Category Archives: Knowledge Base

The Art of Surrendering: Learning How to Let Go of Control

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You’re not going to like this. But, as a parent, I’m so tempted to belt out “Let It Go” right now. But, well, I just have to let it go. Obviously, it’s for some people to let go of control. And letting go of control is easier said than done. Here is the art of surrendering — learning how to let go of control.

As Steve Maraboli wrote in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience:

Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t “should’ve” done something. You can only DO something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!

For so many of us, we simply just can’t let go of control. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes, there are three reasons why this is true.

The first is that control is rooted in fear. As such, we “control things because of what we think will happen if we don’t. Secondly, it’s “a result of being attached to a specific outcome—an outcome we’re sure is best for us as if we always know what’s best.” And, thirdly, when you’re in control mode, your “vision gets very narrow and focused,” and the adrenaline is pumping.

“And it doesn’t work,” proclaims Leo Babauta. “You can’t get a firm grasp on the fluidity of life.” As a consequence, “we get stressed, procrastinate, feel hurt, get depressed or anxious, get angry or frustrated, lash out or complain.”

What’s the solution then? Practice the art of surrounding.

As Leo explains, that may sound “lame to many people, or perhaps scary.” But, when you give into surrender, you’ll feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. In turn, your performance and productivity will improve. It’s a win-win.

So, how can you stop fighting against yourself, reality, and the universe? Well, here are the best ways to let go of control and embrace surround.

Accept the truth and be thankful.

“To let go is to be thankful for the experiences that made you laugh, made you cry, and helped you learn and grow,” writes Marc Chernoff. “It’s the acceptance of everything you have, everything you once had, and the possibilities that lie ahead.”

At the same time, it’s also “about finding the strength to embrace life’s changes.” What’s more, it’s also trusting your intuition, learning as you go, realizing that every experience has value, and continuing to take positive steps forward,” adds Chernoff.

Focus on what you can control.

“We can influence situations and people, but we have zero control over what the outcome will be,” states Stefan James. “Our emotional response is the only thing at our disposal.”

Here’s the thing, according to James, focusing too much on what we can’t control, steals “precious time and energy away from what we can control.”

“Focusing on what you can control takes preparation, effort, and discipline,” he adds. “It requires that you adopt the mindset of, ‘I am going to be the very best that I can be with what I have.’” That’s no easy feat. But it is possible. For example, you might not have control over the failure of the success of your business. But, “you can control how much time you devote to building it.”

Live in the moment.

In my opinion, this can be a challenge — especially if you struggle with anxiety. But it’s not impossible. There are plenty of simple ways for you to become more present.

The most obvious place to start is practicing mindfulness. As Dr. Travis Bradberry explained in a previous Entrepreneur article, this “requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment.” And, more importantly, it prevents life from passing you by.

Bradberry adds that even if you have a packed schedule, you can practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing or going for a walk. He also suggests that you repeat one positive thing yourself and to stop what you’re doing whenever you feel stressed.

And, if you don’t have a chance to stop what you’re doing, touch your body. It “requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment. This way, life doesn’t pass you by.”

Other ways to live in the moment? Well, here are some techniques that I’ve tried out:

  • Become more minimal. I’m talking about decluttering your entire life. And I mean everything from your calendar to possessions to people that you no longer need or don’t bring your joy.
  • Focus on your priorities. Take a look at your to-do-list or calendar. While everything may appear to be a priority, the reality is that this isn’t the case. So, start focusing only on the things that are bringing you closer to your goals.
  • Stop and smile the roses. Excuse the cliche. But, what this means is slowing down and savoring what you’re doing at this exact moment. For example, let’s say you go for a walk after dinner with your family. You notice a stunning sunset. Just stop for a second and admire its beauty.
  • Don’t live in the past. Learn how to forgive and move on from past hurts. And, don’t obsess over your recent accomplishments. Instead, use both experiences to grow.
  • Stop worrying about tomorrow. It doesn’t exist. But, telling yourself that doesn’t always silence these thoughts. Try coming up with a plan to overcome most obstacles or turn to healthy distractions, like reading or speaking with a mentor.

Stop perfectionism in its tracks.

“Perfectionism prevents you from improving and discovering new opportunities,” writes Deanna Ritchie in a Calendar article. “And, it also wrecks your productivity since you’re spending too much time second-guessing yourself.” Overall, “it’s a terrible trait that can do serious damage to your business, relationships, and health.”

So, how can you let go and move if you’re a perfectionist? Well, here some strategies that you might want to employ:

  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist and enjoy the process instead.
  • Set realistic goals that you’ll reach.
  • Welcome feedback.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Use “hypothesis” testing, like sending an email without proofreading it. You’ll realize it’s not the end of the world.
  • Thwart ruminating. For instance, distance yourself from a past event if you’re dwelling on it.

Conquer your fears with a list.

“Control is rooted in fear,” notes Lauren Stahl. “We try to control things because we are scared about what might happen if we don’t.” Here’s the key takeaway here, “fear is an allusion.” It’s “false evidence appearing real.”

Writing a fear list gives you a chance to identify what frightens you so that you can find ways to overcome them. Furthermore, a fear list can also help you track your progress.

And, speaking of lists, Stahl also suggests creating a freedom list. “Freedom means surrendering,” she explains. “It means you are at peace with yourself and have trust.”

Express yourself creatively.

Whenever I really can’t let go of something, I write my thoughts down in a notepad. There’s no rhythm or reason. I just pour whatever’s on my mind to that piece of paper. And, sometimes, that’s enough to acknowledge my feelings so that I can proceed.

Some people will burn that piece of paper, while others get more creative by composing lyrics instead. And, if you’re not a writer, then express yourself however you like through drawing or painting. Besides feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, you may be able to use these creative juices for improving your business.

Be your authentic self.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are,” writes Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. “Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

In short, welcome vulnerability and stop viewing it as a weakness. Instead, realize that this means embracing your mistakes and shortcomings. When you do, you can highlight your strengths and be comfortable with who you are.

Seek moments of silence and solitude.

I know that this doesn’t seem possible. But, take a closer look at your schedule. The chances are that there are moments throughout the day for you to have some peace and quiet. For me, it’s in the morning before everyone else wakes-up. For others, it could be during their commute, in between meetings, or during an afternoon walk.

Regardless of when you have time to yourself, the idea here is to eliminate distractions, reflect, and enjoy your alone time. When you do, you’ll have an opportunity to make plans that align with your purpose.

How to Plan Your Perfect Eating Schedule

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As wonderful as eating is, it takes a lot of time. Planning your meals can give you more time to enjoy your food, as well as more time to get things done. 

Meal-planning is not just about figuring what to eat. Eating at the right time can boost your energy, keep you feeling full throughout the workday, and cut down on your snack intake. 

We’re wired to think about eating in terms of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The trouble is, the same eating schedule doesn’t work for everyone. What if you work the night shift? What if you need to spend your lunch break running errands?

The solution is to find eating times that work for you. Here’s how to do it: 

1. Keep tabs on your productivity.

Everyone has their own daily rhythm. Some people are most productive in the morning, while others crank out their best work in the afternoon or at night.

To figure out when you should eat, think through your peaks and troughs. If you usually take lunch at noon but always feel groggy afterward, try a different time. Eating earlier in the day could keep you from crashing as hard. 

2. Monitor your hunger.

Hunger is your body telling you to feed it. Even if you’re in your groove at work, don’t ignore it. 

Try not to think of hunger as a binary. Are you hungry enough for a full meal, or would a granola bar be enough? There’s nothing wrong with putting a 3 p.m. snack on your schedule, as long as it’s truly a snack. 

Realize, too, that our body isn’t great at distinguishing hunger from thirst. Practice mindful eating: Sometimes, a drink of water is what we really need. At other times, our body might be responding to a nutrient deficiency rather than a lack of raw calories. 

3. Snack responsibly. 

Snacks can be part of a healthy diet, but they should not be arbitrary. Plan out your snack times so you don’t overeat, and so that you can focus on your work. 

Try to combine snacks with other break-time activities. Maybe you bring a bag of trail mix along with you on a walk. That way, your sole focus isn’t shoveling food into your mouth.

If you struggle with snacking, get an accountability partner. At home, encourage your spouse to say something if you grab the bag of chips right after dinner. 

In the office, social norms can keep people from speaking up. A good alternative is to ask your office manager to choose healthier snacks, which are both less tempting and less harmful if you do decide to binge. 

4. Consider when you exercise.

Planning meals around your workout schedule can be tough. If you prefer to exercise first thing, then you need to think through your morning routine: How are you going to wake up, work out, shower, eat breakfast, and still get out the door in time for work?

If you want to exercise after work, be sure you get a bite to eat 2-3 hours in advance. Depending on when you get off work, this might mean taking a later lunch than people typically do. And because making dinner takes time, it might also mean eating supper later in the evening. 

As important as exercise is, don’t let it dictate your meal schedule. Find a balance: Perhaps you work out earlier than you otherwise would so that you have time for a filling breakfast before heading to the office. 

5. Factor in your sleep schedule.

Most people have trouble falling asleep on a full stomach. Especially if you exercise after work, avoid eating dinner so late that it gets in the way of your sleep. Popping into the kitchen for a midnight meal is almost never a good idea.  

One exception? If you’re so hungry that you can’t sleep because of it, feel free to grab a late-night snack. Just be sure to practice portion control: Especially when you’re tired, it’s easy to overeat. 

6. Keep it consistent. 

Eating at regular times in the day keeps your metabolism stable. That, in turn, prevents swings in your mood and energy levels.

Be proactive: If you worry that you’ll be so busy tomorrow that you won’t have time for lunch, then it might be best to work a little more before you leave the office today. If you need to wake up early one day, postpone breakfast until your normal time. 

What about special occasions? Events like office parties and birthdays may require you to eat at odd times. That’s OK, as long as you get back to your routine afterward. 

Don’t let eating be a haphazard activity. Prepare healthy meals, choose the right time to eat them, and listen to your body afterward. For finding your ideal eating schedule, self-awareness is key.

5 Myths About Optimism That Lead to Toxic Positivity

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In times like these, it can be easy to catastrophize. Treating work situations as worse than they truly are can hurt your company culture. Be careful, however, not to swing too far in the other direction.

Optimism isn’t a bad thing, but it has its limits. Positivity becomes toxic when it’s used as an excuse to ignore negative emotions or realities. 

Social pressures, particularly at work, can push you to be positive to a fault. Just think about how easy it is to say “I’m fine” when you’re anything but. The trouble is, inauthenticity is contagious. 

If you’re looking to strike the right balance, you need to know the myths that lead to toxic positivity. Learn the truth of each, and use it to enhance your work culture:

Myth No. 1: You can fake it ‘til you make it.

If you can fake positivity, this myth claims, then you’ll be happy. Some versions even suggest faking a smile when you are feeling sad to change your mood.

There is some truth to this. In the long run, however, faking your emotional state is unsustainable. Researchers have even found that smiling through sadness eventually makes your brain associate smiling with sadness. That’s the exact opposite of what you want. 

It’s important to stay true to your feelings. Don’t put on a smile at work just to make others happy. To connect, your team needs to know that your emotions are genuine. 

Myth No. 2: Positive thinking requires ignorance.

Ignorance is bliss, right? Perhaps, but it’s also impractical and dangerous.

At work, you can’t ignore problems simply because they’re stressful. Client messages must be answered. Work relationships have to be tended to, especially when they’re weak. Rarely is personal growth comfortable or achieved through ignorance. 

It’s important to grapple with the things that need to be addressed. If you find yourself engaging in avoidant behavior:

  • Meditate
  • Reimagine and reframe negative thoughts
  • Discuss the issue with a close friend or family member
  • Join a group, either at work or outside of it, dedicated to addressing the issue
  • Seek professional mental health counseling

Myth No. 3: It helps to remember that “things could be worse.”

You’ve probably consoled yourself with this myth at one point. But speculating about how your circumstances could be worse doesn’t help you solve them. In fact, it implies that someone in a situation worse than yours couldn’t possibly be happy. 

The truth is that comparisons are wastes of time. You’ll never know the whole story behind why someone was promoted ahead of you, or why your position was cut instead of someone else’s.

What counts is being content with where you are and who you are. Once you can do that, you can start to build the best version of yourself. 

Myth No. 4: Positivity will keep you motivated at work.

At times, positivity can be motivating. The problem with this idea is that it’s a simplistic answer to a complex problem. 

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the loss of motivation. Maintaining a positive mindset doesn’t solve most of them. Dysfunctional coworker relationships, for example, will not improve simply because you’re in a better mood. 

You may not be able to control what’s going on at work, but you are in charge of your personal life. Give your home life a motivational makeover. Start by:

  • Unplugging from technology, especially in the morning and before bed 
  • Keeping a journal of your thoughts
  • Diving into your hobbies
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Exercising every day

Myth No. 5: Always looking on the bright side draws people in. 

Think about the people you like to be around: Are they always happy, or do they clue you in when something is stressing them out?

What actually attracts people to you isn’t militant optimism, but rather the courage to be genuine. Ignoring negative emotions you’re experiencing can actually push people away. 

Of all the myths on this list, this one might be the most dangerous for business leaders. Excessive cheerfulness can come across as distrust, especially if team members feel forced to match your degree of positivity. Remember, company culture starts at the top. 

Positivity should not be performative. You should strive to be relatable, thoughtful, and sincere. If you’re in a joyful mood, great — but don’t assume it’s the only reason people want to be around you.

As tricky as workplace positivity can be, here’s the good news: Getting it right doesn’t mean you have to act any certain way at all. In fact, all you have to do is stop acting. 

Being sincere is one of the smallest, yet most significant things you can do to build a healthy company culture. Your team can when something is on your mind, so you might as well share it with them. 

6 Tips to Improve Your Posture at Work

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It may not be back-breaking labor, but office work can take a toll on your body. Sitting for long periods has serious health consequences.

The good news is, most of them can be avoided or improved with better posture. Sitting upright can boost your energy levels, fight anxiety, and reduce back pain. Mental and physical wellness are valuable in and of themselves, but they can also benefit your job performance. 

Don’t wait to worry about your posture until something goes wrong. Chiropractors aren’t cheap. Get ahead of misalignment issues with these simple steps:

1. Exercise your core muscles. 

Regular exercise is a critical part of your daily routine. And if you want to improve your posture, core exercises are a must. 

When you hear “core,” you might think about your abs. But the core also covers your midsection and trunk, including your lower back and glutes. Those muscles are directly connected to your spine, so they affect your posture. 

Your core workout regimen might look something like:

  • Leg extensions: 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps
  • Sit-ups: 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps
  • Planks: 3 sets, each sustained for one minute 
  • Crunches: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Superman: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps 
  • Back extensions: 1-2 sets of 6-8 reps, each sustained for 15 seconds

If that workout routine looks like a lot, don’t sweat it: Start with a single set of each, and work your way up. 

2. Mind how you sit.

Your biggest obstacle to better posture? How you sit while you work.  

What’s good sitting posture? Practice it by:

  • Sitting on the edge of your seat. 
  • Putting your feet flat on the floor so that you can bend your legs at a 90-degree angle to the ground. 
  • Sitting up as tall as you can without arching your back. 
  • Broadening your chest and pulling your shoulders back. 

Hold that position for as long as you can. Even if it’s uncomfortable, resist the temptation to slouch or use your chair’s backrest. 

3. Adjust your work setup. 

Once sitting properly becomes second-nature, you can tweak your workspace to suit. An ergonomic desk setup will boost your productivity while reminding you to sit upright. 

First, invest in a good chair. Look for one that’s cushioned but not plush, and make sure its height can be adjusted so you can keep your feet firmly planted.

Once you settle on the right chair, think about your equipment:

  • Adjust your chair so that your computer monitor is eye-level. 
  • Keep your keyboard in a comfortable position so that you don’t have to completely extend or bend your elbows to type. 
  • Place your mouse, water bottle, and frequently used items within reach.
  • Situate your printer, fax machine, and infrequently used tools so that you have to get up to use them.

4. Stand up while working.

Who says you have to sit down while working? Standing encourages upright posture, burns more calories than sitting, reduces the risk of heart disease, and keeps you more alert at work.

Invest in a desk that lets you alternate between sitting and standing. You’ll eventually get tired of either position, and many of the health benefits of a standing desk stem from switching between the two.

5. Take breaks frequently.

When you start to feel sore or jittery, don’t soldier on; instead, get up and move around. Take a walk outside, stretch your back, or just go grab a coffee refill. 

Aside from improving your posture, breaks benefit your productivity in other ways. Getting some space from your work can heighten your focus, fight burnout, and refuel your creativity. When you come back, you might see a simple solution to that problem you couldn’t solve earlier.

Try the Pomodoro Method: Work for 25 minutes, do something else for 5 minutes, and then do it again. Taking smaller breaks more often keeps your blood moving and your mind fresh. 

6. Use gadgets as a last resort. 

Start with exercise, a better chair, and a standing desk. If those don’t work, consider a back brace or other posture-correcting gear.

Why shouldn’t you reach straight for medical devices? Because they can also cause harm. Get a doctor’s opinion before you put anything on your body, and avoid wearing it all the time. Otherwise, your back could become used to the extra support, resulting in weaker core muscles.

What’s more, posture-correcting equipment can be embarrassing. Although your co-workers should understand that you’re trying to improve your health, you don’t need the extra distraction. 

Worry first about your own posture, but don’t underestimate the value of better posture across your team. Instead of commanding your team to sit a certain way, however, be a model: Sit up straight, feel better, and share how you did it. Taking better care of yourself has a way of spreading to those around you. 

The Best Remote Work Setup To Keep You as Productive as Ever

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Just a few months ago, remote work was a luxury. But for many of us, it’s now a necessity that’ll take some getting used to. 

Not only do you have to adapt your workflow and make communication simpler for team members, but you also have to adjust your work environment to optimize productivity. That desk in a dark, dingey corner of your basement is far from an ideal workspace. 

What does an ideal remote workspace look like? To get more out of your day, upgrade your desk with:

1. Your office favorites

When you’re at the office, you have access to all the tools you need for the job. Highlighters, legal pads, your favorite pens — whatever helps you work faster and more efficiently. At home, you may not.

Splurge a little next time you’re at the office supply store. If you really want that top-of-the-line desk organizer, get it. Throw those cute paper clips that cost too much in the cart, too. Those small joys are worth it. 

Think, too, about your personal wellbeing. A water bottle at your desk keeps you hydrated. If you don’t have a coffee maker to keep you when the days get long, invest in one.   

Other than that, be selective about what you keep at your desk. When you take a broad essential, it opens the floodgates for a stream of inessential things. Before you know it not only does your desk get cluttered but also your mind. 

2. Lighting

You know how hard it is to work in a dim space. Adequate light reduces eye strain and fatigue.

Studies suggest access to natural light trumps a host of other office perks. It makes workers more energetic and can even improve mental health.

Keep lighting in mind as you perfect your home office setup. Instead of working in a space that is wholly reliant on artificial light, move your workspace to a room with a window.

If you don’t have that kind of natural light available, there are also lamps that simulate daylight. These are great for fighting seasonal affective disorder during times when you find yourself inside a lot. They are also useful if you need to work at night. Don’t let your circumstances keep you from getting the right amount of light. 

3. Plants and greenery

Another way to foster a productive work environment is to surround yourself with plants. Like natural lighting, greenery brings the great outdoors inside. 

Studies have shown that plants can give you a productivity boost of up to 15%. The reason is reduced stress levels: A little nature can help you move forward with ease and certainty. Caring for your plants can provide a sense of purpose.

Maybe now is the time to start the garden you’ve been wanting to grow in your home. If you don’t have a green thumb, you can always buy pre-grown plants. Either way, the added greenery will cheer you up whenever you look away from the screen. 

4. Sounds

Home noises can be distracting, but not all sounds are bad for productivity. Boosting your productivity is as easy as tuning into the right ones. 

Classical music can actually enhance brain function. It’s called the Mozart Effect, and it’s been known to help students perform better on tests and study better. The same kind of focus is great for powering through your more involved work tasks.

If you’re not a classical music fan, a great alternative is nature sounds. A relaxing waterfall or a chorus of birds make great background noise. And if you need a pick-me-up along the way, you take a break to listen to some of your favorite songs.

To enjoy your nature sounds or songs to their fullest, get some stereo speakers. Noise-cancelling headphones are an even better solution, but they can be pricey.

5. Art

You might assume that a focus-first workspace should be as bare as possible, but that’s not the case. Enriching your environment with art can actually increase your productivity. 

What art you choose isn’t necessarily important. What matters is that your selections inspire you and make you think. You don’t need to be an expert in art history to appreciate something that’s aesthetically pleasing to you. 

Experiment with different media. Choose some paintings for the walls. Add a small sculpture to your desk. Hang something with stained glass in your window. 

6. Aromatherapy

Your home workspace should look, sound, and feel like your own — but it should also smell appealing. Aromatherapy is a great way to give your home office that finishing touch.

Smell is an underappreciated sense. An essential oil diffuser can give you a whiff of lavender when you’re stressed. Try mint or eucalyptus for an energy boost. If you’re feeling short on fresh air, why not go for a soft forest scent?

Whether you’re working remotely by choice or doing so by necessity, you can always improve your space. Experiment: If a stationary set doesn’t bring you joy, find one that does. Make it your own, and you’ll see the difference in your mood, output, and more. 

7 Ways to Get More Done by Getting Fresh Air

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Morning Routine

How much time do you spend indoors on a daily basis? Even without a stay-at-home order, it’s probably at least 12 hours. Chances are, it’s more like 20 or 22 hours per day.

Whatever your answer, spending more time outdoors is good for you. It relieves stress, enhances your creative abilities, and helps you be more productive. 

Unfortunately, life has a way of keeping you indoors. Don’t let it stop you from taking care of yourself. Make fresh air a priority by intentionally scheduling your day to get outdoors. A great place to start is with your breaks during the workday. 

Here are some easy ways to boost your productivity by getting more time outdoors:

  • Schedule Exercise Breaks

When you see the word “exercise,” your mind may automatically jump to an image of the gym. But it’s important to remember that exercise doesn’t have to happen indoors to be effective. 

A break during the workday is a good time to take a walk, go hiking, or do some light yoga out in nature. And if you have pets, bring them along for the journey. 

To ensure you don’t forget, add exercise breaks to your schedule. Physical exertion offers a nice release from a sedentary office environment, enabling you to return to work with renewed energy.

  • Make it Social

There’s a lot to be said for getting some much-needed alone time during work breaks, especially if you’re constantly interacting with team members. But having some company during a break can really improve the dynamics of your work relationships.

The next time you go outside for a break, take a colleague with you. You could meet up with a friend at a park, play some frisbee, or talk about current events. 

The outdoors is also a good place to talk on the phone with family members or anyone you don’t see on a regular basis. Make it even more personal with a video chat. Soaking up the energy from good conversations is sure to enhance your outdoor experience. 

  • Eat Lunch Outdoors

You might get tempted to eat lunch at your desk, but it’s a good idea to drop your work during lunch completely. And going outdoors can be a great way to make the most of a lunch break. 

Pack a healthy meal. Find a soft spot of grass, and take in the scenery while you eat. You’re likely to enjoy your lunch more in an open space rather than in a cooped-up one. 

For an added boost, turn the lunch break into a picnic. Invite a few friends, bring a blanket, and find a nice tree to sit under. 

  • Meditate in Nature

If you search “meditation,” you’ll mostly see images of people practicing it in outdoor settings like on a beach, near water, or amid all kinds of greenery. Meditating outside is proven to help you relax and come out feeling more alert and awake.

If you do decide to meditate outside, ditch the headphones. The sound of insects, wind, and rushing water will enhance your practice.

  •  Snap Some Photos

You don’t have to be a professional to get into nature photography. All you need is a phone, a break during your day, and an artistic eye.

Don’t judge yourself. Just look for beauty, notice the small things, and try to take photos that show everyday life in new ways. 

  • Add an App

Too often, apps keep us indoors rather than pushing us outside. But our screens don’t have to trap us inside.

There are plenty of games you can download that make you go outside to get the full experience. Pokémon Go! is a popular example, but Zombies, Run! is gaining attention quickly. You can also use apps to go geocaching and find special containers that people have left in your area. The possibilities are endless, and some of them even double as a fitness tracker.

  • Work Outdoors

Taking breaks outdoors is a great way to restore your motivation, but why not work outdoors when you can? When the weather permits, simply working from a picnic table outside your office can keep your stress levels low and productivity high. 

Offices with natural lighting and plenty of plants are filled with plants are no substitute for actually working outside. Your body and senses will thank you for the fresh air. 

As you schedule your week, try to maximize your outdoor time. Start small, and get used to the hours in nature. Soon, you’ll wonder why you were spending so much time indoors in the first place. 

How Do You Measure Your Efficiency?

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There’s a misconception that productivity and efficiency are the same things. But that’s kind of a problem when it comes to improving your performance. But how do you measure your efficiency?

Ben Mulholland explains this nicely over at Process Street. Productivity “measures output over time, whereas efficiency measures input versus output. Together they can tell you how quickly something is completed, the resources it takes to get there, and (through analysis) whether the whole thing is worth your investment.”

Or, as Jessica Greene from Zapier, explains, “Productivity measures how much you do or produce within a given timeframe. Efficiency, on the other hand, is about being productive with less effort.”

“So if you answered 50 more customer support tickets this week because you worked through them as fast as possible, you were more productive,” writes Jessica. “But if you answered 50 more tickets because you used a text expansion app to respond to commonly asked questions, you were more productive and more efficient.”

In other words, “to be more productive in a way that won’t burn you out in the long run, you have to figure out how to be more efficient.”

Hopefully, this clears the difference between productivity and efficiency.  But, more importantly, I hope that you understand why it’s essential to measure your efficiency. And, here’s how you can do just that.

Performance metrics.

If you have employees, you probably use performance metrics to see how, well, they’re performing. Typically, they fall into one of the following four categories.

Work quality metrics

“Work quality metrics say something about the quality of the employee’s performance,” explains Erik van Vulpen over at HR Analytics. “The best-known metric is a subjective appraisal by the direct manager.”

Examples include:

  • Management by objectives. The management objectives are goals that an employee works towards and receives points if he reaches them.
  • Subjective appraisal by the manager. Usually, a nine-box grid holds the stats for assessing performance and potential done by the manager.
  • Product defects. Product defects are usually involved in an industry that manufactures products. You could determine performance by the number of defects the employee was responsible for.
  • The number of errors. Similar to the above, the “number of errors” can be applied to programming.
  • Net promoter score. “NPS is a number (usually between 1 and 10) which represents the willingness of a client to recommend a company’s service to other potential clients,” explains Erik van Vulpen.
  • 360-degree feedback. 360-feedback is when peers, subordinates, customers, and managers are asked to asses the individual’s performance.
  • 180-degree feedback. 180-degree feedback is a simpler alternative to the above where only direct colleagues and managers are involved.
  • Forced ranking. Forced ranking is when a manager ranks their team from best to worst.

Work quantity metrics

“As quantity is often easier to measure than quality, there are multiple ways to measure this employee performance metric,” notes Erik van Vulpen.

  • The number of sales. Applicable if this is you or your employee’s responsibility. You may also want to look at the number of (potential) client contacts one has, the number of phone calls one makes—the number of company visits and the number of active leads.
  • The number of units produced. Besides traditional manufacturing, this metric can be used in areas like content creation. For example, you could use the number of keys someone can hit per minute on their keyboard.
  • Handling time, first-call resolution, contact quality, etc. Mainly, each of these metrics is relevant if involved in customer service. But, as you can see, most measurable usages in one area can be figured for application in another area of production.

Work efficiency metrics

Work efficiency is finding the balance between quantity and quality. To achieve the resulting number, “metric considers the resources (e.g., time and money: quantity) needed to produce a specific output (that’s quality).

Organizational performance metrics

Finally, Erik says that “Organizations can also use employee performance metrics to assess their own competitiveness,” such as:

  • Revenue per employee. Calculate the income per FTE (Full-time equivalent).
  • Profit per FTE. Similar to above, but focuses on profit instead.
  • Human Capital ROI. Here you would asses the value of human capital, such as knowledge and personal attributes.
  • Absenteeism Rate. Absenteeism is usually a self-explanatory metric. If you want to dig deeper — I’d suggest finding out the “why’s.” The why may have to do with the work or people at work. Check your environmental factors.
  • Overtime per Employee. “Employees who are willing to put in the extra effort are generally more motivated and produce more (in terms of work quantity),” writes Erik van Vulpen.

Can you use these metrics also to help you identify your efficiency? Sure. But, there are more natural ways to find your metrics.

Achieving goals.

Weren’t goals a part of management by objectives? Yes. But, as Choncé Maddox writes in another Calendar article, “Goals, in general, can be challenging as they often prompt you to change your life in a major or minor way.”

What’s more, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re even close to reaching your goal, let alone achieving them. And, to muddle things up, even more, goals are constantly changing depending on what your priorities are at the moment.

One way to get out of this predicament is to use a strategy like the SMART goal formula.

“SMART goal is an acronym to describe goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound,” explains Choncé. “For example, setting a vague goal such as ‘I want to lose weight this year’ probably won’t give you the best results.”

What if you said that you wanted to “lose 40 pounds in 10 months by getting on a low-carb diet and exercising four days per week?” According to Choncé, “That’s a much better goal that follows the SMART formula. You’re specific by saying how much weight you want to lose, giving yourself a deadline, so you know when to expect results, and specifying how you’ll reach your goal and measure your results over time.”

Work quality.

Yes. Work quality was another performance metric you can use to measure your team’s efficiency. But, I think when it comes to yourself, we can simplify this.

Are you meeting deadlines? Did you also meet the requirements of the task or project?. For example, were you able to crank out an 1200 work article or cover all of the meeting agenda points in the time allotted? If so, then I’d say that you’re pretty darn efficient

Punctuality.

What does this have to do with efficiency? In my opinion, quite a bit. It shows that you’re able to manage your time correctly. For instance, if you’re running late to a meeting, maybe it’s because you underestimated how long the previous task took to complete. Or, perhaps you’re so disorganized that it totally slipped your mind until the last minute.

Behavioral traits.

Efficient people avoid bad habits. I’m talking about failing to plan ahead, not having a routine, multitasking, procrastinating, or being easily distracted. They also try to everything on their own when there should be tasks they’re delegating so that more of their time and energy on what’s important.

Feedback from others.

Now we’re circling back to feedback. And, there’s a good reason for that. We have a tendency to be biassed towards our own self-assessments and performance. You may think that you’re killing at work until someone brings it to your attention that you actually haven’t been delivering your best work as of late.

Hearing feedback from others can also be challenging. But, instead of avoiding peer or management feedback, solicit it from people you trust. Try asking a peer, business partner, or family member.

To become more efficient, expect more of yourself.

Hopefully, you know how to measure your efficiency. But, there’s one last step you should take. Raise your expectations.

Let’s say that met you have a met or requirement, instead of being complacent. Push yourself to go above and beyond. It’s great that you can write a 1200 word article in under three hours. But, can you produce the same number of words in under two? How about upping the word count?

You don’t know what your true limits are — because you can always up-your-count on almost anything. Try it. Pushing your limits, keeps you engaged, and forces you to embrace better habits so that you can become more effective and efficient.

What Makes Companies Like Apple and Google so Productive?

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According to Bain & Company, companies like Apple, Netflix, Google, and Dell are 40% more productive than the average company. Think about that: 40% is not a small margin, and the tech giants use many of the same tools that enterprises in other industries do. So, why are the top tech companies so much more productive? Here is what makes companies like Apple and Google so productive.

It’s easy to assume that big-name companies are more productive because they attract the best candidates. But Bain & Company found that 16% of these companies’ staff are star players — just 1% above the norm of 15%.

So what do the top performers have in common? To maximize productivity high, they emphasize:

1. Employee Happiness

The attitude that employees have about their work can significantly increase their output. Research shows that no matter the role, happiness boosts workers’ productivity by 12%. The happier employees are, the less time they spend stressing or worrying.

But happiness isn’t built with any single job attribute or perk. It’s created through a combination of:

  • Flexibility

Flexible employers give employees the option to work when and where they prefer. Flexibility makes workers feel appreciated, encourages work-life balance, and opens the door to non-traditional applicants.

Just look at Dell’s “Connected Workplace” initiative. By improving technology and boosting collaboration, the tech company skyrocketed employee satisfaction. Dell reported the program innovated how it does businesses and benefited the individuals, leadership, and company as a whole.

  • Trust

Organizational drag can waste a lot of employee time. But while processes like spending limits, audits, and employee time tracking can seem significant, they should be minimized whenever possible.

Netflix is an excellent example of a corporation giving its employees the trust and freedom to act in the company’s best interest. Believe it or not, Netflix has no expense policy. Its only guide is to “Act in the best interest of Netflix.”

People do not join a company to rip it off. Employees rely on their employers to put food on their table, so they typically think twice before taking advantage.

  • Pay

Not all companies can pay top dollar for talent. But there’s no doubt the tech giants know it’s essential for productivity.

In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum hourly wage to $15, while the federal minimum wage was only $7.25. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others are known as some of the top-paying companies in their space.

Paying higher wages does attract better candidates, but it’s not the only reason to do so. Employees who are paid more tend to be more motivated. And when those employees leave, their replacements are waiting at the door, drastically reducing recruitment costs.

2. Employee Investment

An engaged employee is 44% more productive than a satisfied employee. Engaged employees feel a sense of buy-in because they feel invested in the company.

Here, too, Dell gets high marks. On its careers page, Dell emphasizes training to help employees gain experience and learn through mentorship, coaching, feedback, and rewards. The reason likely traces back to that “Connected Workplace” study, which found sales teams led by an inspiring leader were 6% more productive than teams with an average leader.

Inspiration is not innate. Take a genuine interest in employees’ lives. Be not just a coach, but a listener and empathetic leader. Give your team members a reason to want to come to work every day.

3. Teamwork

Individual talent is vital during the hiring process, of course. What company doesn’t want the cream of the crop?

But once the hiring process is over and onboarding begins, companies must stress the importance of teamwork. When successes are shared, everyone in the organization works to lift each other. Getting ahead becomes something the team does together. In that sort of environment, productivity is about the organization’s advancement, not just “getting ahead at work.”

A great example of a team-oriented company is Apple. When Apple was developing iOS 10, it put 600 engineers on the project. Also, it did not reward any one person’s success. No one on the team could receive an exceptional appraisal unless everyone on the team did.

Microsoft, on the other hand, stacked 10,000 engineers on teams to develop its Vista operating system. Microsoft ranked the teams and rewarded 20% of every team with an excellent review and compensated individuals on their performance. Apple’s team-based approach resulted in a fully developed, debugged, and deployed software in less than two years. Microsoft’s software took nearly five years to develop, debug, and eventually retract.

Just because these tech companies have big names and even bigger budgets does not mean smaller firms can’t follow their examples. Boosting productivity is a matter of investing in people, keeping them happy, and helping them work well with others. Superstar workers are essential, but superstar teams make the difference.

How to Realistically Go on a Tech Detox Without Destroying Your Schedule

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11 hours. That’s how much time the average adult is interacting with media per day. More specifically, another study found that 42 percent of the time Americans are awake, their eyes are fixated on the television, smartphone, computer, tablet, or another device. That comes out to 7,956 days over a typical lifespan. We can’t just turn it all off in this world we live in, but here is how to realistically go on a tech detox without destroying your whole schedule.

We don’t rely on tech to merely to keep us entertained. It’s become essential. After all, tech has drastically improved communication, networking, and work efficiency.

It can assist in employee engagement and discover new opportunities for growth. And, with an unlimited supply, tech is the most powerful tool to learn and gain valuable insights.

Why you need a tech detox.

At the same time, too much of good thing can be bad. And, tech is no exception because of the following reasons.

So, what’s the compromise here? I mean tech has become an integral part of our lives. But, it also has its faults. So, the easiest solution may be going on a digital detox.

Don’t get too hung up on the term here. A digital detox is simply a period of time when you unplug and disconnect from your electronic gadgets. And, by doing so, you can counter those negative effects — and rebalance.

Here’s the problem though. Doing a digital detox can also destroy your schedule. Can you just imagine the chaos it would cause if your family, business partners, employees, or customers couldn’t contact you for several days? Additionally, you probably need technology to get your work done and accomplish your goals.

1. Put it on your calendar.

Like anything else that you really want to do, whether it’s getting work done or starting a new hobby — you have to make time for any additions. And, the same is true when disconnecting. You’ll have to make time for the disconnect.

Making time for this effort will be a challenge. So, start small. Let’s say that you’re using a productivity hack like the Pomodoro Technique. During the times you’re not working go on a min-detox. Even ten-minutes would suffice since the world isn’t going to burn down in such a small amount of time. Even better, that time can be spent going for a walk, resting your eyes, or meditating.

I’d also suggest that you designate tech-free times — such as when eating meals or the first hour after getting home from work.

From here, gradually work your way up. Are you going on a weekend getaway? Great. That’s a perfect time to go off the grid for a day or two. You’ll know this time in advance, you can give everyone a head’s up, and you prepare for the shutdown. You could even create an out-of-office message notifying people when you’ll be returning. But you’ll have to get ahead on your work, or this won’t work for you.

2. Block apps at certain times.

Completely turning off your devices, particularly your phone can give some a serious anxiety attack. I’m not being facetious either. The main culprits for this are FOMO and that a lot of people view their phones as an extension to themselves.

Researchers believe that “defined and protected” periods of smartphone separation “may allow consumers to perform better, not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity.” Adding these expected periods in your calendar is a start. But, so would blocking distracting apps at certain times.

There a number of apps that allow your set time limits or screen time on your Android or iOS device. For example, you could shut down your social media apps when focusing on deep work. Other apps let you set a schedule. In this case, you could block work-related apps or sites during family game night or when embarking in your evening routine.

3. Designate tech-free zones.

Examples of a tech-free zone would be an unused office that you or employees could use to mediate or nap-in or lunchroom. At home, a tech-free zone might be your dining room or bedroom.

Besides banning electronics from these areas, which makes it easier to unplug, it shouldn’t interfere with your schedule. The reason? You probably have scheduled times to be in these zones. For instance, if you’re lying in bed until it’s time for sleep or waiting to eat a meal until you’re on a break — you can accomplish another activity in this timeframe.

4. Incorporate boredom into your day.

Sometimes we get glued to our gadgets because we’re bored. For example, you’re waiting in a line to pay for your groceries or for a meeting to start. Instead of just sitting there, you scroll through your phone or tablet.

Like exercising, start building your boredom muscle. Keep your phone in your pocket and let your mind wander. As a result, this will make you more creative, self-aware, goal-oriented, and productive.

5. Get less social.

It’s unlikely that you can permanently quit social media. But, there are ways to reduce the time spent on these channels.

For starters, remove the apps from your phone so that you aren’t getting bombarded with notifications. If this isn’t an option, then at least remove the apps from your home screen so that you aren’t tempted to look at them.

Secondly, you may want to do a little spring cleaning and delete the accounts you aren’t using. Even glancing and using brain power passing over apps or accounts you don’t use, uses up seconds of brainpower. Snapchat may have been cool a couple of years ago when all your friends signed-up. But, now it’s an unused app because they got tired of it. I need this app because of my family, but you may not need it.

Thirdly, automate or delegate recurring tasks related to social media. You could use a tool like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to schedule social posts. Or, you could assign this responsibility to someone else.

Finally, block out specific times to log on. Ideally, this would be before work, after lunch, and after work. It’s a simple way to fight back against FOMO, while also limiting your usage.

6. Keep your inbox in check.

The average person spends five hours a day on email. What’s more, 13% said that they check their inbox while still in bed. And, 25% of Millennials and Gen X admitted that they check their work emails multiple times a day while on vacation.

To keep your inbox in check so that it’s more manageable, block out specific times to go through it. A perfect time would ben when updating your social accounts. You could set up filters, labels, and unsubscribe from newsletters that you never open.

You should also find ways to reduce the number of messages being sent. One way would be to use “EOM” at the end of your subject line. Standing for “end-of-message,” this lets the recipient know that there’s no need to respond.

You could also use a tool like Calendar. Sure. It’s not an email-specific app. But, it’s a scheduling tool that eliminates those back-and-forth communication when planning a meeting.

7. Spend more time in places where electronic devices aren’t permitted.

Yes. There are still some places where digital devices aren’t embraced with welcome arms. For instance, a yoga class or a place of worship. Even locations like coffee shops and libraries can at least limit your usage. Let’s say that you’re productive at a local coffee shop. You may need to be on your laptop. But, taking a phone call or not silencing your notifications will definitely earn you some dirty looks.

8. Schedule a call or one-on-one.

The other day I had a colleague text me a question. As I went to respond, I realized it would be more efficient and less consuming if I just called him. And, that’s exactly what I did. Instead of exchanging texts all day, it took me all of five minutes to answer the question.

9. Be respectful of others’ time.

As I’ve mentioned, technology can be distracting. But, that’s just not when you’re trying to work. It’s also during meetings or talking to others. Think about it. There’s someone speaking and your attention is elsewhere. That’s rude and can bring things to halt since you’re missing key information and have to constantly ask the other party to repeat themselves.

10. Go old school.

Finally, stop relying on technology so much. I know it’s awesome. But, as opposed to jotting down notes on your phone’s notepad, use a pen, paper, or a whiteboard. The reason? It will prevent you from getting sucked into an app.

Another option would be to use an alarm clock and not your phone to wake-up. The same can be said of using your old wristwatch instead of a smartwatch. And, think about printing out your calendar or using a paper calendar so that you can see what your schedule is like without being reliant on tech.

The Psychological Benefits of Working Less

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How to Squeeze More Time Out of Your Busy Schedule

Recently I caught up with a close friend because he recently bought a new home. While it was a painless experience, he did tell me an entertaining story about his younger brother. His little brother graduated from university last spring, and he’s now a part of the daily grind. You know how it is — working at least 40-hours per week. Anyway, his brother was supposed to help with the move. But, the brother overslept and was late for assisting with the move. His excuse? He was exhausted from working all week.

While we did have a chuckle at his brother’s expense, I also wanted to empathize with him. I mean, when you think about it, spending the majority of your time at work is exhausting.

I know. You have to work to pay your bills. But work is also good for you. If you know that your work is meaningful and serves a purpose, it can be a boost to your mental well-being. At the same time, though, working too much does the opposite. There are even some dire psychological effects if you’re working more than you should.

A quick history of the 40-hour workweek.

Alright, before I go any further, I want to answer an important question. Who came up with the 40-hour workweek?

It may come to a surprise to some of you, but the 40-hour-work week is a more recent development.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were hunter-gathers. Although that lifestyle seems harsh, it’s believed that people only spent four-hours a day hunting. Then, they figured out how to farm. Compared to hunting and gathering, it was a more complicated and more time-consuming way of life. After that, we entered the Industrial Revolution.

During this time “human beings were imprisoned in factories and mills for almost all of their waking hours, treated as nothing more than objects of labor, working in appalling conditions for appalling wages, and usually dying at a young age,” explains Catesby Holmes in a piece for The Conversation.

It was so bad that companies forced people to work between 12-15 hours per day for six days a week. In 1817, Robert Owen, a British textile-manufacturer came-up with the slogan “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” to help his employees find balance.

Fast forward to Henry Ford in the early 20th Century, who discovered that employees were more productive if they only worked 5-days a week. And, that’s where you’re at today. Although, recent research, however, shows that an eight-hour workweek is ideal for mental health. Yes. You read that correctly. Not eight-hours a day. But, week.

So, yeah. As a whole, things have gotten better. But, we’re still chained to that antiquated 40-hour workweek that was established hundreds of years ago. And, that’s probably considering that working less then that is for the best.

We’re not meant to work eight-consecutive hours in a day.

“Humans have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day: our circadian process, which is often referred to as a circadian rhythm because it tends to be very regular,” writes Christopher M. Barnes in HBR. And that plays a massive role in how we work.

“Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation,” explains Barnes. “Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire.” The human body has two productivity peaks in the course of the day. The first mid-morning and the second later on around 5 or 6 p.m.

Although everyone has their own specific rhythms, the point is, we’re just not meant to work for eight consecutive hours. Over the hours, various studies have found that when you’re circadian rhythms are disrupted, it “leads to weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioral changes.” Barnes’ own research also found “that circadian mismatches increase the prevalence of unethical behavior, simply because victims lack the energy to resist temptations.”

The solution? Offer flexible hours.Flextime provides an opportunity for employees to match their work schedules to their own circadian rhythms,” adds Barnes. If this isn’t an option, then take frequent breaks throughout the day. For example, work for around 90-minutes and then take a breather for approximately 20-minutes to grab a snack, walk outside, or take a cat nap.

Less work, more sleep, a better life.

Entrepreneurs and workaholics may take this for granted. But, working endlessly can “make people tired and resentful, and therefore less productive,” writes Holmes. “There is also evidence that too much work impairs our health, leading to poor sleep and an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”

As for the psychological benefits, this “means less stress and anxiety.” IT can also strengthen relationships since we can” spend time with our loved ones, and have more energy to give them.” ICYMI, relationships make us healthier and happier.

Holmes also says that working less allows us “to live authentically through following our own innate interests so that we spend more time in the positive state that psychologists call “flow” (when we are intensely absorbed in enjoyable activities). We have more time and energy to nurture our creativity, which also leads to a more meaningful and purposeful life.”

Still not convinced? Holmes has found that when we aren’t always working, we can “experience the joys of doing nothing in particular.”

“People who experience this often report that they feel more grateful for life, more connected to nature, that they have more authentic relationships and become more creative and spiritual,” adds Holmes.

The solution? Set boundaries and work smarter. Don’t bring work home with you. When you’re off-the-clock, enjoy your downtime. What’s more, come up with ways to work smarter and not harder, such as:

  • Trimming back your to-do-lists.
  • Tracking your time.
  • Focusing on one task at a time.
  • Hiring people who are smarter than you.
  • Automating and delegating repetitive tasks.
  • Working on your most challenging tasks when you have the most energy.
  • Batching similar tasks together.

Working less can solve all of our problems.

That may sound too good to be true. But, that’s the argument presented by Rutger Bregman on TED.com.

Some of the points have already been discussed. For instance, working less can reduce stress and improve life satisfaction. But, there also some compelling reasons why we should ditch the 40-hour workweek.

The solution? Switch to a 4-day work week or a 6-hour workday. It’s at least a start. And, it can be an easy adjustment if you shrink your deadlines. That’s a proven technique to combat Parkinson’s Law, which states, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

For example, if you have three hours to complete a task, and you can get it done in two, you’ll still end-up using that entire block of time. But, if you only gave yourself an hour and a half, you’ll be more motivated and focused on completing that task within the shortened timeframe.

The evidence is clear. If you want to be happier, healthier, and more productive, then it’s time to spend less time at work. As an added perk, it will also make the world a slightly better place. Of course, before diving in headfirst, ease into this. Maybe cut back from 40-hours per week to 35 until you’ve found your ideal schedule.

And, if you’re leading a team, take steps like flexible scheduling and letting employees work remotely. Most importantly, put more of an emphasis on the results and not the hours your team has worked.

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