So much of what gets passed off as productivity involves trying to do more tasks. If the value of your tasks are all equal, then this might make sense, but not all tasks are equal. Imagine you have 10 tasks you could potentially work on today. Nine have a value of one, but the tenth one has a value of ten times that. Even if you are able to complete all nine of those low values tasks, you have failed if you don’t complete the high-value task.Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
The productivity benefits of doing more things are minuscule compared to the gains of doing the most valuable things first. Someone working with superhuman efficiency on low-value tasks is never going to out perform someone working with normal efficiency on ultra high-value work. Any system you use for organizing your work needs to be centered around the act of prioritization. If your system doesn’t do that, it isn’t going to optimize your productivity.
The funny thing about focusing on prioritization is that it isn’t something you need any fancy tools to do. You don’t need special software or an app for your phone–you just need to be able to make a list and then prioritize the order. If your list of tasks is hard to prioritize, you may find it is easier to write your...
John was the CEO of ACME Toothpaste and he was always looking for ways to make his factory more efficient. One of the areas he was looking into was the problems caused when an empty box somehow made its way to a store without containing a tube of toothpaste. When a large box packed with individual boxes of toothpaste arrived at a store, the store would check in the big box and then unpack the individual boxes onto the shelves. If one of the individual boxes was missing a tube of toothpaste, it caused a lot of inconvenience for the store and the company because of the amount of time it took to straighten out the accounting, refunds, etc. On top of all that, empty boxes made the toothpaste company look bad to their customers.
John knew he could improve their efficiency and bolster their relationship with stores if they could make sure they didn’t ever ship out a box that was missing a tube of toothpaste. A high priced consultant was brought in who studied the assembly line and installed a laser system that would shine on the side of each box as it came down the line. If there was no tube in the box, a faint red glow would show up on the opposite side of the box. A sensor could detect this, stop the line,...
Everyone “knows” that college graduates make more money than people without a college degree. So, if you take everyone with a college degree and put them in bucket A, and put everyone without a college degree in bucket B, the average wage of bucket A will be higher than B.
So, does that mean you should get a college degree in order to get higher income? Does getting a college degree actually help you earn more money? No. It doesn’t.Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash
The real thing that will help you earn more is acquiring valuable skills. Many people acquire skills in college, so it isn’t surprising that college graduates on average make more money. However, if you put everyone who has valuable skills in one bucket and everyone without valuable skills in another, you’d find the skilled bucket has a much higher average income than the non-skilled. Further, you’d find that there were some people with great skills and no degree and others with a degree and no skills.
My point is that focusing on getting a degree is pretty pointless. I was looking through some old papers with my grandmother a few years ago. She showed me my great grandfather’s diploma from seminary and his license to practice law in Kansas. I asked about the diploma from his law degree and found that he didn’t...
In an effort to help you be more productive during the Christmas shopping season, here are two ideas for family Christmas gifts that are focused on sharing photos with family. I’ve given both of these devices as gifts to family members in the past and they have been very well enjoyed for years.Google Chromecast
The Chromecast might seem like an odd family gift, but it has a nice little feature that lets you set it up to play a slideshow from a Google Photos album. If you hook this up to a TV at Grandma’s house and give all of her grandkids access to add photos to the album, she’ll have a very nice picture frame she can leave on when she isn’t watching television. The Chromecast also makes it very easy for people to show their videos (closer to it’s intended use) by anyone on her wifi.
When we take vacations with extended family, I like to set one up on the TV in the main living area and ask everyone to add pictures of the vacation to it. This really helps make sure everyone gets to see the different perspectives of the different families and inspires more conversation than if the TV was playing broadcast television.Pix-Star Picture Frame
While a bit more expensive. The Pix-Star digital picture frame is another great way to share photos with loved ones....
Minimalism means very different things to different people. What someone living in downtown LA considers a minimalistic existence is probably very different from what someone who lives a nomadic life on the plains of Africa would consider minimalistic. What I want to talk about here is a type of minimal minimalism. The goal isn’t to get rid of all of your stuff or get down to only 100 possessions. Minimal minimalism is about recognizing that most things cost much more than simply their purchase price and very few things are actually “free” when all factors are considered.Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash
When you upgrade your cell phone, there is a cost in time. You have to move your contacts over, learn the new features, and you also have to go down to the cell phone store to pick it up. The new phone may or may not be worth this cost in time. The idea of minimal minimalism isn’t to necessarily get rid of your phone, it is about recognizing that the stuff you own also owns you. When you buy something new, you are making a commitment in time to that item. In many cases, you are sacrificing a portion of your life to that item. You must make sure that the cost of the new item...
Some time ago, the New York Times had an article talking about how the United States Postal Service started scanning every piece of mail in response to the anthrax attacks back in 2001. This was part of a program called the Mail Isolation and Tracking system.
That infrastructure can now be used by most people to get images of the pieces of mail that are going to be delivered to your mailbox each day. This service is called Informed Delivery and if it is available in your area, you can sign up for it here.
Every day you’ll get an email showing you the mail that will be delivered. It doesn’t seem to include some of the local items that are delivered directly from the post office. For example, I don’t get a scan of the front page of my newspaper that comes in the mail, but most of the mail does seem to show up. Especially things like bills.
Example of a daily email showing the letters that will be delivered.
In addition to the email there is an app that will let you browse through the mail that you were sent for the last few days. It also shows upcoming deliveries for packages.
If you want to be productive, you must complete work. Almost everything we do has multiple stages to completion and in many situations, you don’t actually create value until you finish the last stage. Farmers can’t sell their grain until it is harvested. Automakers can’t sell a bunch of cars that have made it 90% of the way through the assembly line. Most employers aren’t going to pay you for having a degree unless you finished the last class and graduated.
Now all those things require starting, but if you have work in progress, the most valuable thing you can do is to pick something and finish it. Finishing is where you start benefiting from the value you’ve created. I’ve noticed that many successful people aren’t the ones who are the smartest or have the best ideas. They are often the ones who do the best job of taking an idea and completing it. A good idea fully executed is better than a great idea that never gets completed.
Does this mean you need to finish everything you start? Not necessarily, but if you don’t think something is worth finishing, be honest with yourself and terminate the project. Don’t leave hundreds of half finished efforts lying around physically or mentally acting like you are going to come back and pick them up. If you need to drop something, do so strategically and intentionally. If you’ve put significant effort into a project, you may...
I’ve tried a number of Bluetooth earpieces and headphones and finally found one that I’d buy again after using it for two years. The earpiece is the Plantronics Voyager Legend. One of the big things I was looking for in an ear piece was the ability to mute it from the device itself. If I’m on a call, and there is some sort of background noise I don’t want to share, I don’t want to have to find the mute button on the phone or on my computer. This is especially important because I make a lot of calls while we are traveling and it is easy to get into a situation where I need to say something quickly in my local environment that would be a distraction on the call. The Legend has a physical mute button, so it takes care of this nicely.
The other big thing I ran into with some of the other headsets was limited battery life. I have never run out of power while using it. When the battery has gone dead it is because I left it on overnight. It says it can last up to 7 hours of use. When I turn mine on from a full charge it says it should last for 6 hours and while I haven’t stress tested it to find out, I haven’t ever run out of power while using it.
The Legend is supposed to be able to...
If you are really focused on expanding your capabilities, your salary is probably a secondary motivation when it comes to employment. Your major motivation is going to be your learning and growth opportunities. The graph below shows how learning opportunities change over time.
At the beginning of any job, you will have many opportunities to learn because everything is new. This section is marked by the green zone. Every day will involve new experiences and learning new things. As time goes on, this tends to level out, as shown by the yellow zone. Sometimes the yellow zone is only temporary and you will be given new responsibilities that will have new learning opportunities–you’ll basically start the cycle over again.
If this doesn’t happen and you remain at a reduced learning rate for a period of time, you’ll move into the red zone. The red zone is particularly dangerous because it means you are becoming accustomed to a lack of personal growth and a lack of challenges. If you stay in this zone for too long, you will actually reduce your capabilities to take on challenging assignments.
So when should you look for a new job? While you are in the green zone, you will be facing a lot of challenges. Some of these will be difficult and sometimes you might even fail. This is not an indication that you should move on. It means you are still growing. One mistake I see...
If you want to reach your full potential you must constantly evaluate yourself. There are always obstacles. Sometimes, it might be a lack of skill, so you go back to school. At other times, it might be interpersonal skills that you need to develop. However, one of the biggest hurdles is something that doesn’t get much attention. I’m going to call it a social glass ceiling.
Whether we admit it or not, our ideas about what we can accomplish are very much related to the capabilities of the people we are around. It is as if we have an internal bell curve that we use to compare our performance with our peers. If you outperform everyone around you in a certain area, it is going to be difficult to reach your full potential.
I’ve been in classes where I was the top student. I don’t mean I was in the top 10%. I mean I was hands down the best student in the class. It would take me 15 minutes to complete the tests that were scheduled for 60 minutes, where most of the other students would run out of time. In one of these classes, I had earned an A for the entire class after the first two weeks. The professor told me I didn’t need to show up anymore if I didn’t feel like it.
In another class I was not the best student. In fact, I had serious doubts as to whether or not I could even pass the class....
Back in 2005 we wrote about the September/October 2005 issue of The Futurist where they examined Americans’ use of time. According to the article, the common perception that there just isn’t enough time isn’t supported by the stats from a national study using time-diaries. Basically, the findings show that Americans average 35 hours per week of work time and 35 hours per week of free time. So how does that compare to today? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics people spent an average of 35.91 hours each week on leisure activities in 2016. The average time spent working was closer to 40 hours, but it isn’t clear that the methodology is the same.
Regardless of the exact numbers, it is clear that most people don’t feel like they have 35 hours of free time each week.
One of the reasons people feel like they have no time is because of marketing. There are many businesses who make money if you don’t feel like you have enough time. Everything from self-help books to prepared foods to delivery services depend on people who feel like they are too busy.
So where does all the free time go? The 2005 study showed over half of that time is spent watching television which was about what it had been in 1990. BLS is showing people spent 2.73 hours per day watching Television in 2016 which pretty close to half of their free time.
The last two years have been very busy and required a lot more travel than normal for me and my family. I’ll typically book my own travel and call American Express when I have something more complicated than I can just book online. However American Express is a bit focused on their particular programs and partners. They will take your frequent flyer numbers and hotel program numbers and use them when they book, but they won’t necessarily look at your situation as a whole and try to find the best place for you based on your status level.
I started looking for other options that provide concierge/travel booking/executive assistant type services thinking that when we are spending a lot of time on the road, such a service might be able to pay for itself by focusing on leveraging our status in various programs to get us into upgraded accommodations. I looked at a few places and decided to try Red Butler. My goal was for them to have a complete view of everything about how my family travels and be able to make our hectic schedule a lot more pleasant by thinking through all the different options and finding the ones that would work best for us–especially when it came to getting hotels.
Right about the time I was getting setup with Red Butler, we got an apartment in Manhattan which meant I wasn’t needing to find a hotel room every week. Since travel was only part of what RedButler offered I decided to...
If you are like me, you’ve probably heard enough about “positive thinking” that you tend to just ignore it. Today I read an article in the New York Times that reminded me just how powerful our expectations are–both positive and negative. The article talks about what is called the “nocebo” effect. You are probably familiar with the placebo effect. People who are given a sugar pill and think it will cure their ailment will often see improvements simply because they expect it to help. The nocebo effect is the tendency of people to get expected side effects even when they are taking a sugar pill. If they think that a pill may cause stomach problems, a higher percentage of people taking the sugar pill will get stomach problems–even though the only reason is mental.
In one incredible case, a participant in an antidepressant clinical trial tried to commit suicide by overdosing on the trial pills. The test subject didn’t know it, but their pills were the placebos from the control group so they should have been harmless. Even though the pills themselves had no effect on their body, their blood pressure dropped dangerously low. They had dropped their blood pressure using their mind alone. Through some mental process, they were able to create the effects that the medicine would have had if it were real.
This obviously has all kinds of implications...
Here are some of the top five traps I find people fall into when they try to increase their productivity. Most of them aren’t bad things in and of themselves. However, if they become your focus, you can be sure you aren’t going to be getting the benefits you are striving for.
Software needs to enable your system. Just buying a piece of software won’t make you any more productive. Sometimes when you buy software you are also buying the system and procedure that comes with it. This isn’t bad, but if you don’t understand that the real thing of value is the system you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
I know people whose first reaction to something they don’t want to do, or something that is taking up some of their time is to go out and buy a multi-thousand dollar piece of software. Their past is littered with software that isn’t being used for one reason or another but has still consumed a tremendous amount of finances and time.Hire someone else to manage your finances
Managing your finances is one of those things that you have a bigger interest in than just about anyone else. Make sure you always stay engaged in the areas where your expertise and interest are likely to be valuable. That doesn’t mean you can’t hire help–just make sure you understand what is going on and aren’t simply...
Here are five (slightly random) tips that I’ve found make me much more productive. Do you use any of these?
Tools like LastPass and 1Password are great ways to handle logging into the hundreds of websites we all deal with. Last time I checked, I have over 300 passwords I have to keep track of. There is no way I could do that without some software to help me.Learn Excel
Excel is a very powerful tool and I regularly use it instead of writing a piece of software when I need to do something. Investing some time in really learning how to use Excel is a very good way to boost your productivity. TIP: If you want a place to start, read the help files on Pivot Tables. They are a feature many people don’t know about that will save you hours and days.Phone Camera
I’ve been surprised at how handy it is to have a phone with a decent camera. I can take a picture of a receipt and attach it to an expense report (using Expensify). I can take a picture of a list of names to make sure I have them later. I’ve even used it to take pictures of a microfiche display when the printer was broken so I could document my research.Put Notes In The Computer
Years ago, I took the Franklin Covey training. One of the things that...
One of the biggest road blocks in the path to productivity is stuff. We surround ourselves with the things we own, but in many ways our stuff really owns us. We have to maintain our stuff, clean our stuff, sort our stuff, get a bigger house to hold our stuff and move our stuff to find other stuff.
Now it isn’t that stuff is bad, but we have to recognize that everything comes with a cost. Most people recognize this with pets. Before you get a dog, you think through the responsibility it will entail, who will watch it when you travel, etc. While stuff may not be as high-maintenance as a dog or cat, there are very few things that are truly maintenance free.
The problem is that many people are very bad at deciding what is actually important to them, so they end up acquiring a great number of items that aren’t particularly important to them, but consume their time and space. They never get rid of anything because they don’t have any mental framework to understand what really isn’t valuable to them. When you don’t know what is important, you tend to keep everything.
The point here isn’t to get rid of everything down to a specific number. I know people who are trying to live with only 50 things, but that probably isn’t going to work for most people. Really, the goal is to make sure...
One of the biggest ways people lose their productivity is in trying to decide what to do. This probably seems silly, but if you look at most planning techniques, they are mostly designed to reduce the amount of time you have to spend making a decision on what to do next. Why? Because that is probably one of the biggest time drains people face. Instead of working on something important, they spend time trying to decide or worrying about what to do next. If you are really bad about this, you can spend more time trying to decide which task to do than it would take to just complete the tasks.
Years ago, I went to several Franklin Planner training sessions. The whole point of how they teach you to manage your tasks is to help reduce the friction of trying to decide what to do next. You make your decision during your planning and simply follow your plan so you don’t have to lose time between the actual tasks. Most other planning methods are really trying to do the same thing, though most don’t come out and say it directly.
I’ve been watching my five-year-old daughter as she writes words. Sometimes a page takes her a very long time to complete, but it usually isn’t the actual writing that slows her down. It is the time spent in between words where she pauses and thinks. At one...
I’ve recently made two changes that have made me surprisingly more productive. The first was switching from my 17-inch MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air. The second was switching to a newer Mifi device to get to the Internet over the cellular network. The commonality between these two changes is they both replaced devices with batteries that normally lasted about 4 hours. The new Mifi and laptop can get 8 to 12 hours of life on a single charge.
When I first bought the MacBook Air, I thought it would be marginally more useful because I wouldn’t have to plug in the laptop as often. Had that been the case, it probably would have been a bit more useful, but not enough for me to really notice a difference. I would still be searching for outlets. What happened is I now don’t have to plug in my laptop at all until I’m back in my hotel for the evening. In fact, when I’m on site with a client, I usually leave my charger in the hotel because I know I won’t need it. This means I’m not constantly looking around for an outlet, crawling under tables to plug stuff in, trying to find an extension cord to get the cord to reach the table, etc. I take my laptop out and work wherever I happen to be...
The results that show up when someone types your name into Google are becoming increasingly important for your career. It wasn’t that long ago that it was rare for a potential employer to search for the name of a candidate. Now it is becoming rare for them NOT to do some type of search.
In many cases, the first page of results for your name are going to be more important than what you put on your resume. It is easy to make a claim on your resume, but what Google says about you will often carry more weight because it isn’t something under your direct control.
However, just because it isn’t under your direct control doesn’t mean you can’t influence what shows up in search results. Here are some tips for refining what people find when they search for your name.
Blog and Write
One of the best things you can do to look good online is to take the time to write about topics in your industry on a regular basis. Even a simple blog at WordPress.com or Tumblr can rank very well for your name if it isn’t too common. When someone is thinking about hiring you and they do a search, it is extremely positive if they find page after page that you have written about your industry that shows your expertise.
Buy Your Domain Name
Go ahead and invest the $15...
While walking back to my hotel from a conference in St. Louis, I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Lazy but Talented.” I think it was a Nike shirt. I’ve always been impressed with Nike’s advertising, but this slogan didn’t ring true. In the US, we seem to be overly obsessed with talent as if it is the most important part of success. It isn’t that talent is unimportant, but when it really comes down to what will make you successful, being hardworking is much more important. If you have tremendous natural skill, but aren’t willing to work hard, it is easy to be eclipsed by someone with moderate talent but an extreme drive to succeed.
Let me give you an example. Think of someone brilliant from the last 100 years. For many people, Albert Einstein would be one of the first names to come to mind and for good reason. Einstein fundamentally changed the way we see our world. The leap of imagination that was required to come up with the theory of relativity is truly amazing. Also, let’s not forget that the theory of relativity was developed while he was working in the patent office as a clerk. It was his after-work hobby. No one would argue that Einstein wasn’t talented. However, his IQ has been calculated to be somewhere around 135.
An IQ of 135 is definitely smart, but it is in no way as...