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5 Tools to Slice Distractions From Your Work Schedule

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Distractions are everywhere. Whether you’re working from home, at your company’s office, or from a coffee shop, loud noises and tech-based temptations are there.

As attention spans reach an all-time low and schedules get busier, in-office and at-home workers need new tools to stay focused. The following resources and software are great picks:

1. A physical or digital to-do list

I’ve always been a believer in using to-do lists to stay on task, but it’s taken me years to figure out the format that works best for me. While writing down tasks in a paper planner works well for some people, it’s easy to lose that planner at home or in the mountains of paperwork on your desk.

Give Trello a test drive. The board-based project management tool is great for collaboration, but it’s also an ideal way to organize your own schedule. Create columned lists that correspond to project status: I use “now” “pending” and “completed” lists to organize my tasks. Plus, Trello has Android and iOS apps that make it easy to take your to-do list anywhere you take your smartphone.

2. An online calendar

To-do lists are great, but they’re not the only tool you need to keep distractions at bay. For one, they don’t display appointments, a key part of your schedule. Keep an online calendar to know at a glance what you should be working on when. Update it in the morning, over lunch, and before you leave work each day.

Like digital to-do lists, online calendars make sharing easy. Most of your work projects involve at least one other team member, right? Use a digital calendar to set up appointments with them, show them when you’ll be working on each project, and keep deadlines top of mind for everyone.

3. A web-limiting app

It happens to the best of us: One moment, you’re doing important research online; the next, you’re stuck in a spiral of social media, YouTube videos, and cat memes. Use a tool like SelfControl or Mindful Browsing to keep yourself off distracting sites when you’ve got other things on your schedule.

What if you use sites like Facebook and YouTube for work? Set your web-limiting app to allow five-minute sessions — enough to find the information you need but too little to fall down a rabbit hole. You could also take a softer approach with a tool like Momentum, which reminds you to stay on task whenever you open a new tab. The Google Chrome extension displays your day’s main goal, motivational quotes, and upcoming tasks.

4. A timer

There’s something about knowing the seconds are counting down that keeps you on task. Although you’re technically on the clock any even when you’re working from home, it may not feel that way. Hold yourself accountable to your schedule and get a better sense of where your time is spent by setting a timer whenever you begin a task.

A timer doesn’t need to be fancy to get the job done. Timer Tab has stopwatch and countdown functionality, displaying the current count in a browser tab, but little else. There are no eye-catching ads or extras that might distract you. Use it to put just the right amount of pressure on yourself.

5. A music streaming service

If you are lucky enough to work from home or in an office that lets you listen to music, use a streaming service like Spotify to improve your focus and motivation. Set up your own relaxing-yet-energizing playlists, or try one of Spotify’s suggestions: Workday Lounge, Deep Focus, and Your Favorite Coffee House.

Isn’t music just one more way to lose sight of your schedule, though? Not according to workers. A Robert Half survey showed seven in 10 workers say music makes them more productive, while eight in 10 say they enjoy it. Listen to what you like, but avoid songs with lyrics: Humans are hardwired to tune into spoken communication.

Distractions don’t have to rule your schedule. In the age of tech, you have access to more tools than ever before to stay focused and be productive. Embrace them, and watch the things that distract you during work melt away.

6 Tips for Smart Multitasking

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Multitasking isn’t the monster it’s made out to be. Although studies have demonstrated that multitasking can harm your overall productivity, moving between tasks can also keep your mind energized and creativity flowing. 

What’s the key to effective multitasking? It’s about being intentional with your tasks, the order in which you tackle them, and the amount of time you allot to them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize tasks by value.

Multitasking hurts your productivity most when you use it as a strategy for working on all those smaller, less significant tasks in place of your big projects. Sort and schedule your tasks by importance: Which projects will bring you the most value upon completion?

Major projects take time, meaning you need to take breaks. Use those breaks as opportunities to switch, making a little progress on each project. After you’ve fried those bigger fish, you can reward yourself by knocking out several of those easier items on your list.

2. Set a timer.

Another way multitaskers shoot themselves in the foot? Spending too little or too much time on each project. Devoting five minutes to a major initiative before switching isn’t likely to move the needle. Sinking five hours into it when another deadline looms isn’t a great idea, either.

Instead, set a timer. The amount of time you spend on each project is up to you; the important thing is to be deliberate. Some productivity experts suggest the Pomodoro technique, which calls for 25-minute work sessions bookended by 5-minute breaks. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and either rest or move to a lighter task to give your brain a break.

3. Tackle hard tasks in the morning.

Research suggests that most of us are capable of the most productivity in the morning hours, usually 2.5 to four hours after we wake up. Your mornings are the ideal time for multitasking between difficult tasks.

As the morning ends and your energy dwindles, shelve those heavier tasks until the next morning. Using your mornings well can take away the pressure to work on cumbersome projects in the afternoon, when most of us are less energized and effective. If you must multitask in the afternoon, switch between things like scheduling appointments, responding to emails, and returning calls.

4. Block out multitasking time on your calendar.

Because multitasking requires more material to be stored in short-term memory, it takes more mental bandwidth than tackling a single task at a time. That leaves less brain power for distractions like random questions from colleagues.

Rather than let come what may, block off time on your calendar. Schedule “do not disturb” hours to be spent multitasking on those major projects. Hang a sign on your door, and set yourself as “away” on Slack. Ask your coworkers to send you a text or give you a call if something is truly urgent.

5. Group related tasks together.

As you add tasks to your calendar, sort them not only by importance but also by subject. You will find it much easier to jump from task to task when each project is related to the next. That way, you aren’t having to completely switch gears every time you start to work on something else. 

Don’t worry if your categorization method doesn’t make sense to others. Someone else might not understand why, say, you’d switch between social media content development and sales follow ups. But if you need to find a groove to write in a conversational style, go for it.

6. Disconnect from digital distractions.

Especially when working from home, technology can be distracting. From the ping of incoming emails to the temptation of your favorite television show, these small-but-strong interruptions can seriously damage our concentration.

When you sit down to multitask, turn off all your notifications. Better yet, shut down your devices and put them away. If you want to write on paper and later type up your work, go for it. Don’t allow yourself access to your digital devices until you’ve reached a scheduled break.

Everyone multitasks. The question is, are you doing it in a way that slows you down? Know your priorities, conquer your most difficult tasks first, and give yourself mental space. That’s all there is to it.

Organize Your Calendar Like You Organize Your Life

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Living an organized life lets you get more done with less stress. By structuring your days, you keep your business running smoothly without letting your family or social lives fall apart.

But to truly maximize your time, you need to organize your calendar like you organize your life. To squeeze more out of every day:

1. Create a zero-based calendar.

Your day might feel like it’s full of meetings and calls, but in between are breaks that you could use to get more done. A zero-based calendar means that you make a plan for every minute of your day. If something isn’t important enough to deserve a spot on your calendar, then replace it with something that does.

The key is to be exhaustive. Add everything you need to do in a day to your calendar. Your meals, workout, commute, and family time should all be on there. Estimate how long each time should take. Note any blank spaces in your day, and ask how you could use those productively. Remember, you control your calendar — not the other way around. 

2. Accomplish your toughest task first.

What’s the thing you’re dreading most in the day? To make sure that you get it out of the way, put it first on your calendar. Once your most difficult and time-consuming task is out of the way, you’ll feel more motivated and ready to complete the rest of your day’s work. 

Productivity expert Brian Tracey calls this “eating the frog.” Identify your “frog” first thing in the morning, before you even get to the office. Hack at it until you’re finished, forgetting about everything else until that point. Many people do their best work in the morning, so why not spend that time on something you know will be a struggle?

3. Share your calendar with others.

Chances are, most of your tasks involve others. Your team needs to know when you’re available to meet. Your project manager needs to know when you’re working on key initiatives. One huge advantage of using an online calendar is that you can allow your colleagues, clients, and family access to your schedule. That way, there are no surprises or double-booked appointments for anyone. 

Using an online scheduling tool lets you provide times when others can request meetings. By opening your schedule to others, you retain control over it while staying accessible to your team. 

4. Link your personal and professional calendars.

Especially for business owners, schedules don’t always fit into neat little “home” and “work” buckets. Some workdays, you might have a dentist appointment or a parent-teacher conference to attend. On Saturday, you may need to meet an out-of-town client.

To avoid surprises, be sure your professional and personal calendars are integrated. Color-code them to make it easy to spot each event’s type at a glance. And again, give your team access so they know not to disturb you during your daughter’s mid-day dance recital.

5. Group meetings for bigger blocks of free time.

You probably already “chunk” your tasks to a degree: When you’re at the office, your mind is on work. When you’re off, you’re at home enjoying time with family. Manage your calendar the same way by scheduling appointments back-to-back.

Scheduling meetings next to one another creates larger blocks of uninterrupted time for you to accomplish your daily tasks. Try setting meeting days so that you know ahead of time that those days might be less productive. On the flip side, give yourself at least one day per week with no appointments so that you can double down on your work and slim down your to-do list. One more tip: Make sure your appointments or meetings end five minutes before the hour to ensure plenty of time to get from one to the next.

6. Schedule time for yourself.

Just because you schedule each minute of your day doesn’t mean every one of them should be spent on work. Make sure that your calendar accounts for “you” time, whether that means a coffee break, time with your family, a cat nap, working out, or all of the above.

Whatever your priorities are, make sure that those are reflected in the way you schedule your time. And don’t beat yourself up when you take time off. After a long day at work, sometimes the most productive thing you can do is rest. 

Don’t let anyone own your schedule but you. You know how you should be spending your days, both at work and at home. Set your calendar up that way, and watch your productivity grow. 

3 Practices That Will Improve Your Focus

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As an entrepreneur, you likely have multiple things competing for your attention at all times. Between emails, messages, projects and everything else in your life, it can be difficult to stay on task. That’s why it’s important that you find practices that will help improve your focus over time.

The Importance of Focus

I once had a friend say something to me that I will never forget. She said, “If you really wanted to, you could get all your work done for the day in a few hours.” For the most part, she is right. But that’s only if I’m truly focused. But focus isn’t just about getting work done. It’s also about things like focusing on the bigger picture or really listening when someone is speaking. Because let’s face it, we’re all easily distracted these days and it’s hard to do these things if we don’t practice. Fortunately, there are some tools and practices out there that can help you improve your focus so you can get your work done and show up for what matters.

Meditation

I discovered meditation back in 2010 when I was trying to recover from being sick for a while. At first, I didn’t get it. But, it has since become an integral part of my life. At the time of writing this, I am on day 294 of daily meditation. The University of Waterloo found that just ten minutes of meditation a day can help you improve your focus. As a self-proclaimed anxious person, I have to say that my personal experience coincides with this. People often ask me how I’m able to get so much done and I’m pretty sure meditation has something to do with the fact that I regularly meditate – especially if I’m feeling lazy or overwhelmed. The good news meditation isn’t as hard as some people think it is, though I do recommend starting with guided meditations until you get the hang of it.

Music

Another way to help improve your focus is to use music. Specifically, you’ll want to use music meant to help you calm down and focus. This may look like different things to different people. It also may depend on what you do for a living. For example, as a writer, I cannot listen to music with words while I’m working because it distracts me. However, I can listen to instrumentals from subscription services like Brain.fm. My roommate who is an apparel designer is the complete opposite of me. Since she doesn’t deal with words for work, she loves listening to music she can sing along to while she designs. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here. The key is to find what actually works for you and use it.

Exercise

In addition to meditation as a tool to improve your focus, you can also do short bursts of exercise. The University of Western Ontario recently found that short bursts of exercise can give you a focus boost, at least for a little while. So, if you find yourself starting to doze off, get out of your chair and move around.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways you can improve your focus so you can meet your responsibilities. The key is to know which ones work for you so you can use them when need be.
Originally published here.

Motivation Secrets of Productive People

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Make no mistake about it. Motivation will increase your productivity. “Motivation and productivity are twin concepts in organizational development,” wrote Kristina Dems for Bright Hub. “First, motivation works as the means toward attaining productivity as an end. Another point: Motivation is the best road to follow to reach productivity as a favorable effect. Lastly, motivation is the stimulus to trigger productivity as a response.” Think about how this effects you and effects your life. When you’re not feeling motivated, you’re not going to accomplish much. That’s because you don’t have the drive to get things done. And, to put it lightly, that sucks. Now you’re behind on your planned goals or a task, which means you’re going to get behind another and another. Eventually, everything starts to pile-up. With no end in sight, you become even less motivated. That’s why the most productive people employ the following motivation secrets to guarantee that they’re always ahead of the game.

1. When plans are made, they anticipate obstacles.

Peter Gollwitzer, a professor of psychology at New York University, in New York City, conducted a study in 2009 that compared two groups of women who wanted to be more active. The groups were both provided information on how to live a healthy lifestyle. However, the second group was also taught how to foresee obstacles by using if-then statements. For example, if they wanted to jog, but the weather is poor, then what will you do? The women would say, “if it’s snowing, then I’ll go to the gym and use the treadmill.” Suffice it to say, the second group fared far better. Gollwitzer concluded that those who plan for obstacles are more likely to follow through on projects. This is because they don’t have any excuses for completing the task at hand.

2. They “don’t break the chain.”

Years ago software developer Brad Isaac asked Jerry Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comedian. Seinfeld told him that the only way to become a better comic was to create better jokes. And the only way to create better jokes was to write daily. But, that was just scratching the surface. Ultimately, the legendary comic unveiled his unique calendar system that kept him motivated every day. Jerry told Isaac to get a huge wall calendar “that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall.” Then, go get a red magic maker. He told Isaac that for each day he writes to to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” “Don’t break the chain,” Seinfeld said again for emphasis. Isaac says that this “works because it isn’t the one-shot pushes that get us where we want to go, it is the consistent daily action that builds extraordinary outcomes.” And, those daily actions build habits.

3. Live life from their calendars.

According to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List, by Janet Choi and Walter Chen of iDoneThis:
  • 41 percent of to-do list items are never completed.
  • 50 percent of to-do list items are completed within a day, many within the first hour of being written down.
Why is this the case when so many people swear by to-do-lists? For starters, tasks on your to-do-lists are distinguished between those that only take a couple of minutes and those will last hours. Additionally, they emphasize the urgent instead of the important. And, they can add unnecessary stress. Because of these reasons, highly productive people don’t use to-dos. They live from their calendars instead. “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks,” says Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of The Art of Charm. “It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile as far as organization goes.” “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done. If it’s on the calendar, it gets done no matter what. Use this not just for appointments, but workouts, calls, email blocks, etc.”

4. They don’t multitask.

Despite the myths, multitasking doesn’t make you more productive. In fact, it slows you down. This is because your brain is switching tasks and focus, which means it takes you longer to complete tasks. In order to stay productive, you need to focus on thing at a time. Due’s Miranda Marquit uses the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused on one specific task at a time. This also boosts productivity since you’re dedicating your mental energy on one specific item. As a perk, since you’re giving this one task 110 percent, chances are that there will be fewer mistakes. This means you won’t have to back and fix your errors, you can just move onto to something else.

5. Not controlled by technology.

“I was a Division I college athlete, and I grew up with five brothers and two sisters. I’ve always been a competitor. [But] I’ve learned that productivity should not be a competitive sport. You’re never going to win,” Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte, tells Fast Company. “I am responsible for almost 80,000 people. I prioritize people over tasks. One Note allows me to put different tasks [involving] each of my executive-team members in a tab. That way when I talk to them, I can be more effective, because the five things I want to talk to them about [are right there].” “If I looked at email and Twitter and texts [during the day], I don’t think I would ever give my full attention to anything. You cannot be insightful if you’re deluged with information.” Engelbert adds, “We’re all drowning in data. We all need moments of recovery. For me, that includes not going right to my phone when I wake up in the morning. I got on a plane about six months ago, and I forgot my phone. For two days, I didn’t have my phone, and nobody died.” Her final words of advice? “Technology should help you do your job, not control your job.”

6. They use a notebook.

Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Sheryl Sandberg all carry a notebook around. The reason? They rely on pen and paper to keep track of and remember all of their thoughts and ideas. “I can’t tell you where I’d be if I hadn’t had a pen on hand to write down my ideas as soon as they came to me,” Branson wrote in a blog post. “You think you’ll remember, but you won’t, and you’ll forfeit all the thoughts that flood you after you’ve freed your mind from remembering the initial spark,” adds Drew Hanson. For Sandberg, she uses a notebook as a kind of daily planner. She jots down her to-do lists. Once she’s accomplished those items, she rips the pages out of her notebook. It’s a simple way to stay motivated for staying on track.

7. They work backwards from the future.

Steve Jobs once asked, “If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” “If too many days passed by with the answer being ‘no,’ he’d adjust his lifestyle until he hit a consistent yes,” explains HubSpot’s Scott Tousley. “This forced Steve to define long-term goals and stay motivated.” This may sound drab, but the most productive people “think about the end of their lives,” which helps them define their legacy. With this in mind, they then “work backwards to achieve those goals.” “This touches on the psychological theories and models of motivation. If we’re driven by a purpose, we’re more likely to work extra hard,” says Tousley. But, how does starting with your purpose keep you productive and motivated? Starting with a purpose or “personal mission statement,” leads to the creation of long-term goals. Long-term goals lead to smaller goals, which create to-do-lists. So, if you want to productive like Steve Job, define your purpose first and everything else will fall into place.

8. They’re friends with time.

Really productive people, or RPPs as Marie Forleo calls them, are friends with time. In other words, “they don’t look at time as the enemy.” If you do, you’ll end-up always struggling with productivity and motivation. And, this makes sense. Whenever you could something the “enemy” it’s only going to end-up being a source of pain. Instead, make time your ally. You can start by ditching time-stealing habits like multitasking and procrastination. You can achieve by practicing:
  • Mindfulness. This will help you focus on one task at a time.
  • Acceptance. Concentrating only on what you can control.
  • Authenticity. This encourages self-management since it helps you decide what to do and when to do it.

9. They create theme days.

Want to know how Jack Dorsey juggles all of his obligations at Twitter and Square? He creates theme days. Here’s what Jack said about this in 2011:
“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company, the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”
How has that schedule help Jack work eight hours at both companies? The first reason the schedule works is that it establishes a rhythm. You know what to expect every day because you’ve created a routine to keep you focused. Secondly, it challenges you to complete tasks on certain deadlines. If you record a podcast every Tuesday like John Lee Dumas, then you know that you have the podcast prepared by that day. Finally, it batches similar tasks together. This keeps you productive since it streamlines activity and eliminates distractions.

10. Bring optimism and fun back into the picture.

This may sound hokey, but research shows that the key to motivation is bringing optimism and fun. Ron Siegel, a psychology professor at Harvard University, explains: “Our modern brains are still wired up for the ancient evolutionary purpose of surviving in a dangerous environment. Over a million years or so, we developed specialized neural structures that selectively tuned in to danger signals. The prospect of getting attacked necessarily outranked all other neurological priorities.” And, unfortunately, we still go into that survival mode. Instead of thinking about the pleasurable and rewarding experience of conquering a task, we focus on anxiety and fear. For example, you just started a new business. You’re probably dwelling more on the fear of failure instead of the excitement of improving your community. The best way to overcome this? Create basic two-columned pros and cons list so you can notice that the joys outweigh any fears or anxieties. When you actually see the positive, you’ll get yourself out of the rut you’re headed into. As Rick Steves has written, “Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something is not to your liking, change your liking.”
Originally published here.

4 Ways You Can Maximize Your Productivity

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Productivity is always a hot topic. Everyone wants to figure out how much more they can do in the 24 hours we’re given each day. So how do you maximize your productivity? Since we all operate differently there isn’t a single solution that works for everyone. However there are common strategies than can be implemented each day that will increase your productivity.

Here are four ways you can maximize your productivity today:

Set Daily Goals

Studies show that accomplishing our goals make us happy. This sense of accomplishment needs to be experienced each and every day. The best way to do this is to create a list of daily goals. It’s best to develop the habit of creating this list the night before. That way you’re ready to tackle the tasks ahead every morning. If you have larger tasks to complete you can break up larger items into smaller tasks. For example, if you think you need the whole day to complete a progress report you can break it up into smaller items. This will keep you organized and give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day. The more motivated we are the more productive we are.

Schedule Breaks

Everyone needs to take breaks throughout the workday. In fact, it’s important to take them. Nobody can be expected to work straight through the day. Every two hours you should schedule a 15-minute break for yourself. During the break it’s always best to leave your desk or workspace and move around. Take the time to check social media or send a few texts. Some will say you should avoid social media during the workday all together – and they aren’t wrong. I just know very few have the willpower to follow through with that. By limiting social media time to your breaks you won’t have to feel guilty checking your Instagram at work.

Identify Your “Prime Time”

Nobody works at the same efficiency throughout the entire day. This is why you need to identify your prime time. The period of the day where you’re at your best. To find your prime time take a look at your previous week. Identify projects or tasks you worked on that you feel were finished efficiently. Once you’ve identified those times make sure you organize your schedule to always address the most challenging projects during these times.

Use Time Blocks

When scheduling your day for completing certain tasks you should block out time for each task. This will train you to estimate how long certain jobs should take. Once you’re finished always go back and mark down how long it actually took to complete the project. Overtime you’ll become an expert at allocating time for certain jobs during the workday. Pro Tip: Naturally we give ourselves five to ten minutes more per task. When blocking out time for tasks try to always shave off five to ten minutes from the estimate. This will essentially shave off the extra time you think you need.

Final Thoughts

Productivity is not something that can be taught overnight. However there are definitely ways you can improve it overtime. If you’re struggling to stay productive use the four strategies above to maximize your productivity today.
Originally published here.

How Time Away from Work Increases Productivity

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Many people feel you need to be a workaholic if you are going to be a success. That is not necessarily true. Of course, hard work often goes hand in hand with success and meeting our goals. But that doesn’t mean we need to kill ourselves doing it. Often when we work hard, to the point of keeling over, it’s as if we have something to prove either to ourselves or everyone else around us. It’s like we are saying, “Yes, I really can do it all.” But after a while it begins to take a toll on us. Working constantly with no break doesn’t make us more productive. In fact, time away from work actually increases productivity.

Do More in Less Time

Lack of sleep, fatigue, and stress all have effects on us. They cause a drain on our energy levels and make problem solving much more difficult. It’s hard to stay on task when we are running out of mental fuel. When rested, everything we do can be done in less time. That allows us to do more in a shorter time span.

Prevents Burn Out

Time away from work increases productivity by preventing burn out.  Vacations, morning and afternoon breaks, and lunch periods are all opportunities to shut our minds off. Allowing ourselves to disconnect gives our brains a chance to rest. Think of it like plugging in a cell phone to recharge either at night or during the day. It isn’t going to continue running if we don’t charge it up now and again.

Boosts Creativity

Many people get in a slump in the middle of the afternoon. That is the perfect time to take a fast paced, 5 to 10 minute walk. Cardio activity can actually boost our productivity for up to about two hours after exercise. This allows us to do what we do best but faster. Not only that, but it can spur our creativity and problem solving abilities as well. When we get up, even for a little while, it gets us moving and makes our heart start pumping. This increases our blood flow to every part of our bodies, including our brains. We see things differently. As we form new perspectives on issue or problems we become more innovative and creative at solving them.

Learn More

Grade school aged children get recess time at school. As it turns out, there may be a good reason for that. There is a big benefit to giving ourselves some recess time in a similar way. Once we get up and away from everything even for a little while we can come back to work and direct our focus on learning new tasks or taking on different problems.

Get Sick Less

There are health benefits to taking time away from work. Many people need fewer sick days when they are less stressed. Less stress equals better health equals greater productivity. Obviously working hard is a key part of being successful. But time away from work increases productivity too. To be the best we can, therefore, we should all take breaks periodically and work hard the rest of the time. Do you regularly take time away from work?
Originally published here.

4 Methods to Control Your Calendar Before It Controls You

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appointment guide
Over the course of my career I’ve learned a lot about the importance of time management. How you as a business owner should control your calendar. Early on, I woke-up whenever I wanted and didn’t put an emphasis on my priorities. This pretty much resulted in aimlessly wandering through my days like a walker on “The Walking Dead.” But, that was just the beginning. I haphazardly accepted appointments, checked my emails every time I got a notification, and scheduled meetings at the last minute. And, to make matters worse, I was planning events when I should have been home with my family. I eventually realized that I was no longer focused or productive as I needed to be. Simply put, my calendar was taking control of my life — both in and out of the workplace. Thankfully, I was able to take back the reigns by utilizing the following four methods.

1. Take inventory and identify what’s not working.

First things first, get crystal clear on where your time is spent. If you’ve never done this before, simply keep a time journal. This is where you jot down everything you do and exactly how long each task takes you. This may sound tedious, but after about a week you’ll notice where you’re spending a bulk of your time. More importantly, you’ll identify the time wasters on your calendar. Once you do, you can make the proper adjustments to change things around. For example, if you noticed that you spend two or three hours a week scheduling meetings, then it’s time to look for a solution. In this case, you could use a tool like Calendar to eliminate this issue. You’ve now just freed up a couple of hours per week in your calendar to work on your priorities.

2. Create your routine.

Another perk of tracking your time is that it can help you create a daily routine. This is where you block time for specific activities. So, in a nutshell, your calendar consists of a bunch of blocks. My routine consists of a morning routine where I block out specific time for exercise, getting ready, writing, and responding to emails. I then block out from eight am to noon for undistracted work. My afternoons contain blocks for a nap, returning calls or emails, and hosting meetings. This method ensures that I stay focused on my priorities. It also ensures that I won’t let unplanned activities jump in and distract me from getting things done. I should add, that you should definitely block out time for rest. I block out time in the afternoon to take a nap and review my goals. It helps me recharge and refocus. If I didn’t block out this time, it would never happen.

3. Control Your Calendar by Stacking your Meetings.

If possible, try to schedule all your meetings on the same day or two each week. Ideally, you should schedule these meetings around 3pm, because research shows that this is the best times for meetings. The reason I use this method is fairly simply. It gives me a heads-up that I’m not going to complete as much work on these days. Instead, I’m going to be focused on conversations, exchanging ideas, and motivating my team. For me, this is a different type of work flow. I’m thinking differently when writing a blog post than when discussing an upcoming project with a colleague. By stacking my meetings, I can keep this more conversational flow going. At the same time, it’s guaranteeing that the meetings won’t interfere with my other work. One final note about meetings. Stop scheduling meetings back-to-back. This ensures that you won’t be running late for your next meeting. And, since meetings can run late, it may hold you up from leaving the office on-time and getting home. Give yourself a little buffer time so that you’re no longer running late. And, try not to schedule meetings late in the afternoon. Like don’t schedule right at 4:30pm unless you’re positive it’s just a quick 15-minute phone call.

4. Set boundaries, but also be flexible.

There’s a belief that once something has been scheduled into your calendar it’s set in stone. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s say you have a meeting with your team on a Monday afternoon. However, when you were planning out your day first thing in the AM you notice that your website crashed. The worst part is that it’s not a minor fix, it’s actually going to eat-up your entire morning or longer. This means that your entire schedule has to shift. The work you had planned in the morning now has to move into the afternoon. Now you have to reschedule that team meeting for another date or time. In short, the unexpected happens and you need to be flexible. Just make sure  when this happens, you give notice to the other party. At the same time, you have to set boundaries. If you’ve blocked out two hours of unexpected work, then don’t schedule a meeting or phone call during that time. Again, a tool like Calendar can help you accomplish these goals because it allows you to select when your calendar is open and when it is not. You then share this availability with others so that they can pick an open slot when they’re free.
Originally published here.

How You Can Lead More Attentive Meetings

By | Time Management | No Comments
Have you ever sat in a meeting and played around on your phone the whole time? If you answered no then you’re probably lying. The reason why you were on your phone is probably because whomever was leading the meeting wasn’t able to keep your attention. So how can we lead more attentive meetings? While there’s no single solution there are definitely strategies that you can take to capture the attention of those in attendance.

Here’s how you can lead more attentive meetings at work, life, or anywhere.

Define a Purpose

When calling a meeting you need to define a clear and definite purpose. Typically when we call a meeting we feel we’re being proactive and productive. The problem is some individuals call meetings for that reason only. If you don’t have a clear defined purpose for the meeting it’s probably not even worth gathering. One strategy is to write it down on paper first. Once you’ve gathered your thoughts try to create a few action items from your topics. If there’s isn’t much to execute on and or you don’t think it was worth writing down then you should rethink the meeting altogether. The biggest issue with keeping attention is that you don’t have many chances. If your team associates your meetings a lack of purpose then you’ll lose their attention before they’ve arrived.

Respect Everyone’s Time

One of the best ways to lose focus and worst of all respect from your team is to be constantly late for meetings. When you call a meeting you need to be absolutely sure you are there at least 10 minutes early. Yes of course things come up and we are late from time to time. But the old “I’m sorry I’m late something came up” or “my last meeting ran over a few minutes late” can only be used so many times. If your meetings are constantly running late then that shows your team a bit about your time management skills. Another reason why you want to be early is because you should be the one kicking off the meeting. If you stumble into a meeting room with the team already chatting about various topics you’ll have a hard time gathering the focus back onto you.

Phones Where You Can See Them

No matter what someone says about their phone it will always serve as an immediate distraction if buzzed. If their phone is in their pocket and they receive a call or text it’s almost guaranteed that person will at least look at their phone. Even if they don’t answer it still serves as a distraction to not only them but the rest of the group as well. I suggest having every member in attendance silence their cell phone and put it in the middle of the table turned face down. This way you can ensure that everyone’s attention will remain on you and they won’t get distracted by calls, texts, or even worse social media notifications.

Define Rules

One of the golden rules of focus and productivity is organization. If you’re concise and organized most things will fall into place. As you send out meeting agenda’s or hold meetings with new teams or groups make sure your rules are clear and written down. A disciplined group is a focused one. As long as your rules are respectable and concise I’m sure your team will have no problem following them.

Final Thoughts

Leading meetings is tough. When half the group isn’t paying attention it’s really tough not to mention a bit demoralizing. That said you should follow the tips above so you can lead more attentive meetings and a more disciplined team!  
Originally published here.

8 Steps to Planning Digital Content in Less Time

By | Scheduling | No Comments

I’m a planner. I love writing things down and preparing myself for the work week in advance. Still, as a content producer myself, planning website content isn’t always an easy task.

When you do finally force yourself to sit down and start planning content for your website, blog, email list, etc. it can be a very time-consuming process. If the major brain dump method doesn’t work for you either, check out these 8 steps to planning digital content in less time.

Step 1: Use Current Copy as a Foundation

The best place to start is to look at your existing content for your business. Even if it sucks, you have someplace to start. Look at analytics to see which content resonated well with your audience and what didn’t.

For example, if you’ve been getting some great feedback on social media for a particular article, see if you can expand on the subject and plan to produce some follow-up content in the future. Keep a running list of topics whenever you gain inspiration or think of ideas that could be useful. It only takes a few minutes to do this each week and it’s the best way to jumpstart the content creation process.

Step 2: Make Sure You Understand Your Audience

Don’t waste time planning digital content before you get to know your target audience. Interact with them on social media, ask your email list questions, save helpful feedback, and ask your audience to a short market research survey every few months. 

This will help make the content planning and creation process much simpler because you’ll know who your audience is and what they want. Sometimes, I practically drive myself crazy trying to brainstorm content ideas. Ever since I started asking my audience what they wanted to see and listening to their recommendations, the digital content planning process has been pretty painless and quick.

If your audience is telling you multiple things, segment your website visitors into the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences and determine how you’ll address their needs in future content types.

Step 3: Use a Calendar to Map Everything Out

If you’re planning digital content without a calendar, you’re doing it all wrong. Using a calendar tool can help you stay organized and begin to work ahead.

I like to set up days dedicated to brainstorming, outlining, creating/scheduling, polishing, and promoting. Yes, the content production process is pretty tedious, but having a solid plan laid out in writing can make all the difference.

Coming up with headlines and outlines at this stage is very important. It’s interesting to note that doing this in advance will literally cut a lot of time out of the content creation process and keep you focused so you can finish and release your content more efficiently.

By storing everything on a digital calendar, you can set reminders to hold yourself accountable for meeting specific deadlines and allowing yourself enough time to prepare what you need to complete the content.

Step 4: Work With Others

Ask others to help you research, edit and review when you’re planning digital content. This will save you a ton of time. For example, if you’re writing for search engines or trying to rank some of your web pages, you may want to have someone do SEO research. 

If you’re producing social media copy you may want to have a consult with a social media marketing expert to help you come up with a clear strategy so you don’t waste time making rookie mistakes.

This can be ongoing or just a one-time thing depending on your needs.

Step 5. Storytelling vs ‘Storyselling’

You don’t have to use your website to merely tell your own story. The stories that matter are those of the people who have used your products and services and found them beneficial.

Nobody is interested in knowing how wonderful a business you have. Give your audience results and evidence. The language you use should speak to them. Offer your products as the solution to their products.

One of the easiest ways I work storytelling into my digital content planning process is to simply be authentic. When I experience things or have conversations that I believe could be pivoted into inspiring content for my audience, I add the idea to my content calendar with a date and a brief outline. In less than 2 minutes, I have quality content planned that I can produce quickly.

Step 6. Write For Search Engines and Humans

SEO is important. However, crowding your content with too many keywords can only render it unreadable. Include the keywords as naturally as possible to avoid coming out as a robot. If anything, you don’t have to stick to your specific keywords. Use variations that will still give the same meaning.

As you’re planning your content for the web, it helps to determine a focus keyword ahead of time so you know what to base your content around. I like using the Google Adword Keyword Planner tool because it’s free and easy to use when you’re researching keywords and narrowing them down.

Step 7. Have an Action-Oriented Copy

All of your content should have a goal behind it. It’s likely that you want to help turn readers into leads and paying customers. To do this, you need to make sure you plan out content that has a clear call to action.

This will prompt your audience to do something. This is something I failed to do in the beginning stages when planning content for my business and I regretted it. It’s important to focus on providing value, but you also want to let people know what you want them to do. Is it to call you, email you, or make an online purchase? Show them the step they need to take next. Provide links or email address so that they can find it easy to reply and take action.

Step 8. Make It Visually Appealing

Content and visuals go hand-in-hand. When you’re planning digital content, be sure to include ideas for illustrations, charts, and images to support the text. Alternatively, use testimonials, bulleted lists or larger pull quotes. Divide sections with subheadings and use short paragraphs.

Again, planning all this out on a calendar will help you stay organized and on track. Remember, you don’t have to actually follow through will all of your ideas for content, images, SEO, etc. All you have to do is jot them down and organize them. 

The whole process can be done in under 20 minutes weekly or once a month as a huge content overhaul.

Do you plan out your content at all for your business? If so which one of these steps to you find most valuable?

 

Originally posted here.

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