Don’t Let Your Ego Get in The Way of Productivity

surrealistic picture of an apple reflecting in the mirror

The “work smarter, not harder” mantra has a lot of good advice in it; why spend more time on mundane tasks when you can create a more efficient way to do it faster, with less work? Unfortunately, there’s a few downsides to this mindset; specifically, a big ego overload of feeling smarter than the rest of the “working harder” coworkers around you. This classic Book of Hook post outlines the productivity pitfalls of this kind of thinking:

Your Attitude Writing Checks Your Work Ethic Can’t Cash: An overinflated sense of your own abilities creates a constant state of production deficit, because you assume that you can make it up with a burst of brilliance and/or crunch.But there is no countering surplus to offset the deficit.  The only way surpluses show up is when you finish a (presumably) hard task much faster than you anticipated.  But instead of banking the surplus (i.e. moving on immediately to your next task), you spend it relaxing and screwing off because, whew, you just earned a small vacation by busting shit out in an hour that you thought would take all day…

Trap of the Easy Task: And yeah, it’s often all good, but when operating at a slight deficit things can go pear shaped quickly when you accidentally spring the trap of the easy task… In other words, an easy task like this is so easy that it’s a constant time cost for everyone irrespective of ability, so there’s no opportunity nor need for crazy overestimation since what could possibly go wrong?… It’s like having a perfect monetary budget that assumes no crazy “one time” only bills, except life is full of crazy one time only bills and the only way you can keep those under control is by giving yourself a budgetary capacitor to dampen the fluctuations… But if you had banked your surplus hours before and/or worked at closer to your theoretical peak effectiveness then this type of thing would get absorbed in the wash…

Identity Recalibration Crisis: Which leads to a potential identity recalibration crisis upon landing at a company with high performers that work hard and smart. And that will happen if you’re good. Now you’re no longer at the top of the curve. In fact, shit, you’re in the middle or bottom of the curve, a situation your brain probably never considered as an option.

To fix these kinds of pitfalls, what you really need to do is kill the underachiever inside you. A few of our favorite ways to turn that sinking ship around are:

1. Never say “I’ll finish it up tomorrow” or “I’ll make up for it by coming in early/staying late/working the weekend”.  This is an easy trap to get into, where you keep incurring time debt until at some point you realize you’re now three weeks behind on a task that should have taken two days.

2. Do not over-promise to make up for poor productivity.  There’s a tendency when we’re falling behind to try to overcompensate with future promises.  ”When I’m done, it’ll be AWESOME” or “I know I’m late, but I’m positive I’ll be done by Monday”.  By doing those things we just build more debt we can’t pay off, and that will eventually lead to a catastrophic melt down when the super final absolutely last deadline date shows up.

Read all eight ways to fix your productivity here.

Related Reading: Get Over Yourself: How Your Ego Sabotages Your Creativity

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6 Coffee Alternatives That Are Better for Productivity

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Regardless of where you fall on the “is coffee good or bad for you” debate, there will come a workday when you can barely keep your head up at your desk, and coffee is not an option. Maybe you’ve already had two or three cups with no real effect, or maybe you’ve been trying to quit but still haven’t found a good alternative yet.

As part of Fast Company‘s “Coffee Week” coverage, Lisa Evans offers a number (6 in all) of other options. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

Green Tea: This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don’t end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.

Eat Some Chocolate and Have a Laugh: That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%…

Raise the Heat in the Office: That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.

And if what you’re really jonesing for are the sweet, soothing sounds of a coffee shop while you work, there’s always Coffitivity.

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Do Elite Colleges Produce Risk-Averse Students?

Statue of John Harvard aka the "statue of three lies" at Harvard University.

Statue of John Harvard aka the “statue of three lies” at Harvard University.

Extracurriculars, straight A’s, volunteer work. . . Getting into top-flight colleges demands a ridiculous amount of free time, dedication, and energy, which are exactly the kinds of things that stifle learning. So does that mean that the Ivy Leagues are now producing students who are better at following orders than experimenting?

The New Yorker takes on the issue using William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life as a backdrop:

They’re meant to do it all, and they do. But they don’t know why, or how, to find fulfillment in the absence of new hoops to jump through.

Learning is supposed to be about falling down and getting up again until you do it right. But, in an academic culture that demands constant achievement, failures seem so perilous that the best and the brightest often spend their young years in terrariums of excellence. The result is what Deresiewicz calls “a violent aversion to risk.” Even after graduation, élite students show a taste for track-based, well-paid industries like finance and consulting (which in 2010 together claimed more than a third of the jobs taken by the graduating classes of Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton). And no wonder. A striver can “get into” Goldman Sachs the way that she got into Harvard. There is no résumé submission or recruiting booth if you want to make a career as a novelist.

If our brightest minds are mainly falling into fields like finance, what does that mean for the next generation of leaders?

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The Case Against “Doing What You Love”

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and gave her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.

My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.

But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.

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5-Second DIY: Notebook Index

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Adam Akhtar of Highfive has a great—albeit surprisingly simple—tip to add visual tags to your notebook or moleskin for organizing your notes. All it takes is your notebook and a pen:

The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it [in the back]…

Now you’d go back to the first page where the [note] is and on the exact same line as the…label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge. You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various [notes] you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.

The process is very easy to use, and can be paired with other “hacks” for an added organizational boost (like using different colors for different topics). If you still use a physical notebook, this is one approach you’re definitely going to want to consider.

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Follow Your “Why,” Not Your “What”

person-question

Question designed by Jessica Lock from the Noun Project

Finding purpose in your work not only benefits your life, but helps differentiate you from others in your industry. Sunny Bonnell, co-founder and creative director of Motto, explains: 

Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of designers, how will you stand apart? If you’re guilty of leading with what you do, start with why you do it and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to leverage the power of your purpose.

Your “why” is a powerful driving force for your life and career. It provides a common goal that directs your actions and provides the dedication to get there. In addition, passion is contagious. Your excitement will excite others who will want to get involved in what you do. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

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Share Your Ideas While You Build Them, Not After

talking

Talking designed by Klara Zalokar from the Noun Project

 The sooner you share your ideas, the sooner you will find a solution that works for everyone. Try to collaborate with your clients during the design process instead of simply presenting to them at the end. That’s what digital strategist Michelle Campbell learned during the SXSW Interactive Festival:

At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.

Your clients may not know much about design, but they are experts in their industries. Getting their feedback early on will prevent you from getting attached to an idea that isn’t going to work. Campbell reminds us:

… we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.

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