The Man Who Never Says “No”

Adam Grant is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and he almost never says “no.” He answers every email and accepts all requests for favors. Yet, the man is highly productive and, as a result, has thousands of people who feel indebted with gratitude. According to a profile of Grant in the New York Times he “has published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards” and routinely receives emails from people gushingly thanking him for his help. From the piece:

For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

Grant’s work on giving has mixed with his own personal life and has him thinking a lot about what makes a good “giver:”

[Grant] divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders.

And if you think all of that “giving” would tax one’s workday, you’d be right:

Once, when Grant was asked to give a talk on productivity, he confessed to a mentor that for all his research, he was still not sure what he did that was any different from anyone else. It wasn’t exactly a mystery, his mentor told him: He worked more.

It’s a long one, but we highly recommend settling down and reading the entire piece. It’s a fascinating look at someone who is an accomplished psychologist embodying their work, with the self-awareness to discuss its effects honestly. It also calls into question: giving to others is undoubtedly a path to happiness, but how much is too much?

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Learn Faster While Also Helping Others

 

Researchers have found that the best way to learn something is to teach as you learn. Over at PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean explains why:

People recall more and learn better when they expect to teach that information to another person, a new study finds…

The likely reason why this fairly simple trick works is that it tends to automatically activate more successful learning strategies, the kind routinely used by teachers…

The authors explain: “When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

If you want to learn a new language, how to program, or anything else for that matter: find a friend to teach as you learn. You’ll retain more information, be better equipped to use it, and help someone else out too.

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Science Says You Should Only Check Email at Designated Times

Elements designed by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

Elements designed by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

Over at The New York Times, researcher Daniel Levitin shares why you should give your brain a much-needed reset by only checking email or social feeds during designated times:

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.

The science Levitin refers to here is that which he conducted with his collaborator from Stanford, professor of neuroscience Vinod Menon. The researchers discovered that part of the brain called the insula is responsible for switching our thoughts from high-focus to unfocused, depending on the task at hand.

When the insula is balanced evenly, we can be extremely focused for productivity or letting ourselves get caught in wild daydreams to boost creativity. The problem, Levitin explains, is when our insula is imbalanced, either by overwhelming distractors (like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, or co-workers) or by a lack of energy caused by a poor night’s sleep, for example.

Dedicating portions and set times of your day for checking email, social networks, meetings, or other common attention-sucking tasks can give your brain the much-needed structure it needs.

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Some of the Best Designed Offices in the World

Airbnb's San Francisco Headquarters via officelovin.com

Airbnb’s San Francisco Headquarters via officelovin.com

We’ve discussed before how much our working environments can have an outsized effect on our output. Luckily, Officelovin is collecting photos of their favorite offices in a variety of industries and locations. The beautiful photos provide plenty of inspiration for both home offices and company workplaces alike.

Some of our favorites include Bitium’s industrial wall shelves:

Bitium's Santa Monica Offices via officelovin.com

Bitium’s Santa Monica Offices via officelovin.com

And Bulldog Drummond’s lounge area, that looks like a real living room:

Bulldog Drummond's San Diego Office via officelovin.com

Bulldog Drummond’s San Diego Office via officelovin.com

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Tackle Your Passion Project With The 90-90-1 Rule

Wake up by A.M. Briganti from The Noun Project

Wake up by A.M. Briganti from The Noun Project

The daily grind can quickly overshadow our passion projects; emails and meetings tend to displace things like writing a book or training for a marathon. How can we strike a balance and dedicate time, attention and energy to that one special project that needs our focus? Robin Sharma encourages us to use the 90-90-1 Rule.

For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your work day to the one best opportunity in your life. Nothing else. Zero distractions. Just get that project done. Period.

Sharma urges us to not give our peak hours to meaningless work:

Just stop doing any fake work first thing in the morning. Check your email after lunch. Make your phone calls in the afternoon. Surf the Net in the evening.

A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology concluded that on average, it takes more than two months (66 days, to be exact) before a new behaviour becomes a habit. Sharma’s rule tacks an extra month onto the 66 days, guaranteeing that the habit sticks. Give the best hours of your day to moving forward on something meaningful.

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The Best School Supplies

From thewirecutter.com

From thewirecutter.com

Even if you’re not heading back to college or putting your own kids on a school bus this fall, there’s something about September that brings out an itch for new office supplies. But with thousands of options out there, and a high-price not always equaling a higher value, how do you know what’s the best bang for your buck? You ask The Wirecutter, whose writers tested everything (with “over 50 hours spent on fresh research”) to compile a detailed list of the best pens and notebooks, to dorm life products like eye masks and shower caddies, to tablets and USB battery packs. A few of our favorites include the best pen:

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The 0.7 mm uni-ball Jetstream is the top everyday pick of several widely-read pen aficionados—including our own Tim Barribeau, who wrote our guide—and costs only $9 for a three-pack. It’s “widely lauded for being super smooth to use, extremely fine, and requiring very little pressure to use,” Tim says. Every expert he’s spoken to so far has recommended it, and Amazon reviewers, who have given it 4.5 stars over 49 reviews, like its good color and constant flow, saying it’s a good pick for left-handed writers, too.

And the best travel mug is a great pick as well:

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If you want to carry your coffee around, the $32 Zojirushi Stainless Mug will keep it hot all day. In our testing, it beat out six other models, keeping coffee at least 20 degrees hotter after eight hours than its closest competitor. You can drink out of it one-handed—no fumbling for the lid latch here—and it still locks easily and efficiently, meaning it won’t spill in your bag on the way to class.
We also love that you can use it for cold liquids, too; no, that’s not the intended use, but when we tested it with cold liquids, the temperature rose only 4 degrees, the best performance of any of the models we looked at.

Others we love include their choice for best USB battery pack, headphones, and portable coffee maker.

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Tim Brown: How to Be a Creative Listener

listen

Listen designed by Rémy Médard from the Noun Project

International design firm IDEO created a four-part podcast series on Creative Listening for the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. In a total of 30 minutes, you can learn key habits for better listening:

How to utilize your intuition: Sometimes too much information is just that. It can be overwhelming and logic can only get you so far. That’s when you need to trust your gut and ask, “What’s really important here?” “What’s going on behind the surface, the unsaid versus the said?”

How to hone your interpretation skills: Industry jargon and wordy explanations often mask the true value of something. Learning how to distill a message down to its essence, into simple, understandable language isn’t “dumbing it down,” it’s giving it wings. . .

And finally, learn how to amp up your curiosity: Curiosity pushes us beyond what we know and challenges us to look at long-held beliefs in a new light. Staying curious—always asking “Why?” like an earnest preschooler—is a critical muscle that needs to be continuously flexed if you want to have new, game-changing ideas.

By actively listening, you can find valuable information to inspire new ideas. The podcasts are rich in examples where innovative ideas have come to light because they listened to more than what was being said. As writer G. K. Chesteron noted, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”

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