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Success & Career

How to make working smarter and not harder possible



How to make working smarter and not harder possible

Whatever you do for a living, chances are you started the New Year digging out from an avalanche of email and meeting requests. And just when you think you’ve finally gotten through it all and can get some real work done, more messages pop in and you’re off to chase more rabbits down still more holes.


Email makes our workday lives much easier in many ways, but it can also sap our productivity like nothing else. Yet,it is just one of the ways our attention gets pulled in a thousand different directions every day. No wonder so many people find themselves skipping lunch and working late, yet never feel like they accomplish anything.


It is possible to work smarter, instead of harder, so you can clock out at 5 and still get everything done. It’s all about focus and discipline, and there are plenty of technologies that can help you maintain both. And, they’ll all fit into the palm of your hand.


Managing Endless Email


Email saps productivity faster than anything else. If you’re constantly responding to things that pop up in your email, you’re wasting huge amounts of time.


I know how tempting it is to check email all day long. Research has shown that your brain gets a little shot of dopamine every time you respond to an email, because you are accomplishing something and it feels good. Responding to things we’re interested in is fun, and we actually get addicted to that. But you’re not sitting at your desk to have fun; you’re there to accomplish your goals.


This is why I block off specific time periods to check email. I have calendar reminders to spend 30 minutes checking email, three times a day. I don’t touch my inbox unless it’s time to do it.


The hardest part about this system is getting started. When I decided to do it, I went out three weeks into the future and put those three blocks of time on my calendar with recurring appointments. When I got to those days, that time was already booked, so nobody could schedule an appointment over my email time. Within a couple of weeks, it had become a habit.


There’s no job description out there that says, “Keep an empty inbox,” so use those organizational tools in your email system. I keep an elaborate folder structure in Outlook to organize things that matter in my world. I have folders for departments as well as projects. If an item needs action, it stays in the inbox, and results in time on my calendar to address the need. If it needs a response, I respond to it. If it’s not helping me achieve one of my goals, it’s filed away where I can find it if I need it later.


Turn off email notifications if you have to, and turn on reminders for your scheduled email time, so you won’t feel compelled to check email all day long. Resist temptation by remembering that your bosses want you to tackle your goals more than they want you to respond to their emails within five minutes.


Saying “Yes” and “No”


Email aside, I’ve come to believe that the big key to productivity lies in deciding ahead of time what you’re going to pay attention to, and what isn’t really worth your very precious time. This clarity of focus comes from figuring out what your priorities are, and only working on things that achieve that goal.


Even more important than deciding what you are going to focus on, is weeding out all the things you aren’t. If it doesn’t help you achieve one of your personal or organizational goals, just say “No.” Or, at least, “No, not right now.”


Time is your biggest asset, so take advantage of technology to help you make the most of it.


It’s too easy to go off track and meet, talk about, and focus on things that aren’t my priorities. APQC hired me, though, to achieve key priorities (or goals), so I’ve developed a routine and system to take control of my time for maximum productivity.


For me, my calendar is the key. I live and die by my calendar. If it doesn’t make it to my calendar, it doesn’t get done. And one major entry point into my calendar is my smartphone. I always tell people that I show up when and where my phone tells me to show up.


How do I prioritize what goes on my calendar? I integrate it with my to-do list and project management tool. This allows me to look ahead at milestones over the next couple of months, which gives me a roadmap for what I need to work on at any given time.


I use Asana to maintain my project plans, milestones, and to-do lists, and I draw from that to populate my calendar with things I need to do. Asana allows for collaboration and lets me get my thoughts down in a way that’s prioritized and structured, but it’s not so complex that I get bogged down in details. It’s just a way to document a planned approach and phases of work, so it’s all in place when I’m ready to work on a project. It provides clarity of purpose, so I know what to say no to, and what to say yes to.


Every day, I populate the next day’s calendar from my running to-do list. I move projects over, and set aside specific blocks of time to work on them. When my phone or smart watch pings, I know what I need to work on.


Build in Flexibility


No matter how busy I am, I always leave some space in my schedule. Two days from now, you can find a free hour or two on my calendar. Tomorrow, you can find a couple of 30-minute blocks. If something comes up and my day gets shot, I can move some tasks forward into those open spots without it having a major impact on the flow of my work.


And what happens if there is an emergency? It does happen, there’s no way around it. When you’re part of an organization, blocking off every minute of every day is an exercise in futility. You have to collaborate, have meetings, and yes, put out fires. This is another good reason to work on a rolling calendar about 36-48 hours out, and leave time for whatever may pop up.If you need me right this minute, walk over and talk to me, or send me an instant message, and if it’s really urgent, I can usually rearrange my priorities for the day.


Leaving a little wiggle room also allows you to ward off deadline panic. If something comes up that requires four hours of work, but you let it get down to the wire and it has to be done in two hours, your only option is to have someone else jump in to help you. This is how “hero cultures” are created: There’s always someone who has to be called away from his or her own (well-planned) work at the last minute to rescue someone else’s project. Planning ahead and building a little unstructured time into your calendar over the next several days reduces your risk of needing to call in a hero.


When I need to, I use an old-fashioned, analog trick that helps me focus on my hottest priorities. If I’m sitting in a meeting and something urgent comes up that needs my immediate attention, I pull out my trusty pen and write it on my the top of my hand between my thumb and first finger. Every time I reach for the keyboard or my water, I see it and remember what I need to do. It’s not a system I have to use often, but when I need it, it’s effective.


At the end of every day, I do a recap of what I accomplished that day, take stock of new things that came in, and reprioritize what I need to work on in the next one to two days.


And, I always schedule time for life balance. Too many people have their nose to the grindstone all day, then look up at the clock and it’s 7:30 p.m. and they haven’t eaten in hours. It’s hard to stay productive for long without exercise, meals, and downtime, so block off time for them on your calendar.


I schedule blocks of time for fitness before work,a morning and afternoon snack, and a lunch hour with enough time to leave the building and return refreshed.With few exceptions, I am out the door at five. Yes, really. By focusing my work on tasks that achieve organizational goals – and by not wasting time doing things outside that scope – I have plenty of time for both productivity and downtime, without needing to work late into the night.


Fit It Into the Flow


While this is the system that works for me and my job, you’ll need to develop a system that works for you and yours. Whatever technology you use, be sure that it fits into the flow of your work and helps you create a routine that works for your responsibilities.


Of course, all the technology and systems in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the discipline to focus only on your priorities. If it’s not going to help you achieve a personal or organizational goal, remember: Just say no.


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Success & Career

5 tiny habits that can change your life and career



Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

When it comes to the daily grind, time seems to keep passing by – yet many things remain the same. We are so busy trying to get things done, keeping our heads above water, that we don’t take real time to think about things like balance, self-care, or making necessary changes.

Little do we realize that small tweaks at home and at work might create opportunities for us to have true balance, and even achieve that elusive success.

Let’s look at five tiny habits you can implement today to control the chaos – and start changing your life and career.


Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life and Career

1.) Embrace the concept of a “clean slate” at work.

Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

This involves implementing a few simple routines and organizational tools upfront. This will save you time in the long run, and will leave you feeling satisfied at the start – and end – of your day.

For example:

  • Create folders in your e-mail inbox by person and topic. Be sure to move applicable items there. The feeling of a clean inbox can reduce anxiety and enables you to find important material faster!
  • Write phone messages on a notepad next to you each day.
  • Return each call.
  • Note the status of what you were able to do, what needs to be done, and cross out which ones have been taken care of.
  • Complete your list before you leave work.

Nothing feels better than looking at the list and knowing that you have attended to every person, every item, and every task you started with. Yes, more may come in later. But these were your starting tasks.

You are leaving with everything crossed off, a clean slate for the day. You can start tomorrow with a clean slate as well. You’re more organized: able to look at a detailed history of each item you did, each person you spoke to, each item you completed.

A well-structured system and way of doing things is mentally good for you. It’s also a nice feeling to walk away with a complete sense of accomplishment for the day.


2.) Surround yourself with people who nourish your soul, NOT people who infect it.

Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

Think about the people you chose to be with. Don’t feel guilty about setting boundaries, no matter who they are. Be honest if someone is a “toxic” person in your life. Surround yourself with folks who build you up, support you, are honest but fair with you, and those who have your best interests at heart.

We of course need people who are going to tell us the truth. But remember that truth can be told with kindness. We can give ourselves permission to distance ourselves from, or let people go. These are individuals who make us feel bad about ourselves, or take every chance they can get to criticize our every choice.

There is enough negativity in the world. We don’t need to have it in those closest to us. You will be amazed at the difference when you give yourself permission to set healthy boundaries. So surround yourself with healthy relationships. Stop feeling like you must endure unhealthy ones.


3.) Clutter creates anxiety more than you realize.

Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

Whether it’s your home or your workspace, getting organized makes a huge difference in your state of mind. So start practicing tiny habits that create structure.

At work:

Get those piles into drawers and desktop storage. File folders are your friends! Label by topic, date, etc. Having things organized and at your fingertips will save you time and a great deal of anxiety.

Have trays for things that are needed on a daily or weekly basis. Organize your office supplies neatly. Remember that your desk is also a presentation of who you are.

You may think that those piles make you look busy – but they really make you look disorganized. Create your own system so that you can locate anything instantly. That, is more impressive than a pile.

At home:

Think more in terms of scaling down to get organized. Make it a goal to make you space your solace. Organize, donate, and find a place for everything. If you have not used it in a year, consider donating. If things belong together, group them. Get the right storage to hold things.

Group things where they make the most sense. Move things where they work and function best. Get rid of things that no longer work, are expired, are outdated, or that could benefit someone else more than sitting in a pile at your home.

You will not miss them. You will probably feel pretty good for sharing the love. Nothing feels better as having a fully functional home where you can live and breathe; where there is no clutter, and where everything has a place.


4.) Practice good, daily self-care.

Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

It may seem so simple, yet we all seem to fall short when it comes to this vital area that impacts our lives and our careers. If we practice tiny habits of self-care, we function better, perform better, and surely, improve our opportunities for success.

Good self-care includes things, such as:

  • Getting enough sleep each night. This includes going to bed and getting up at the same time, seven days a week. When going to bed, there should be NO electronics, including screens or cell phones, as they stimulate the mind and keep you awake.
  • Eating food that nourishes you – such as whole foods, not processed foods.
  • Drinking eight glasses of water each day.
  • Enjoying treats in moderation, no need to crash diet!
  • Be sure to wake up 30 to 60 minutes earlier than usual to ease into your day, and allow yourself to practice your morning routine.

Whether it be reading the paper, listening to a podcast, watching a TV show, yoga, or morning meditation, how you begin sets the tone for the day. So set aside time in the morning so you are not rushed. This is an essential part of your day.

If you start rushed, you are going to feel that way the whole day. Starting with balance, leads to a balanced day.


5.) Self-talk is one of the most powerful habits we can change.

Tiny Habits That Can Change Your Life

If we think about how often we thought something negative about ourselves, someone else, or about a situation, we would see how powerful negative self-talk can be. Now think about how better our lives could be if we stopped ourselves before doing it. It’s possible – but it takes effort and conscious work.

You simply need to pay attention and catch yourself. But as you do, the difference can be profound. You start to see how by removing negativity and replacing it with realistic thinking, you feel more balanced. Imagine the impact it can have on your work and relationships, to not see things in the worst possible light?

By implementing these tiny habits, you can bring about tremendous changes to your work and personal life. A few would only be one-time tasks. While others require minimal, but – hopefully welcome – effort.

If things are not working well in these areas of your life, why not give these tiny habits a chance? You will at least be a little more organized. And hopefully, be well-rested at the end.



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Success & Career

7 Ways to Organize Your Day for Success



Organize Your Day for Success

Nope, don’t panic. I’m not going to start by telling you to get up earlier! As an Integrative Nutrition® Health Coach, I firmly believe in bio-individuality. This is the idea that we are all unique: just as some people can’t tolerate gluten and some can, there are early birds and others are night owls. Neither is wrong – they’re just different.

So yes, just as our definitions of success look different, how we structure our days for success will vary as well. However, I believe that there are some things in common.

For the sake of having a starting point, let’s agree that success is showing up in your life (career, relationships, physical activity, etc.) in the most biologically effective way possible (i.e., you are healthy in every sense of the word).

So how would you organize your day for success? Here are seven ways to try:


7 Ways to Organize Your Day for Success

1.) Wake up without an alarm if possible (see also #7).

Organize Your Day for Success

Jolting awake to an alarm is a sure-fire way to feel like you’re off to the races first thing in the morning. Instead, learn how many hours of sleep you are naturally inclined to. Then try to get that every night.

Waking up naturally prevents that influx of fight-or-flight chemicals coursing through your veins: nobody needs that kind of stress at the start of the day! Chronic stress can wreak all kinds of havoc with your body, starting a cascade of poor health outcomes.


2.) Start the day with screen-free “me time”.

The moment you check your email or social media, you are giving others power over how you spend your time. There will almost always be an email that just can’t wait or a post that brings on a severe case of #FOMO. Before you know it, you’re sucked in.

Instead of reaching immediately for a device, consider starting a new practice that can take as little as 5 to 10 minutes (or less) or as much time as you create for it: breathing, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, journaling.

The Web is full of resources for these – just don’t go looking for them first thing in the morning! Are you an early bird? Use this gift of time to work out, meal prep, read, etc.


3.) Create time blocks (see also #5).

Organize Your Day for Success

As much as we think we can multitask, research shows we really can’t. “Task-switching” – what we’re really doing when we think we’re multitasking – can cost us as much as 40 percent of our productivity.

The solution: block out specific times on your schedule for tasks that require your full attention. During those times, close all other tabs and turn off all your notifications – and I mean all of them!

In between these blocks and not before, take a break to check email, make some calls – take care of some smaller tasks. Set a timer that indicates your next productive block is starting.


4.) Schedule your workouts and meals.

We seem to have time for everything but what really nourishes us: fuelling our bodies well and moving them regularly. As a health coach, when you tell me, “I don’t have time to…” what I hear is, “I don’t prioritize…”

I see you rolling your eyes. Let me tell you: if you do that enough, they’ll stick back there. But seriously – it comes down to this: if you wouldn’t cancel on your work, your client’s needs, your spouse’s needs, your kids’ needs, why would you cancel on yourself?

Meaningful self-care is putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help those who depend on you. Organize your day and put those blocks on your schedule. Treat them as unbreakable appointments with yourself.


5.) Multitask…intentionally (see also #3).

Organize Your Day for Success

Yes, I know I told you not to multitask. Now I’m telling you it’s okay if you do it intentionally. What does that mean?

In my work, I talk a lot about primary foods – all the other things in our lives that nourish us (or don’t!) besides what we put in our mouths. Think: sleep, career, spiritual practice, physical activity, time in nature, etc.

The multitasking I encourage is the kind that helps us nurture ourselves on the primary level, NOT the type that tries to manage a staggering number of little tasks that make our schedules so overwhelming.

What this looks like:

  • Need to spend quality time with family members? Instead of adding an outing (with all the planning, preparation, and consensus-building it requires), combine it with another area that needs some attention: take suggestions on the week’s meals, shop together, do some meal prep, etc.
  • Missing time with your girlfriends? Combine it with a workout or better yet, a walk in nature.
  • Desperate to do a little meal prep for the week? Invite a few friends over to cook so that you all get to stock up for the week. (There might be wine involved?)
  • House feeling like a hardhat zone, but you’d rather read? Clean while you listen to an audio book.
  • Time constraints making you choose between a workout and your spiritual practice? Take a walk in nature or practice a walking meditation.


6.) Make a plan for tomorrow.

You don’t have to organize your day down to the minute (although that works for some people). Instead, write down 1-3 large tasks to be done tomorrow and prioritize those once you’re done with your “me time.”

Are the tasks unpalatable? Brian Tracy has written about this concept in his book ‘Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time’. He calls the tasks we are most intimidated by (and therefore put off doing) as “frogs”.

His recommendation: start your work – not just the day – by “eating a frog”. If all the frogs look big and ugly, eat the biggest, ugliest frog first.


7.) Get to bed on time to get the sleep you need (see #1).

Organize Your Day for Success

Once you know how many hours of sleep you need, organize your day and figure out when you need to get to bed. Make sure to end the day as you began it: NO screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime!

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