Too often meetings are unproductive. Employees complain about the lack of agenda, the fact that nothing gets accomplished and the time it takes to complete. But meetings can be positive and—dare I say it—they can also be fun. Over at US News & World Report today, I talk about the five reasons to get excited when your next meeting is called to order. Read it here.
I am an inbox zero fanatic. I like organization, and no clutter – at home and at the office. As a result, I manage to clear all my emails every few days. Over at US News and World Report today, I share the five strategies I use to do it. Read it here.
Did you know? Healthy employees are nearly three times more productive at work, which translates to 140 working hours versus 45 working hours. Over at US News and World Report, I talk about five healthy habits to build your productivity and career. Read it here.
You might know about Dropbox, Evernote, and Highrise. But do you know about the next generation of apps poised to help you in the workplace and grow your business? Over at US News and World Report, I suggest six apps that are guaranteed to increase your productivity and maybe even help save your sanity. Read it here.
As high-performers, we enjoy getting things done and relish the act of crossing items off our to-do list. But it’s easy to get stuck in the feeling of productivity, without actually doing anything productive. Over at US News and World Report today, I reveal the seven productivity traps you need to avoid. Read it here.
May we all benefit from better email etiquette! Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the four P’s to writing a great email pitch. Read it here, and stop composing bad messages.
When I procrastinate a lot, it’s usually a sure-fire sign that my priorities have shifted, and my to-do list hasn’t caught up yet. Alas, the task still needs to get done! Over at US News and World Report recently, I shared my ten fail-safe strategies to avoid procrastination. Read it here, then share what works for you to stop procrastination in the comments.
Meetings are a dying breed of face-to-face engagement that have taken on more angst, agony and abuse in recent years than even the lowly cubicle.
“There’s nothing more toxic to productivity than a meeting,” Jason Fried argues, author of the best-selling book, Rework, “They break your work day into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow. They often contain at least one moron that inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense… The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.”
Did you get that? It is painstakingly difficult to form everyone around the table for a discussion. More than that, it’s unproductive. It’s time-consuming. It’s inefficient. Your co-workers are morons. Feelings could get hurt. Souls misunderstood. We should avoid each other at all costs. Don’t talk. Crouch and hide behind a monitor, like you learned to drop and roll for a fire.
Fried argues if you absolutely must hold a meeting, you should set up a timer and invite as few people as possible. Which really describes an industrial factory full of machines, not a cadre of smart people in a pioneering workplace, does it not?
More and more, solutions toward a better workplace include making sure we’re as far apart from each other as possible. Escapism is cloaked in flexible schedules, location-independence, and working from a coffee shop to the point of being revered; it’s okay that most people could never see another person and still do their job effectively.
We intentionally court the label of recluse as status symbol; evading a meeting is hip and progressive. Conversation is out.
A good deal of this obsession can be credited to our educational pedigree, where the American obsession with rote learning and standardized testing has married that old and outdated hag of work, the industrial model. Their child is the monstrosity of a workplace that we have today. Such systems, the trappings of knowledge and innovation, have actually killed creativity to the detriment of the current and future economy, and of course, our spirits.
We’re running away and far away in the wrong direction. Away from each other and towards nothing at all more grand, preferring the safety and fortitude of our screens more than the uncertainty and uncontrollability of real-life interactions.
Creativity once required a lone artist with his canvas or an eccentric inventor toiling away in his garage. But the new economy will increasingly require us to work together, to learn through the discovery of dialogue, the challenge of ideas and the experience of being in the same room – after all, the subtleties of a person’s mannerisms just don’t come through in a smiley face emoticon.
So maybe you could start a new kind of work revolution. One that doesn’t push away from each other but attracts us closer. Get up and talk. You know, within a physical distance that doesn’t require the use of email, text or gchat. Throw out your timer. Fight over something. Be interesting. Interrupt someone’s work.
Reach out and touch someone.
Work is the constant sifting and winnowing of how we make sense of the world. And real work can’t be done solely inside of a screen.
“Work is the only thing which makes life endurable to me,” Charles Darwin wrote, later remarking that work was his “sole enjoyment in life.” Darwin’s work allowed him to withdraw from the world to concentrate entirely on his genius.
Burying yourself in work is so ingrained and glorified in our culture to survive, that nowhere is safe, even the previously safe haunts of creativity where the tradition of daydreaming and an idle nature were once protected rights. Such inefficiencies are now subject to intense bright-lights examination.
One ad agency describes the process they went through to obtain ISO 5000, a certification previously reserved only for factory lines and manufacturing. The process revealed some “surprising inefficiencies” but came at a price. “All the hyper-efficiency can be exhausting,” reported the Chief Creative Officer Jeff Gabel. “You’ve removed your slop factor.”
Exhaustion is now the modus operandi. As such, workaholism is not a reaction to passion, but the inefficiencies of the modern workplace.
“The fact is,” Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent, says, “few white-collar employees work 9-5 at all anymore. We’re expected to address work issues on weeknights and often on weekends. We’re constantly reachable and it goes without saying that many are reviewed on the merits of their ‘always on’ capacity.” (via Max Kalehoff).
Most of us are working the usual 9 to 5, but also when inspiration strikes. Whereas in the industrial revolution, work was indeed done when you completed your widgets for the day, the knowledge society demands your energy when it’s seemingly most inconvenient. Right before bed and long into the night, for instance, or first thing upon opening your eyes in the morning.
There’s a credible explanation for these 9 to 5 outliers, which is that the productivity pockets are cushioned by breaks – a tweet, sleep, dinner, interaction with friends and family. Such idleness is great sustenance.
Alain de Botton, best known for his philosophies on everyday life, agrees. There’s a glorious stubbornness to human nature, he says. We need a break, we need a pause, we’re not made for continuous action. Looking out the window is a fundamental part of human nature, he argues.
“Periodic breaks relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform — pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking,” argue the authors of Creativity and the Mind, a landmark text in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity. Their research suggests that regular breaks enhance problem-solving skills significantly, Wired reports.
We’re working all the time, not because we need to, or even because it’s effective, but because our jobs require us to show up, be seen, and scrub through the afternoon slump. But the truth is, no one is working at 3 pm. That should be nap time, argues De Botton. (Interestingly, those who nap have a higher capacity to learn).
The culture of workaholism, worn with a badge of narcissistic and perfectionist pride, isn’t mixed with a lot of real work, he says. In our squeeze for uber-efficiency, we’re making a giant mess of inefficiencies.
A recent Wall Street Journal post profiled a young “superhero” who “rises at 3:30 a.m., works out before work, takes three of his four kids to school, works flat-out all day, gets home for dinner and bedtime with the family and then works until midnight.”
If you were counting, the young superhero gets a whopping three and a half hours of sleep. Disgusting.
Workaholism is sick and it’s wrenching to watch the pedestal we build for it.
We are not drones, and we should not indenture ourselves to workaholic servitude. Our rhythms, what truly brings about the bliss of efficiency, require not the constant ticking of the clock, but a restful mind, a glance in the other direction, a check mark in a box that doesn’t exist on any spreadsheet.
That is, sometimes work needs a little life.
For creativity, you need to get rid of the crap. Your surroundings are a reflection of who you are, and the state of your environment is a reflection of the state of your mind.
I work best when everything is in its proper place. At this point, I should make a disclaimer. Everyone works differently. You might work well in crap. I cannot. The piles and dust and general disorder weigh on my mind. Like a big stinky dump truck with tin cans tied to the bumper that clang against the sides of my brain. No, I do not work well with disorder.
Chaos and confusion within your to-do list will also make a mess of your mind. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Get it out of the way. Right now.
For me, it’s tough to deal with accounting-related tasks. Not only because I am so clearly a right-brained person, but because I’m also directly responsible for my own salary. It’s incredibly stressful. So I sub-consciously avoid the numbers game because it’s difficult and hard and sticky.
But it’s also incredibly important, so I push it to the forefront daily. After all, the show cannot go on without money, and I really love that thing called eating. So while I would really prefer to be brainstorming the next big idea, finishing the accounting makes me feel just as good, euphoric even.
Purging your to-do list of items that bring you anxiety means not only crossing off the difficult and boring tasks, but getting rid of the items that suck your energy.
For instance, I have a habit of adding unnecessary to-dos to my list. Items that are so ridiculously broad such as “recruitment,” or so entrenched in abbreviation like “LM to SC and in DB & Ltr” that I have no frickin’ clue what I’m supposed to be doing or where to start. Such items are now banned from my college-lined notebook. Don’t let them show up in yours. Sneaky rascals, those to-dos.
It’s kind of like the style shows where they embarrass people into dressing properly. The fashionable teach the outdated, passé, and defunct how to rid their closet of negative energy and bedazzaled Capri jeans. By doing so they make the simple act of getting dressed a retreat of confidence, coolness and beauty.
Now, just think if your to-do list were that sexy.
Face your work woes. Creativity will follow the work that you do and the risks you take.