companies that succeed are the ones that make these ideas a regular habit. It needs to become part of the culture, so when something difficult happens there are good habits to fall back on. And when something great happens everyone can celebrate together.

* Do you want your employees be happier and encourage them to become more engaged? Then check out our Happy Employees Beta program and see how the Work Happy Now 10 step process can help your company retain it’s great people, improve their focus, and deliver a great customer experience.

5 Ways to Make Meetings More Fun and Useful

Fun meetings

Meetings can be very powerful or big time killers. Very rarely do they fall in between.

Your focus should be improving workflow and communication through better meetings, training and technology. For example there are different kinds of collaboration software that can open communication and increase productivity without having to have a formal meeting. I use Asana and Trello with my virtual team.

Many meetings don’t need to be held if collaboration happens naturally within the flow of the workday. Meetings definitely have their place when conversations spark unique ideas that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

I know you can’t get rid of meetings, but you can make them more fun, efficient and encourage creative collaboration.

Now let’s look at how you can improve your meetings:

1. Create a detailed agenda and goals.

The person who created the meeting should also create an agenda. They should have a vision for how the meeting should go and a plan for communicating what they want to cover.

I’ve worked for companies where the agenda was a standard practice, but they often still missed out on the most crucial part. What are the goals? When you can identify a goal for each agenda item, it will help the whole team understand how they can help each other reach their goals.

2. Set a time limit.

Too often meetings have an open time associated with them. If they start at 10am and they go to lunch there is probably some wasted time in there.

By putting a time limit on the meeting, people will be more focused and will likely complete their discussions within the allotted time. This reduces the fluff and banter that can be done in the meeting.

Quick tip: try scheduling fun meetings, which are more about team building, creativity, and sharing instead of following a strict agenda. You can allow people to have fun in a meeting, just set the rules on what type of meeting you are having before it starts.

3. Gamify your meetings.

As kids we learn by playing games. Tapping into this kidlike feeling at work will help your team create bonds and help everyone feel a little happier.

For example, you can give out stickers to people who give the best ideas in response to a problem. The person with the most stickers wins a free lunch.

If you don’t want to create this type of environment during the meeting, try a game at the end of the meeting. This works well especially if your meetings are optional, because it might entice people to stick around instead of rushing off.

The game could be fun for the sake of fun (ex: what is your favorite animal and why, or what has been your favorite project in the last 6 months that you worked on and why). Everyone who participates gets thrown in a drawing for a $10 Starbucks giftcard or they get to pick where the next meeting will be held. The prizes should depend on what your employees would like to win.

The most important component of the game is to help people bond. The more you can create fun experiences that they can share with each other, the more connected they will feel toward each other.

4. Come up with a possible solution when you present a problem.

As a good leader in meetings you have to know you can’t know or do it all. Your job is to help explain the vision and let your team help you get there. So next time someone has a problem and they just throw it out there, take a pause and ask them what they think is the best option that we should take and why.

You can lead co-workers in the same way. Many times co-workers start their own mini-meeting with you. They come up to you expecting you to solve the problems because you have strong skills in this area. If you just solve their problem they’ll just come back to you again. Try to be a leader and see if they have any possible solutions that they think would work.

When meetings are done well they bring smart people together to find solutions to problems that can’t be solved by just one person. The more you can encourage everyone to pitch in ideas and solutions the more you empower them to do great work, building confidence and employee engagement.

5. Let everyone share one thing they want to celebrate.

Depending on your time limit, you can set a small amount of time for everyone to celebrate something that is going well with their team, project, or life.

We don’t celebrate as often as we should because we are an “on the go” business culture. We usually move on to the next thing instead of taking the time to appreciate what is right before us. By encouraging celebration you are giving people the stage to celebrate each other.

You can even encourage people to celebrate a team member instead of themselves. This encourages your team to share appreciation for each other, building camaraderie and affection for each other.

Your Turn

Meetings can be lousy if not run well. What “meeting improvement” tips can you share with the Work Happy Now community? I like when people add to my ideas and we give people even more options.

What have you seen work well in meetings you enjoyed?

30 Healthy Rewards to Boost Your Happiness

holding-dove-dark-chocolate

Last week I was struggling to do a few simple tasks. I laid my head down on my desk and sighed. The two tasks weren’t a lot of fun, but I needed to get them done.

So instead of forcing myself to do them I decided to take a kinder self-approach. If I finished the first task I would take a 10 minute walk. If I finished the second task I would get myself a piece of Dove dark chocolate.

It’s important to remember it’s not just the reward that you give yourself for doing a difficult task. It’s how you use it to recharge your internal battery. A difficult task can drain your energy and if you don’t savor the reward it’s not benefiting you as much as it could.

Once I finished my task I grabbed the Dove dark chocolate piece, unwrapped it, and mindfully placed it on my tongue. I let it sit their for 3 deep breaths then chewed it. It made up for the tedious task. It also gave me some energy for my next task.

External rewards are really good for tasks that don’t have a lot of internal motivation. So if you can’t get yourself excited about a tedious task try these little “carrot” type of rewards to help get your happiness and productivity back on track.

Special notice: The Unlock Your Career Happiness Guide is now available. Click here to see how my 7 step process helps my clients become happier and get better results.

Reinforcing good habits is paramount to building habits that help you stop procrastinating and taking action on work that needs to get done.

1. Take a short walk.
2. Write down 5 things you are currently grateful for right now.
3. Have lunch with a friend.
4. Eat a piece of dark chocolate.
5. Take a 20 minute nap.
6. Drink a really good cup of tea.
7. Do a quick celebration dance to your favorite song.
8. Call a friend for a few minutes.
9. Share your hard work on Facebook.
10. Go work in the park for an hour.
11. Do a smile session. Think of someone you love and smile. Repeat this 10x. (Best to do this in an empty room so you don’t scare anyone.)
12. Buy a small gift for yourself.
13. Make a thank you card for yourself so you can read it at the end of the month.
14. Go get a massage.
15. Watch a funny clip on YouTube. (Search “ultimate dog tease or office pranks”)
16. Read some of your favorite quotes.
17. Eat a ripe piece of fruit.
18. Drink a glass of wine or beer. Good for weekend tasks. :)
19. Buy a sandwich for a friend.
20. Write a poem to a loved one.
21. Meditate for 10 minutes
22. Play a board game with a friend.
23. Offer to do a boring job for a friend to help them and you appreciate your work.
24. Go “old school” and use a pen for the next half hour.
25. Put underwear on your head and sing the song, “I am awesome.” (This might not be in the healthy or do at work category, but it should release some endorphins after you crack yourself up.)
26. Play your favorite game for the next 20 minutes. (Set a timer so you don’t over do it.)
27. Email a friend thanking them for all their support.
28. Bake banana and raisin cookies for yourself and the office.
29. Move the furniture around in your office to make it more Feng Shui friendly.
30. Make a list of the next 5 people you want to build a friendship with to grow your community.

You can alter or change these healthy rewards to fit your personality. Remember to not repeat something too often. If you reward yourself with a piece of chocolate after every little tedious task that you complete your waistline might not be very grateful for you increased productivity.

What type of small reward would you add to the list?

The Art of Making a Simple “To Do” Lists so You Get More Done

to-do-list-arm-590

You want to accomplish so much each week, but many times you feel behind. This feeling of not being able to keep up can get us all feeling a bit depressed. We really try hard, but we just aren’t able to keep up.

Could it be that you feel behind because your expectations are too high?

Most of my clients think they are “behind”, but it’s because they want to be in a better place with their career. This is natural. If you didn’t strive for more and better, your business/career would fail.

But learning to understand and accept where you are is an important part of the process to grow your career or business. You can’t fast forward to greater success. You and I can only use one minute at a time to get our work done. This requires focused action.

And even if/when you get to that level of success that you only dreamed about, you’ll probably want to move forward to even greater success. We humans are strivers, which means that we want to keep improving and get better results. It is at least partially responsible for making us viable as a species.

Where or When Does the Wanting Stop?

Being satisfied with your position or success is difficult, and can even feel a bit wrong.

I get it. I still struggle with enjoying where I am because I also see how much more I want to accomplish. You accomplish an amazing project like writing a book and before it’s done you are probably thinking about the next book or next project.

So the key is to understand you are only one person, and there are only so many hours in a day.  And I hope you realize that not all of your time can be spent on work and also hope to stay sane or healthy or have good relationships or prevent burnout and loss of creativity.

I’ve tackled this “problem”, and I’m going to give you a quick explanation of how I’ve created my daily “to do” list to make my life better and more productive without going crazy..

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of lists because they help me keep track of what I need to get done, and they help me stay focused on doing the important work. I use Asana to keep track of my big “to do” list, and it’s a great free app.

When I get a “task” type email from a client or I need to follow up on an opportunity, I adjust the subject line, forward it to Asana under a special email address, and it automatically populates into my task list. I use Dispatch on my iPhone to help make this easier. The mail app that came with my phone didn’t have this capability.

Main List – Monthly List

I have a list in Asana that I can reference whenever I need to know what to do next. This list is mostly the major projects that I need to get done for my clients and myself.

I write down everything that I think will move my business forward. If I want to work on a book, I’ll put this on the list. If I notice that I keep avoiding a project, I stop putting it on my to-do list, and that goes on a document that has a list of all the major projects I might eventually like to work on.

I finished the Unlock Your Career Happiness guide because of this system. I chipped away at it every single week, so I mark off tasks in Asana as I complete them. It’s so close to being done, I can see the project finish line.

If you want to, you can actually check it out and see how it can help you improve your career and happiness by clicking here. There are some cool early buyer bonuses you can grab before I remove them for good.

The Art of the Daily List

I do a daily list on a small Post-it note. I pick 1 main project to work on and 3 tasks that support that project. Each task is a part of the project that will help me make the biggest impact in my career. This is where it can get tricky. I focus on this one main project for only 3 hours. The rest of the day might be dedicated to email, fun task, calls, etc.

I only schedule this high level work for 3 hours because it’s draining. I know that I’ll need a break to celebrate my hard work. Which is usually a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood. It helps me process this block of time while recharging my internal battery. You only have so much energy in the tank for high level work that’s why it’s good to get it done earlier in the day. If you put it off the type of work that grows your career might never get done.

If your “to do” list of 3 things for the day is too broad, and one of the items might take 1.5 days to accomplish, then you aren’t creating the type of list that will make you feel happy at the end of the day because you’re setting yourself to feel like a failure.

You need to make a list of 3 tasks that you can reasonably do within 3 hours. One might take 1 hours, another 30 minutes, and the other 1.5 hours. By making your list complete-able, then you are much more likely to feel happy when you have completed them all in one day, and then be at least a little happier and possibly more productive the next day. If your list is too comprehensive and too much of a stretch you are hurting your confidence and productivity.

But, here is where it can get fun, if you follow my suggestion below.

Underneath the 3 tasks, write something about how you will celebrate when you accomplish the task. If you do, you’ll reward your hard work, supporting your ability to build good work habits while also creating some external motivation that will layer on top of your intrinsic motivation. Of course you’ll need intrinsic motivation (curiosity for what will happen after you look at your finished tasks), but a little positive external motivation can make the process a little more fun. If the task is tedious it is hard to feel curious about the outcome.

For example I had to stuff thousands of marketing bags and my intrinsic motivation was very much lacking. I tried my best to understand my why, but by creating an extrinsic motivation like going for a quick walk after stuffing 2 boxes, approximately 500 bags I would be able to go relax and call my girlfriend, friend, brother, etc. It helped me finish up my 2 boxes a little bit faster than I otherwise would have been able to do.

By creating a fun celebration after each project, you are encouraging yourself to stay focused and follow through. You will notice that when you are curious about the outcome, then sometimes you might not even need to reward yourself afterwards. The natural reward of completing the task will be an adequate reward in and of itself.

Your Turn

How do you encourage yourself to stay productive at work?  Do you make simple lists, or do you have an even better technique for getting things done and feeling happy?

Use This One Thing to Boost Your Motivation

Be playful in your work

Yesterday I was struggling to get my “happy plane” off the ground to do some writing, but I just couldn’t get my mindset into a creative mood.

I knew what I wanted to write, but the sentences were clumsy. Then I did what any smart creative person does…

I picked up one of my super rubber duckies and just looked at it and squeezed it.

I give presentations and throw these superhero duckies out into the crowd to help remind people that they have superpowers. Funny how I forget the simple reminders that I know are useful to my clients.

Toys can have a calming effect on even the grumpiest adults.

More Fun

I said to myself, “Why not have a little more fun with your work?”

Then I picked up my Spiderman golf putter that my brother gave me for Christmas, grabbed a golf ball, dropped it on my carpet, picked a little opening between the wall and the couch, and hit the ball toward the opening. Another smile came over me.

After sixteen tries, I got the ball in the opening, and I smiled for the third time.

Then a thought of what I wanted to say in my blog post popped into my head. I put my putter aside and the writing started to come a little easier.

And I remembered that being playful in my work truly does matter in order for me to be creative. Taking a break can be more productive than going through the motions, and that rubber duckies and indoor golf can actually help me regain focus, clarity and forward momentum.

Although hugs, handshakes, high fives, and other experiences that bring us in contact with other people can motivate us to maintain forward momentum, we can also choose a physical object to remind us to be playful or to refocus when we’re stuck and no one else is around. Think of it as an emotional trigger to bring a little happiness back into your workday.

Step 1Find your motivation object.

Look around your workspace and see if you notice an object that you might not have been aware of before that helps quiet your thoughts..

It could be a…

  1. Photo of a loved one
  2. Action figure
  3. Coin
  4. Stress ball
  5. Letter
  6. Golf putter
  7. Feather

The key here is to use this object to trigger the next step.

Step 2Use a phrase to help you relax and shift the focus of your thoughts.

If you noticed in the example above, I used a phrase that helps me let go of my stress and helps me focus on what I want to happen next.

I said to myself, “Why not have a little more fun with my work?”

I don’t force it, and you shouldn’t either.

And don’t just repeat your phrase once and try to get right back to work.

Use your phrase and allow yourself the time and emotional space to take a break and then start to get your mindset back on track.

Step 3Bring yourself back to taking action.

When you try to get yourself back on track, think of one thing you can do to improve your motivation, and then think of the next little step to make that a reality, so you can start taking action again, but this time in a little more focused direction.

In my case, I wanted to do some writing. So I gave myself the space to allow the creativity back into my mind by being playful.

You shouldn’t force the issue of what you want your mind and body to do next. Just plant the seed and allow yourself to relax. Then let your brain and body do what it wants to do naturally.

Quick Tip

I suggest not to make your motivation object anything like your phone because it can be more of a distraction than a object to help you get back on track. You don’t want to get lost in a game and lose our on valuable work time if you can get your motivation back on track in 10 or 20 minutes.

The same thing goes for food. You don’t probably don’t want to rely on a donut every time you need an motivation boost.

Your Turn

How do you get your motivation back on track when you

How to Create a More Productive Workspace

Messy Desk

Do you ever have to sort through piles of papers or folders to find the one you need?  Do you have to ask a coworker for a vendor’s phone number or business card again?  You know you have it somewhere…

I once inherited a workspace with a new job title.  That meant I also inherited the previous owner’s multiple stacks of… um, geesh, old receipts, expired insurance quotes, unfinished work and projects, spreadsheets, food wrappers, loose change, and I kid you not, hair accessories and nail polish.

I found uncompleted forms past their expiration dates, but I couldn’t find the current report my boss wanted!  It’s not possible to be your most productive if you’re working in an unorganized fortress made from sky-high stacks of paperwork.

The most organized and efficient person I knew always worked with her desk completely clear of everything except only what she was working on at that moment. Her office was so calm, serene and comfortable.

My new office was a hellhole of stress and inefficiency. So I took some deep breaths and went to work filing and organizing to make my space workable and efficient. Chaos produces stress, and order relieves it.

A clear and uncluttered workspace can make you more productive. Work will feel less overwhelming if you keep your space as uncluttered and organized as possible. It will give you a mental lift when everything is clean and clear, and you will be less likely to lose or forget anything important from getting buried!

Three Rules to a More Productive Workspace

1.  Improving Your Mindset

It is widely documented that taking periodic breaks from your work will recharge and reenergize you. It will actually help you to focus better and think more clearly, making you more productive.

It is important to take short breaks throughout the day to let your thoughts reorganize and declutter.  Just as your mind needs rest to be more productive, your eyes also need rest away from your computer screen, and your behind needs to get out of your chair!

Every day, try to take a short break in the morning and another in the afternoon just to walk around. If the weather is good, try to do it outside. There may be days that are just too busy when you can’t actually get away longer than to use the restroom, but there should be other days when you can do this.

Good physical health contributes to a sharp, organized and productive mind. Look for opportunities to move around more and stay in your chair less.

Using the restroom is a great opportunity for walking around. Is there a longer roundabout route you could take there? Can you take stairs to use the restroom on a different floor? Taking the stairwell instead of the elevator is a great way to get in a bit of exercise. Try taking an extra set or two of stairs if possible.

An easy way to clear your head and to keep from getting stiff shoulders is to take big, deep breaths from time to time and also get up and stretch (when no one is looking!) The little oxygen kick from deep breathing is great for energizing your mind, and the stretching is great for your circulation. You’ll immediately feel better each time. Remind yourself throughout the day to sit up straight and not slouch, too.

Try to eat outside on your lunch break whenever possible.  If you can’t get outside, you could take your lunch to your company’s break room if they have one and socialize. Physically getting away is best. But if that is not an option, perhaps you can close your office door. This is a rest break as much as a lunch break. If you don’t have an office, you can still swivel away from your desk and “escape” into a book.  The point is to get away from your work for a mentally healthy reprieve.

Takeaway:

Developing a mindset that allows you to stay fresh means taking breaks and moving your body. Find excuses as much as you can to take regular breaks to help you process all the information that you deal with every day.

2.  Organize Your Desk

Do you ever search for an item or note on your desk, shuffling through piles of papers looking for it? You know it’s there, but where? It’s frustrating, and it makes you seem less efficient.

To keep your desk space as clear as possible, try keeping office supplies in drawers or shelves. Dishes of paper clips and tape dispensers take up valuable real estate on your desk and make it appear more cluttered.  Return any items you use back to their “home” in their designated drawer, shelf or cabinet when you don’t need them. If your desk does not have drawers, you could get a small wheeled cart with drawers or shelves that you can push underneath your desk.

Keep an efficient filing system. (Remember the stacks of miscellaneous mess I inherited?  It took several days to completely overhaul the filing system.) The best way to start if you have a bad situation is a complete filing “makeover.” Begin by boxing up everything more than a year old and sending the boxes to a storage room. Then clearly label every folder and file them in drawers where every label is visible, neat and orderly. Remember: Chaos produces stress, and order relieves it.

At the end of the day, if there is any work you’ve completed that you have not already filed away, do it now. Then organize all the projects you’re still working on for the next morning by urgency or importance. Anything that still needs work, but you know you will not be doing it the next day, can go into a special file drawer. It will be handy when you need it, but not in your way or in danger of getting “lost” on your desk.

This system of clearing your desk each evening will keep you on top of everything, no matter that more work keeps accumulating during each new day. Each morning when you come into work, your projects for the day will be already laid out and ready.

Nothing will fall through the cracks with deadlines or being forgotten since you physically see what needs to be done every evening and every morning in a clear and organized way. You can always lay your hands quickly on any work without fumbling around through piles and stacks of folders.

Takeaway:

Clear your desk at the end of each day, so you start fresh every morning.

3.  Organize Your Email

I also recommend keeping your email inbox as empty as possible.  Without a system for clearing your inbox, you live in danger of forgetting to take care of something important and having it get lost in that sea of emails.

As soon as you can in the morning, begin clearing out email.  Once you reply or complete each email or the task involved with it, immediately delete it if you can.

For email tasks that should not be deleted, create folders for completed correspondence by category. If you are not confident to delete, you can move it into one of those folders. But get it out of your inbox when you’ve completed the reply or task. Then you’ll never have to worry you may forget to follow up on an email. If it is in your inbox, it needs your attention. Simple. If you need to retrieve an old email, you can use the search feature to easily find it without having it sit in your inbox, clogging it up.

Takeaway:

Put “to do” items from your email onto your task list, so you can clear out your email without having to look at emails multiple times.

Your Turn

What works for you? What are your favorite tips for organization and productivity?

* Contributed by Deborah Shelby who writes inspiration for a happier and better life at Prayerful Mom.

How to Complete Your Projects

Know Your Own Superpowers

One of my weaknesses is putting the finishing touches on a project. I can develop, design, write and create, but can’t put the “fancy” on a project that extra touch to make it shine.

I hired an editor to help me with the Unlock Your Superpowers Manifesto. It’s coming out very soon. I’m great with ideas and concepts, but not very good with finishing the product. I get bored and want to move on. So I make less money in the short run, but in the long run it’s paying off.

She helps me clean up, polish and put the bow on my projects.

Her superpowers complement mine and it’s worth every dollar.

The next step was to find a great designer. Once again I have superpowers in structure and layout, but not so much with colors and images.

I hired a local designer to help me create something beautiful. Something so special that people couldn’t help but want to share it with their friends.

This was only possible by understanding my superpowers, but also my project kryptonite.

You have superpowers that aren’t being used very well because you don’t have the right people around you. You need superheroes in your back pocket. Follow these steps to build your network so you can make growing your career easier and more fun.

I could use your help. Please fill out this 5 min survey. so I can help you become happier at work and unlock your career superpowers. If you fill out the survey, I’ll give you a sneak peak into the Unlock Your Superpowers manifesto.

 

1. Unlock Your Own Superpowers

A deep understanding of your own superpowers is a must before you begin reaching out to find other people to help you. When you understand what you do well, it makes it easier to exchange superpowers.

The key is to have a mix of passion, focus and strengths throughout your daily actions. You can read more about that here.

2. Learn Your Project Kryptonite

Every large project has certain tasks within it that weaken you. These are your project kryptonites.

You can usually spot a project kryptonite by how hard you try to avoid doing the task. For example I do not like editing. It’s hard enough to write something unique and interesting. I struggle with going back over posts and finding missing connection gaps and grammar errors.

This is where you need to leverage other people’s superpowers. You need to give these tasks to other people who enjoy the work and do a better job than you.

What tasks do you find yourself avoiding?

3. Ask people in your network for help

The key is not to directly ask them for help, unless you are really good friends. It can put both of you in an awkward position.

I suggest just asking them if they know anyone who can help you with your project, then they can volunteer themselves if they want to or offer up someone that might be able to help you.

You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the quality of referrals that you will get from friends and family. No one wants to be the person who recommended a dud to you.

You can ask people directly or post on one of your social media accounts. I see this happen a lot in Facebook, especially for car mechanics.

4. Know the Value You Will Give in Return

If people help you with a certain part of your project, then the next part is understanding how you’ll reward them in return.

  • Do you pay them?
  • Do you thank them? (Depending on your relationship with them)
  • Do you offer to help them with a project?

There should be some kind of reciprocity that takes place.

When someone holds the door open for you, you smile and/or thank them. People want to know you appreciate their hard work.

The more time and energy they give you, the more important it is to show them your gratitude.

5. Set Up a Trial Period with Your Potential Superhero

Not everyone you think is amazing is a good complement to your skills. It’s best to test out the idea of working with them. When you ask them for help, make sure they understand that you are just working on a trial period.

I tested out a few editors before I found one that I clicked with. The other editors were very good, just not a good fit for me.

You might want to try 30 – 90 days. Whatever the trial period is, make sure you have enough data to understand if they are a good fit for you or not.

Try giving them different types of projects that challenge their superpowers in different ways. You’ll see whether they are a good fit for you or not very quickly.

Superheroes Are Everywhere

Friends, family, and co-workers can all be very helpful if you give them a chance to help you. Don’t be afraid to be clear about your expectations for a project. As long as everyone understands the goals, it makes for a much easier time working together.

Just ask for help and remember to reward them so they understand how appreciative you are. If you plan on making money from the project I would suggest paying the person. If it’s a hobby project, a small gift or heartfelt thank you can go a long way.

Your Turn

How do you find people with complementary superpowers to help you complete projects?

I could use your help. Start your own 30 Day Connection Challenge today! The resources are Please fill out this 5 min survey. so I can help you become happier at work and unlock your career superpowers. If you fill out the survey, I’ll give you a sneak peak into the Unlock Your Superpowers ebook (pages 1 – 5).

How to Exercise Your Vital Powers to Reach Excellence

Small-move-big-change-600

I was intrigued by the idea of microresolutions. It’s a great take on the concept of encouraging babysteps.

Today, I bring you the smart and interesting Caroline Arnold who has a book out called Small Move Big Change, Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently.

Karl Staib: What is one task that annoys you? How do you make it more enjoyable or at least tolerable?

Caroline Arnold: A task that annoys me is any task that is fundamentally uninteresting but not yet mindless.  Basically, most of our day is run by a kind of personal autopilot that is made up of behaviors and attitudes that have become entrenched through repetition.

Autopilot is mindless and efficient, you don’t have to think to tie your shoes, or lock the front door–autopilot does it for you.  Autopilot makes it possible to save your mental energy for the most important mental tasks:  problem-solving, decision-making, and self-control.  So, whenever I try to change an autopilot behavior through a microresolution, I find it very annoying, because it requires mental effort.  That’s true whether I’m trying to change a behavior like not saying “I told you so” to my spouse or learning a new behavior such as always leaving some food on my plate at every meal.  But I am able to get through the annoying and stressful part of building a new habit because my microresolution gives me  an immediate payback and by now I’ve worked through so many of these changes that I know that the behavior that annoys me today will become a mindless part of autopilot  in just a few weeks.  Any change causes some discomfort, but by focusing your willpower narrowly on a behavioral target, you can succeed every time, and success is enjoyable!

KS: Why are microresolutions so important to happiness?

CA: A lot of unhappiness comes from feeling that we are helpless to change ourselves.  The desire to self-improve is pretty basic to being human, and when we feel defeated in our efforts, it’s demoralizing.  Microresolutions are designed to always succeed, and that’s tremendously empowering.  Realizing that you absolutely have the power to change yourself is liberating and fulfilling.  I did it!  I actually changed myself!

KS: What is your favorite part of your job? Why?

CA: My favorite part of my job is brainstorming with my team and colleagues.  When the whole team is around the table creating something new, problem-solving, exchanging diverse points of view, and then establishing direction, I find that inspiring.  I also treasure those moments when we face obstacles or find ourselves in crisis and beat the odds by outperforming and through just plain HEART.

KS: How do you maintain harmony between your working and non-working life?

CA: I try to maintain as much of a routine at home as possible.  I make dinner every night, it’s very important me that we gather around the table and share a nice meal and the events of our day.  There are times when work issues makes it a late  dinner, and  times when I go back online to work afterwards, but the dinner hour is a real anchor in our family life.  Some people talk about work/life balance as if it’s something fixed, but It’s never settled–one is always tuning that dial in response to work needs, family needs, personal objectives.  When it comes to demanding jobs and family life, you have to draw your own line, no one will draw it for you.

KS: What is your favorite stress reliever?

CA: Laughing!   Nothing like a few yuks (especially at your own expense) to relieve pressure.  Walking is also an amazing stress reliever.  You experience the season, change your surroundings, rev your metabolism, clear your head, and it’s very meditative.

Frederich Nietzsche said that “all great thoughts are conceived while walking” and I have to say, I have thought through many a gnarly issue as I walked to work.  While I was trying to finish my book my husband gave me a foot rub every night, and that was an amazing stress reliever.  Makes me want to write another book!

KS: If you are feeling down, what do you do to lift your spirits?

CA: If she hasn’t ditched me for the day in favor of teen activities, I hang with my daughter Helen and that lifts my spirits.   Whatever I am grappling with, it pales beside the challenge of growing up and trying to shape one’s own future.  Kids are dealing with demands from every direction, but they are amazingly resilient and capable, and that’s inspiring.

KS: What is your biggest detriment to enjoying your work?

CA: Fatigue.  It’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re tired.  On the days when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m dragging by 2pm, and I hate not feeling top of my game.  There are many exciting projects and conversations to be a part of, but you if you have no energy to participate, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Sleep is also essential to self-improvement efforts.

Willpower gets restored when you sleep and hormones essential for weight control only get balanced with sufficient sleep.  it’s really difficult to stick with a diet or fitness goal when you’re exhausted.  People spend tons of money on face creams to look younger — getting an extra hour of sleep will do far more for you.  I have a whole chapter on getting more sleep in Small Move, Big Change.   Sleep is like a secret weapon for those who appreciate and respect its power.

KS: What do you do to stay motivated and productive?

CA: Challenging work is, to me, the greatest motivator and makes me most productive in my job.  In my experience, people don’t burn out from challenging work, they burn out from highly political workplaces or relentless routine.  I seek out challenges for myself and for my team, and I find it tremendously motivating to see team members take ownership and nail these challenges with spirit and smarts (and outperform me).

KS: Why do you think someone should buy your “Small move, Big change” book?

CA: Small Move, Big Change is for people who want to be successful every time they make a resolution, period.  It’s about cracking the code on making a personal change that lasts forever.  Whether that’s losing weight, getting fit, arriving on time, improving relationships, getting ahead at work, getting more organized, saving more, or being neater — there is a small move you can make today that will improve your life right now and have far-reaching effects in the future.  The book teaches the art of achieving continuous self-improvement.

KS: If you could give work happiness advice to someone just starting their career in 140 characters or less (Twitter style) what would it be?

CA: I can’t improve on Aristotle who said, “Happiness is the exercise of vital powers along the lines of excellence.”  (What a tweeter Aristotle would have been!)

Find a job where you can give your all, your very best, every day.  Try to work your way into an organization with a vibrant work culture that supports personal growth, risk-taking, and rewards high performance, not political dexterity.  We spend the largest part of every week at work, so look for the opportunity that will stretch you and nurture your growth as a human being.  The best jobs are hard work and also a blast.

Caroline Arnold* You can check out Caroline Arnold website here and her new book on Amazon (affiliate link, which will help pay for my next cup of coffee), Barnes and Noble or visit an Independent bookstore near you.

Small Steps Every Single Day

This site is a passion project that I love so much. I’ve helped thousands of people work happier and eventually I want to offer books, courses, etc., but not yet. I’ve tried a few things, but right now I’m offering speaking and workshops, not products.

People need to know how important it is that they use their superpowers in their career and I feel lucky to have this conversation with people on a daily basis.

Right now most of my time goes to delivering great content and working on Domino Connection (customer connection company). Domino Connection brings in 95% of my revenue, so I try to spend at least 90% helping out clients there.

I still write about happiness there, but through a marketing lens. Like this post about the ROI of Delivering Smiles.

With that being said I still take small steps every single day to improve Work Happy Now, from publishing content to posting on WHN Facebook wall.

Ok, so this leads to I’m updating the website, so it’s easier to navigate and easier on the eyes.

I would really like your feedback.
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