5 Steps Towards Maximum Productivity, Across Your Life

We all know the things we’re supposed to do to be healthy, like exercise and eat well. Did you know doing them more can also help you do more, in work and life?
Activities that are physically and mentally healthy can directly correlate to a rise in productivity. There are 5 life hacks that you can do today to boost your productivity.

  1. Don’t Multitask, Do Multipurpose

Researchers have found that multitasking is impossible. Our brains can concentrate on just one thing at a time, and if we get distracted, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus.

That doesn’t mean, though, that people can’t do two things at once. Productivity coach Nicole Bandes encourages what she calls “multipurposing” — accomplishing one focused task and one routine task at the same time.

For Example:

  • Listen to that skills-building podcast while you’re shopping for groceries.
  • Instead of eating lunch alone, grab a bite with a colleague and have a work meeting.
  • Schedule a conference call as you’re commuting (but not driving!) in the morning.

“It’s about getting multiple benefits out of one task,” she says. “You can complete two things if it doesn’t require having you to focus in two different directions.”

  1. Keep Moving

For years, Kaitlin Bitting aimed to schedule a workout into her day, but the Philadelphia public relations professional could never find the time. Finally, about a year ago, the natural night owl started setting her alarm for 6 a.m. to get to the gym first thing.

“I can sleep with the best of them,” she said. “But I needed to find uninterrupted time to exercise.”

While she started the workouts to improve her health, Bitting quickly noticed another payoff: She was far more productive at work.

Consider This:

  • Work out in the morning or at lunch, when you still have work left to do — it can help you do more during the day.
  • Get a standing desk. “Sitting is the new smoking,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of executive and international medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “So even getting a workstation where you can stand up can help.”
  • Take the stairs as much as you can, and get up and go for a walk during a work break.

Bitting became so productive, she found time to start moonlighting as a health and wellness coach.

“I feel best when I’m motivated and energized to do what I need to do during the day,” says Bitting. “It’s taken time, but I now know my body and how to increase my productivity.”

  1.  Go to Sleep

Working sleep-deprived can be akin to working drunk.

“People have failed sobriety tests when they don’t get enough sleep,” Faubion says. “Our brains don’t work well when we’re tired.”

Getting seven to eight hours is a must, she says. Easier said than done, right?

Consider This:

  • Go to bed and get up the same time every day. Studies have shown this reinforces your circadian rhythm and helps keep sleep quality consistent.
  • Get a real alarm clock, and leave the phone in the other room. “If you wake up in the middle of the night and start looking at email, you’ll train yourself to get up at night,” Faubion says. And don’t look at the phone at least an hour before it’s time to go to sleep. The light from your phone can delay your body’s release of melatonin, which helps invite your body to sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
  • Don’t drink anything two hours before bedtime so your body won’t want to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night — and keep you up afterward, Faubion says.
  • Try a sleep mask and a white noise machine to combat noise and light distractions.
  1. Treat Food as Fuel

Healthier eating habits can give us more energy during the day, which in turn, makes us more productive.

Consider This:

  • Rule Number 1: Don’t eat a heavy lunch. “A lot of people get into a big slump after lunch,” Faubion says. “Eat light.”
  • When it comes to snacks, stick to fruits and vegetables. Heavy-in-carb treats, like granola bars, will give you a quick boost of energy, but you’ll crash about 30 minutes later.
  • Keep your coffee intake in check. A cup in the morning and another in the afternoon is OK, Faubion says, but more than that may cause you to become jittery and unfocused.
  • Take some time on the weekend for some healthy snack and meal prep — putting carrots into snack bags or prepping weeknight meals, for example — to avoid succumbing to unhealthy eating during a busy week.

We each react to food in different ways, so be in tune with your body, says Faubion.

  1. Lean on Tools

Taking steps toward a more productive life can be daunting, Bandes says. Don’t rely on your mental energy for everything — tools can help.

There’s no shortage of tasking tools like Asana to help you track and checklist tasks for everything from a work project to your wedding. Consider non-email communications tools like Slack and the AI-assisted Boomerang for Gmail to help make work communications more efficient.

While some of these programs take time to learn and set up, they can ultimately help make your work more efficient and “free up time to do the things that help you meet your goals and move you in the direction you want to go,” Bandes says.

And for the moments when you feel like you’re running on empty, there are meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, that can help restore the mind and bring back focus.

Bryan Borzykowski writes about investing, personal finance, small business and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CNNMoney and BBC Capital. Bryan is on Twitter: @bborzyko.

How to Boost Your Team’s Productivity

We all have too much to do and too little time to do it. As a boss, you may have already learned how to plan, prioritize, and streamline your work. But how can you help your team members do the same? Should you dictate the processes and tools they use? How do you keep people from taking on too much and burning out or continuously spinning their wheels?

What the Experts Say
In today’s complex and collaborative workplace, the real challenge is to manage not just your personal workload but the collective one, says Jordan Cohen, a productivity expert and the Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness, Learning & Development at Weight Watchers. “Helping your team manage its time well is a critical factor for its success.” Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, agrees. As a manager, your role is to both “set the strategic vision” and serve as “the buffer for unreasonable expectations” from the rest of the organization. Here are some tips to ensure that your team works productively.

Set the example
The first step is to get your own house in order (if it’s not already) and exhibit good time management practices yourself, says Saunders. Be smart about how you allocate the hours of your own workday—the meetings you attend, the emails you respond to, and the projects you sign on for—so your team can follow your lead. “If you’re stretched and overloaded, you can’t think strategically about your own time let alone anyone else’s,” she says. Adds Cohen: “Model the behavior” and show them that you make time for work that matters.

Set goals
To get a handle on how everyone on your team should be spending their time, you have to “step back” and “think about what exactly you want your team to be working on,” says Saunders. Outline key goals and analyze your team’s capacity to execute on them. This will help you decide what people should be working on and what they shouldn’t and accomplish more by committing to less. It’s your job “to set boundaries.”

Clarify expectations
The next step, according to Saunders, is meet with your team members one-on-one to communicate the priorities and expectations for their respective roles. “Tell them the top two or three areas where you want them to focus,” she says. Be specific. “The last thing you want is for someone to begin his day thinking, ‘I have seven projects to work on, where do I start?’” Also be explicit about how much time you expect people to devote to tasks that crop up from time to time. Does an unexpected client pitch meeting require a day, half-day or a few hours of prep? To prepare for an upcoming brainstorming meeting, should someone spend an hour or just a few minutes jotting down ideas? “Help him understand the quality of the work you’re expecting,” she says. But don’t micromanage, Cohen warns. “Describe the outcome you are trying to achieve and then get out of the way—let them determine on their own how best to get there,” he says. “Telling them how to do their jobs every step of the way creates bottlenecks.” Remember, adds Saunders, there isn’t one “right” approach to time management.

Encourage open communication
Conversations with team members about time management should be ongoing, according to Saunders. “Encourage an honest dialogue,” she says. She suggests asking reports about the challenges they face, how you can help them allocate their time more effectively, and whether they need more resources. “It’s when people don’t tell you that they’re overstretched and then don’t follow through at the last moment that leads to problems.” Cohen suggests holding a quarterly team powwow for colleagues to discuss priorities. “Look at the objectives you set back in January and ask, ‘Are these still relevant? Are we on the right track? What has changed?’” he says. If you have a direct report who still isn’t making progress on his work despite ostensible effort, do “some digging” to uncover the root of the problem, suggests Cohen. “Is it the workload? Is it the way the job is structured? Or is it the person? You need to peel it back,” he says.

Give team members autonomy
The key to improving individual productivity is to eliminate or delegate unimportant tasks and replace them with value-added ones, says Cohen. So “give your employees permission to make decisions” on which meetings they attend (or skip), which email lists they are party to, and which responsibilities they hand off.  Saunders recommends encouraging them to block out large chunks of time on their calendars to get their day-to-day work done, as well as smaller chunks for “fixed expenses” like daily planning, email, and other “maintenance” chores.

Rethink meetings
Meetings: the worst office time-suck. And yet, you need them to share information, solicit ideas, and make decisions. You can’t get rid of them, but you can surely eliminate some and study up on techniques to make the ones that remain on the calendar more effective and efficient. (Read: shorter.) The Golden Rule of meetings, says Cohen, is to “make sure you have a clearly defined purpose for each one.” He also recommends “sending out meeting material beforehand” because “it takes the reading part out of the meeting and puts the collaboration part in.” Also consider other ways to keep people in the loop, says Saunders. You could, for instance, ask each team member to create and circulate “a list or report of what he or she accomplished last week and priorities for the week ahead. This keeps the team on track and keeps everyone aligned,” she says.

Reserve downtime
If your organization has a hard driving, 24/7 work culture, you should also consider mandating breaks for your team. Research shows that predictable time off improves productivity and morale. “The manager has to be deliberate about scheduling [downtime],” says Cohen. Even if your company’s culture is more relaxed, it’s still important to communicate when you expect your reports to work and when you don’t, Saunders adds. For example, “if you send [someone] an assignment on Friday afternoon, be clear whether you want him to be working on it over the weekend or if it can wait till Monday. People are often willing to give the extra push, but if they push only to discover that it wasn’t necessary, they end up feeling resentful and burnt out.”

Seek help
Staying on top of the overflowing inboxes and ever-expanding to-do lists of an entire group of people is a challenge even for the most efficient among us.  So you may want to enlist “outside help in the form of a coach or an HR manager” to assist you, says Saunders. If an employee is really struggling, “there are things you can do—meet with him regularly, come up with daily plans, give him more feedback—but he probably needs a lot more help than you, the lone manager, can provide.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Make smart use of shared calendars by blocking off hours for focused work and evening downtime
  • Apprise your direct reports of the team’s progress in meeting its goals; this holds people accountable and lets them know what others are doing
  • Communicate when you expect your reports to put in extra hours and when you don’t—failure to do so builds resentment

Don’t:

  • Micromanage. Ask your reports about the challenges they face and how you can help them allocate their time more effectively
  • Overcommit your team to too many projects and initiatives. You should be a  buffer for unreasonable expectations from the rest of the organization
  • Discount the idea of enlisting the help of a management coach to assist you

Case Study #1: Create open lines of communication and respect your team’s downtime
David Miller, executive vice president of the Columbus, Ohio-based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants—which owns an assortment of high-end eateries across the United States—says he had trouble managing his time when he transitioned from his former job as vice-president of operations to his current role, where he oversees a nine-member executive team.

Then, one day, in an operations meeting, he had an epiphany. “I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be in this meeting.’” He realized he needed to let go of his former responsibilities and consider strategic priorities for himself, his team, and the organization. Once those were clear in his own mind, David scheduled one-on-one conversations with his team members, including the heads of finance, marketing, and HR. He talked about his vision for each of their departments, but he also encouraged feedback. “I explained to them that this was a new role for me and that I was trying to learn and be as effective as I could be,” he says. “I asked them, ‘How can you and I best work together? And, ‘what do you need from me?’”

He also avoided telling them how to handle their individual work schedules, focusing on results not process. “Everybody’s different—from how they manage their to-do lists to the books read—I don’t want to micromanage them; I want to support them.”

This includes making sure his team isn’t “always on.” A few years ago, for instance, he heard complaints about the weekly project and status updates he’d asked his executive team and senior managers to send out every Sunday. “I was hearing that this was not necessarily something they wanted to be spending their Sundays writing, so now I ask them to do it only every other week anytime between Friday [morning] and Sunday [evening], which gives people more leeway,” he says. And “I want to make sure that my team members have personal time to recharge and to be with their families and friends.”

Case Study #2: Communicate expectations and track progress
Jim Keane, the president and CEO of Steelcase, the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based manufacturer of office furniture, says there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to time management. “When you’re a new manager, you try to help your team get better by telling them what you’ve figured out,” he says. “But one of the humbling things you come to learn is that what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.”

He’s learned that frequent one-on-one conversations are the best way to make sure that individual team members are managing their time in ways that works for them. If people are feeling overloaded, stressed about “stuff going on at home” or “pushed in ten different directions,” that tension will come through. He says he approaches these meetings from “a point of empathy.” Sometimes he needs to extend a deadline or ask the stretched employee to recommend a colleague who might help with a particular task. “The job of senior leadership is to align resources around priorities,” he says.

Last fall at a management off-site, Jim and his team of 12 senior leaders decided to enter a new line of business. “We got everyone involved to create the objectives, the strategic initiative, and the timeframe, and soon realized that all of the people that needed to execute—that is, most of the executives in the room—were already very busy with their day jobs.”

So Jim enlisted the help of his chief-of-staff to block off time in the managers’ calendars for work and regular check-ins on the project. “In order for an enterprise initiative to be successful, you have to force it into people’s schedules,” he explains. He also asked the chief-of-staff to provide regular updates on everyone’s overall progress and continues to meet with the team to review expectations and priorities. “It’s essential for everyone to be on the same page,” he says.

5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change

By: Edith Onderick-Harvey

At best, mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) have a 50/50 chance of reaching their intended results. Study after study puts the failure rate closer to 70-90%. Why is the failure rate so high? Repeatedly, research cites the human factor as the leading reason why mergers and acquisitions fail.

Part of the issue is how organizations view the human aspect of the closing date, which is usually treated as the end of the transaction, when it’s really just the start of change. Organizations, processes, and cultures will be integrated for weeks and months after the organizations come together, causing disruption and uncertainty. Leaders in the M&A environment are managing an organization that hasn’t existed before. Their people are no longer part of the organization they joined. Their sense of normal is disrupted. In response, they may choose to hold on to the past and what’s comfortable or feel a bit disoriented as they search for their place in the new company. In the midst of the disruption, new challenges and opportunities will arise not just in the integration of the new organization, but in its marketplace and among its customers. And, the merger or acquisition won’t be the last change they are facing. CEB reports that the average organization has undergone five enterprise-wide changes in the past three years and 73% expect change to accelerate. In this environment, change agility needs to be part of the new organization’s and leaders’ DNA. It can’t just exist in a few people in the organization; it needs to be the way business gets done.

Successful change-agile leaders at all levels in the organization respond to changes in the business environment by seizing opportunities, including throwing out old models and developing new ways of doing business. They try to make change thinking contagious, embedding it into everything they do from the most fundamental daily interactions to the most complex strategy.

Change-agile leaders demonstrate five integrated behaviors that, together, create a competitive advantage for the organization. They:

Share a compelling, clear purpose: Purpose is the guardrail for actions. Change agility requires an answer to the question “Why?”, so that people can fight the natural instinct to resist change. The answer needs to tap into what’s meaningful and important, providing an irresistible invitation to come along. As CEO Shoei Yamana of Konica Minolta has said, “My belief is that people don’t work for numbers…they need to share the same belief that they are creating value in some way.” If you can’t articulate a clear purpose behind the changes being made, it’s unlikely that your employees will be able to implement them.

Look ahead and see opportunity: Most leaders view this as the role of senior executives. To infuse change agility into your culture, mid- and front-line leaders — who are closest to the markets, customers, and daily operations — need to be encouraged and invested to see opportunities in what they do every day. They need to look beyond this month or this year to identify trends and take action. History is littered with market leaders who didn’t see the opportunities ahead or take action on them. Kodak, Sears, and Motorola are just a few.  To build this behavior into the organization, leaders should:

  • Make opportunity-seeking part of the regular conversation. Simply asking questions like “What are our customers talking about? What do you think they will want a year or two from now? What new trends do you think will impact us?” sends the message that looking ahead is important.
  • Provide space to experiment. When a potential opportunity is identified, allow individuals or groups to experiment with ways to take advantage of it. Minimize the need for multiple layers of sign-off.  It makes the culture too risk averse and squelches momentum.
  • Advertise successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Tell the stories at company events and recognize middle and front-line leaders who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Show that the status quo is not enough anymore.

Seek out what’s not working: The old adage says that bad news doesn’t travel up. During the integration of an acquisition or even in the internal merger of business units, there will be bad news that the organization needs to learn from. But for real learning to occur, people need to feel psychologically safe to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Consider this example: Derek was leading the integration of several internal units into a merged organization. This integration created a new team of direct reports for him. Over the course of the integration, he worked on creating the psychological safety for his team to discuss the challenges of working together and of the integration overall. They used a trust framework to openly talk about what they were doing to build and breakdown trust with each other. Individuals discussed what they brought to the team and what they needed from their fellow team members.  They did pulse checks to assess their alignment and where there was work to do. They had difficult conversations. This type of open conversation and psychological safety cascaded through the new 250-person organization. It culminated in a two-day meeting for the entire organization that included open conversations about what was working well and what opportunities and challenges this new organization needed to address for its clients. The meeting also included a read-out of the employee engagement survey scores that, in the midst of the turbulence of an integration, were among the highest in the company’s history.

Promote calculated risk-taking and experimentation: Robert Kennedy, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Too often, our traditional organizations’ first response to a risk is to ask, “Why?”  Change agility requires leaders to ask “why not?” and to establish opportunities for pilots, prototypes, and experimentation. Experimentation is an integral part of R&D. While an overall strategy informs the researchers’ focus, any R&D scientist will tell you that there are sometimes dozens of experiments that don’t get results and that, without the failures, they couldn’t find the successes.

Look for boundary-spanning partnerships: As work becomes more complex, it takes teams and cross-boundary collaborations to build products, attract customers, and achieve results.  Change-agile leaders and organizations are replacing functional silos with formal and informal organizations that allow for the rapid flow of information and decision-making around a product, customer, or region. For example, Maureen is a mid-level learning and development leader at a global tech company that’s growing rapidly through acquisition. Having growth and development opportunities for key talent has been critical for retention, and enhancing the employee experience is a strategic focus. Learning and development teams are dispersed across the organization, working independently to address business unit needs. Looking ahead, Maureen sensed that the company was also going to be focusing on efficiency in response to market changes and the continued integration of the acquired companies. Seeing the opportunity to improve the employee experience and create cost efficiencies across the learning organizations, she brought together her fellow learning leaders. They designed and implemented a new shared services organization that centralizes training development and vendor management. It will create standardized branding and processes, leverage tools, and create cost savings from consistently negotiated contracts. This creates a more consistent employee experience across learning functions and more efficiently addresses learning needs across the company.

These five behaviors, when used in concert with each other, create culture shifts that increase change agility. They are shifts that need to be made at all levels of leadership. They can mean the difference between M&A success and being an also-ran.