Video: Productivity Starts Long Before the To Do List

Regardless of the way you keep track of what you need to do, it can be easy to spend too much time fiddling with tools instead of actually working. David Sparks offers a couple pieces of key advice to help you put your focus back where it matters — your work.

  1. Don’t work from your entire task list. Start each day by creating a manageable daily list.
  2. Only use due dates for tasks that will truly blow up if they aren’t finished by that date.
  3. If you’re hit with a bit of info during the day throw it in your inbox and keep working.
  4. End your day by cleaning out the tasks that accumulated in your inbox during the day.
  5. In between your morning and evening organization sessions remember the most important thing —  do stuff.

Your preferred software or method of organization doesn’t matter. Productively using your tools is much less about the tools in question and more about the behaviors and habits you bring to the way you use them. David’s talk is a refreshing reminder to always bring our focus back to what matters — the work we’ve deemed important enough to organize in the first place!

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Turn Your Obstacles into Secret Weapons

By Golden Wolf

By Golden Wolf

As a professional snowboarders from the flattest province in Canada (not exactly ideal for a downhill sport), Mark and Craig McMorris understand that creative problem-solving is fundamental to following your passion. In a mini-documentary presented by Red Bull, Craig explains how they made their passion a reality despite the glaring set backs:  

We grew up without that traditional path or guys that went before us and became pro snowboarders where we’re from. We didn’t get that, but what we did get was a different set of skills from wake boarding and skateboarding and also scratching tooth and nail to get on the snowboard as much as possible. I think that’s what drove our passion. So we had to be creative, very innovative and we just found different ways to do it. We are continuing in our snowboarding to find different ways of reaching that next step.

Mark and Craig needed to be creative out of necessity to acquire the skills required for snowboarding at a professional level. This necessity, however, also led them to excel due to their different approach to the sport. Often we think we need to practice one skill, and that one skill alone to make us great. However, by improving other similar talents, you improve overall and continue to be inspired. As Craig relates, “what really inspires us and gets us to where we’re at is also doing different sports outside of snowboarding.”

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How To Navigate Difficult Conversations

By João Abraúl

By João Abraúl

Sooner or later you will have a difficult conversation with your team. Research shows that 80% of managers believe that difficult conversations are a part of their job. Yet 53% said that they avoid conversations due to a lack of training.

 
Communications expert Dr. Marcia Reynolds, author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs, shares her insights on what it takes to have difficult conversations: 
Don’t tell the other person what to do.
You’re there to discover what it would take for the person to want the result you want…Once you discover what they want, you can help motivate them to move forward.
 
Put the other person first.
Enter the conversation with the purpose of helping the other person discover solutions…If they sense you’re there for yourself alone, they will not engage.
Set an emotional intention for the conversation.
If you’re angry or disappointed from the beginning, the other person will never open up. What do you want him or her to feel? Inspired? Hopeful? Use this word as an anchor during the conversation.
Show authentic respect.
Recall the person’s good work and remember that they’re doing their best with that they know how. Even if you disagree with their perspective, honor the human in front of you.
Dealing with conflict isn’t easy, but it’s costly to avoid.

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Size Doesn’t Matter

By Aled Lewis

By Aled Lewis

Everyone wants the next big idea, but creative writer Scott Berkun knows the power of small ideas. In his blog post Why Small Ideas Can Matter More Than Big Ideas, he explains you should be more concerned about the application of the idea:  

Rather than worrying about the size of an idea, which most people do, it’s more productive to think about the possible leverage an idea has. To do this requires thinking not only about the idea itself, but how it will be used. An idea can have a different amount of leverage depending on where, when and how carefully it is applied.

For example, the McDonald brothers had the simple idea of making their food process repeatable to improve efficiency. Not a big idea in itself, but when applied consistently to their now 35,000 locations, it had a huge result. Alternatively, you can take a small idea from one industry and apply it to another, such as the safety checklist pilots use and apply it to hospital surgeons. So don’t throw out your small idea; it may just need to be utilized differently. Berkun reminds us, “the basic logic we use is the bigger the idea, the bigger the value, but often that’s not true.”

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Step Away from the iPhone: The Case for a Paper Planner

By Jonas Löwgren

By Jonas Löwgren

Kat Ascharya, over on 2machines, makes a case for retiring devices and apps when it comes to organizing your schedule and to-do lists. She decided to try out a temporary switch from technological tablet to real notebook, and never changed back:

Using paper brought a surprising amount of joy back to my life. The advantages were practical: having a limited amount of space to write forced me to ruthlessly prioritize tasks. The process of checking my planner every morning created a sense of ritual and structure to my day. And the physical act of writing engaged me more — I remember things better.

A paper planner was unexpectedly fun, too. I would paste or tape interesting articles, images and quotations into my paper planner, turning it into a portable Pinterest-like inspiration board…. That fun and pleasure had a more efficient, effective impact on my life than any multi-platform functionality ever did. Planning and organizing became creative acts in and of themselves.

There are upsides abound for using modern technology to organize your time: it’s faster, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly (although technically, jury’s still out on that one). Technology syncs you up to your colleagues and clients—Outlook calendar invites aren’t going away any time soon. It’s more portable, requires less neatness, and needs no external implement beyond your finger. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity and artistry engendered by a pen-to-paper approach to managing your time and tasks. Many creatives Ascharya spoke with agree, citing the cognitive left-brain static that devices can create.

If it doesn’t work for your professional lifestyle to swap Google Calendar for a spiral-bound planner, consider turning to paper in other areas, like brainstorm sessions or note-taking. It’s better for your memory, leads to deeper thought, and offers less unproductive distraction.

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The Worst Stage of Burnout: “Brownout”

By Romain Laurent and BRANSCH

By Romain Laurent and BRANSCH

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 65% of employees report that work is a significant source of stress in their lives and 41% say that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.

While we might be able to successfully recognize the symptoms of burnout, we’re often oblivious to the alternative: a more deeper, obscured type of fatigue that afflicts successful, high-performing creatives. Over time, we can lose our passion for work and our commitment to our organizations, despite appearing composed.

Michael E Kibler, CEO of Corporate Balance Concepts, Inc., calls this burnout’s slower, and more sinister cousin: brownout.

Brownout, a term also used to describe part of the life cycle of a star, is different from burnout because knowledge workers afflicted by it are not in obvious crisis. They seem to be performing fine:  putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating  in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.

Kibler notes that high performers experiencing burnout exhibit the following signs:

  • Feeling drained from continuous, 24/7 obligations.
  • Physical deterioration due to years of sub-optimal sleep and self-care.
  • Tenuous relationships with immediate family members.
  • Distant relationships with old friends.
  • The atrophy of personal interests.
  • A diminishing ability to concentrate in non-business conversations.
Burnout is temporary, but brownout can have long-term, lasting effects.
 

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Obtain Super-Focus by Switching off Your Brain’s “Fast Mode”

By Basil Tsedik

One effect the constant overstimulation of modern media has on our brains is what Leo Babauta calls “Fast Mode.” When you rev up your mind by churning through email, your Twitter stream, Facebook news feed, and back again, your brain is working on overdrive. That million-miles-a-minute pace leads to empty productivity. You’ll cross small tasks off your to do list, sure. But you won’t complete anything meaningful or truly substantive.

Why is that exactly? The limitations of your brain’s Fast Mode lie in the quick pace of thinking and decision making. Consider how quickly you flick through tweets, thumbing down each page, favoriting some, clicking on a link here and there, replying briefly to others. Or email: most of the time you probably plow through your inbox, filing and archiving certain messages, deleting others, dashing off a rapid response to those that require it. Any emails that require more deliberate thought undoubtedly languish longer in your inbox until you can find the spare time to address them. Fast Mode is harmful in its blockage of deeper thought:

Writing or otherwise creating when your brain is in Fast Mode is nearly impossible, until you switch to Slow Mode. You’ll just switch from the writing to some smaller, faster task, or go to distractions. Considering a tough decision long enough to weigh the various factors and make a good decision is also pretty near impossible while you’re in Fast Mode…. You can’t really exercise or meditate in Fast Mode, either, because those take longer than a minute.

Babauta encourages learning to recognize when you’re operating in mental Fast Mode, and pump the brakes to switch gears to Slow Mode:

Being in Fast Mode leads to constant switching, and constant busy-ness. It leads to overwork, because when do you switch it off? It leads to exhaustion, because we never give ourselves breathing room.

Learn to recognize when you’re in Fast Mode, and practice switching to Slow Mode now and then. It’s essential to doing all the things that are really important.

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