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Day 8 – I am grateful for the luxury of following my passion.

I am grateful for the luxury of following my passion.

Many people don’t have the luxury of following their passions. They have a family to feed, bills to pay. I have none of those things. It may sound old fashioned but my husband takes care of all of these things. I love what I do. I love lifter, I love writing and waking up everyday to work sounds like more of a treat than work. In fact, its what I do when I want to break from child rearing. And I always end up feeling refreshed. But things weren’t always this way.

When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.

Of course, not every moment of the workday is so beautifully engaging. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.

If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.   When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.   Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.

[youtube height=”480″ width=”940″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3C738R4sLw&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[message_box title=”Affirmation Day 8″ color=”beige”]I am grateful for the luxury and freedom to follow my passions. I am grateful that I do not have to worry about making ends meet, putting my child through school or putting food on the table. I am grateful for a husband who takes care of these things so that I don’t have to. I am grateful for the ability to learn, write and create so that I can come up with new ideas and pursue them. I am grateful for an education that has shown me a new path when my old means of earning money were no longer feasible. Most of all, I am grateful for the blessing everyday of waking up excited, fired up and passionate about whatever project it is that I am doing today. I am grateful that I don’t have to drag myself to work every morning. I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about child care because I get to work alongside my toddler while she is playing. I am grateful that everyday of working on the lifter website feels like such a treat that I often use it as a way to relax. I am grateful that I have been blessed with work I love so much.[/message_box]

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Exercise For Productivity – How Exercising Regularly Can Give You Insight Into Being Productive

At the advice of this superhuman friend of mine, I started doing Tabata workouts.

I’d been struggling to lose weight for the past two years, both in terms of motivation as well as trying to find the time to work out after I had my baby. I ran sporadically 30-60 minutes a day and lost a significant amount of weight last year, but I’d hit a plateau. So over a dinner reunion with an old friend who happens to be a certified fitness coach, a world-class dragon boating champion, a medical student and an incredible powerhouse of energy (that’s the superhuman part), I posed the question:  What is the most efficient way to lose weight? 

Definitely not running, she said. Try Tabata instead.

So I went home and hunted down some Tabata circuits from Pinterest.

They were hard, monstrously, heart pumpingly hard but the thrill I got after doing them, the sense of accomplishment was phenomenal. Kind of like when I tried Insanity to lose weight before my wedding. It works, but only if you give it all you’ve got.

Anyway, while working out, I got this huge brain-wave that had me itching to finish the workout so I could run to the notepad, the sweat still dripping off my nose, to pen down the epiphany that just rocked my grey matter:

 

There are so many parallels between working out and increasing your productivity.

Both require:

    •    Planning
    •    Discipline
    •    Singular focus
    •    Solitude
    •    Decluttering of the mind

 

Planning

In order for your workout to be effective and to prevent injury, you need to have the skills and knowledge to  plan out an effective workout. Now, I’m no purist, planning can be as simple as picking a pre-designed workup dvd or video program. In that case, Shaun T or Jillian Michaels will have already done most of the planning for you. What’s important is for you to give it some thought and plan the kind of work (or workout) that you intend to do and the results that you expect to get.

Similarly, you need a road map to your end goals in work as well.If you want to work productively and see results, you will need to plan, gather resources and learn the skills necessary to succeed in your task.

Discipline

Intense workouts require discipline. You need to be able to roll your sleeves up and focus. When I started my workout, I had a lot of reserve energy and motivation to bludgeon through the difficult moves, but as the workout progressed, the only way I was able to go on was by powering through with sheer force of will.

I am not saying that your work should always be dependent on whether or not your will power is strong that day. After all, if you don’t love the work you do, you will end up burning out at some point by forcing yourself to do it day in and day out.

More often than not, however, there will be days where you have to force yourself to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it – that is where discipline comes in. Contrary to what most people think, discipline is not the same as torturing yourself to finish a project when you really don’t want to. Its more about building a habit or practice over time, where regardless of the external and internal factors affecting you, you are able to sit down and give your work the attention it deserves on a regular basis.

Singular focus

Effective workouts, like productive work, requires you to focus solely on what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t succeed if your attention is flying in all directions and you’re trying to accomplish several things at once. Self help gurus like Leo Babauta talk about focusing on one thing at a time. We nod our heads to concepts like these but then go right back to checking our iPhones, answering emails and watching youtube videos simultaneously.

Step back and focus on one task at a time. Say you’re doing a squat challenge. In order to do it properly, you have to be in the present – to tighten and engage your core, to breathe evenly, to keep your back straight, shoulders down and to slowly lower yourself into a squat without losing your balance or damaging your knees by extending them beyond your toes. If you’re wholly present within you’re body while you’re doing this squat, you don’t have much mental space left over to think about other things, do you? If a simple squat is more effective because if such singular focus, imagine the difference focusing can make to your work projects.

Solitude

Some tasks require social participation and interaction. This is not necessarily true for working out or working productively. It sounds counter intuitive (group work, and group workouts are so much more fun right?), but really, it isn’t.

Collaboration may be fun, but in order for the system to work, at some point, you will have to go inside yourself and on your own to complete the core requirements to accomplish your goal. Even in group workouts, we are seldom interacting with others during the more intense bits. Instead, we are focused internally on ourselves. This also means that we are no where near our gadgets, tablets or social media accounts.

Being alone forces you to mentally check off your priorities and focus on what’s important to you at this moment, free form external pressures and influences. Being alone can make you incredibly productive. Being alone, you also don’t have any distractions. Many of us relish working in groups, especially if we are working form home and do not get a lot of human interaction through out the day. It is important to remember that there is a balance between working with others and working alone, and working alone in solitude is not just  important, it is essential to stepping away from mediocrity and doing extraordinary work.

 

Decluttering

Working out both promotes and stems from a decluttered mind. Like an endless loop. We already talked about how important it is to have a clean mental slate in order to function at the optimal level. The beauty of it is, once you declutter your mind and start to work in solitude – once you get into the “flow” of your work (or workout), your monkey mind automatically settles down and switches to a thought process that helps you calm down and focus deeply.

The following three things follow when you declutter your mind:

You are not a slave to random thoughts.
The car needs a wash, garbage needs to be put out, you forgot to pay the telephone bills. These thoughts slowly slip off your radar as you do deeper into an intense workout or focus on your work. The deeper you get into the ‘zone’, the less frequent these random thoughts become. If it worries you so much write it down and go back to working – you can always deal with non-urgent things an hour later when you’re done your work.

You don’t get bogged down by worries and negativity.
When I’m upset of angry, I sit down to work. No you didn’t read that wrong. Working as an anger management strategy works incredibly well because when I get into the flow,  I automatically check-out of every day life and into a cleaner, more positive, worry-free mental space.

Try it, concentrate hard when you sit down to work today. Overtime, it will become a habit. Negativity feeds off our brooding and focusing on our problems. Getting into a working rhythm can help you manage your emotions and liberate you from the stress and worry that hounds you. That’s how people get addicted to working out. It gives you such a huge mental break from your daily worries and hassles. You worry less when you’re taking active steps towards solving a problem. It empowers you and puts you in the position of a leader, rather than a victim.

It gives you clarity of mind.
The focus and freedom that comes from working or exercising are a corollary to maintaining a clear mind. When you sit down to work with a clear mind you tackle it, finish faster and often eliminate the entire cycle of worry and negativity that comes from procrastinating about a job.

Exercising it before during or after work can be very conducive to a productive work session. These two activities are mutually compatible in the context of getting things done. More than its physical benefits, those of you that need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time will appreciate this technique for its ability to (ironically) tackle several problems at the same time – procrastination, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, lack of focus, worry, stress negativity as well as not getting things done on time.

 

[message_box title=”Try this exercise:” color=”beige”]I’m a big fan of the focus booster app. No, I don’t get paid by them. It has a timer that counts 25 minutes ON and 5 minutes OFF. When its ON –  work hard and blaze through the project you’re working on. When the timer turns to the blue OFF section, put everything down and do a few pushups, burpees or anything other physical activity (Try Tabata!). The Focus-booster app is based on the proven and popular pomodoro technique which is really effective because your mind stays fresh and active while you work in short, sharp bursts and maintain regular breaks.

Try it the next time you are looking to ramp up your productivity. See what a huge difference it makes in the quality and quantaty of your work. And – Tell us about it in the comments below!
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42 Reasons Why You Are Slacking

  1. You wake up at the last minute, then rush out the door to work, disorganized.
  2. You check emails like an obsessive chimpanzee.
  3. You watch way too much TV. You think you deserve a few moments of relaxation, but few moments easily turn into many.
  4. You put off the challenging tasks for till tomorrow.
  5. You create self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
  6. You work long periods without rejuvenating breaks.
  7. You take breaks but don’t get back to work as planned.
  8. If you work at home, you make no clear demarcations between work time and family/chore time.
  9. You let other people’s agendas rule your day.
  10. You let other people distract you into gossip, chit-chat or unproductive banter.
  11. You chomp on chips while you work. Not only are you unproductive, you’re also getting fatter.
  12. You stay up late. You’re partying or waffling or watching all-night Harry Potter marathons. Or all of the above.
  13. You make horrible meal choices. They may taste heavenly but leave you drowsy, bloated and distracted.
  14. You don’t take care of your physical health. Physical exercise helps you think clearer and feel more active and inspired.
  15. You are bored out of your mind. If you’re in a line of work that ceased to inspire you a long time ago, you won’t exactly be bursting to churn out quality work.
  16. You are waffling around on the internet. You’re not really doing any “research” are you?
  17. You are lost in a sea of social media updates.
  18. You are secretly stalking your niece’s sister’s best friend’s aunt’s vacation pictures from Costa Rica on Facebook.
  19. You are secretly pinning the awesomest wardrobe of life on Pinterest at work.
  20. You are scheming about the rewards you will give yourself even before you complete the measly taks at hand. Get your hand out of the chocolate jar!
  21. The people in the cubicle next to yours are talking loudly about the concert they are attending this weekend.
  22. Your boss keeps interrupting you with useless instructions.
  23. Your colleague keeps stopping by to chafe office gossip, you, of course indulge.
  24. The phone keeps ringing with clients making random inquiries.
  25. You are bogged down with numerous, irrelevant company memos and meeting minutes.
  26. You have three meetings in the morning, none of which have any conclusive results.
  27. You are waffling around on your coffee break, trying to squeeze that one last spare minute before you have to get back to that boring report.
  28. You don’t know how to say no when someone dumps an unwanted project on you.
  29. You are making plans for dinner with your friends after work.
  30. You don’t push yourself hard enough.
  31. You don’t have all the tools you need.
  32. You don’t have the right tools for the job.
  33. You don’t have the necessary training for the job.
  34. Your team isn’t working as a coherent whole.
  35. Conference calls without a purpose that seem to meander on forever.
  36. You’re exhausted and frustrated from your daily commute by the time you reach the office.
  37. Your lack of familiarity with the technologies you use for your work.
  38. You are way-sided by a million shiny apps that really hinder your productivity rather than enhance it.
  39. You don’t set priorities and optimize your workflow. Working without priorities is like firing a shot in the dark. You don’t really know if you will get the intended target or not.
  40. You are disorganized and your workspace is cluttered.
  41. You are a perfectionist. Learn to be comfortable with work that is “good enough” and you will get a lot more done when you sit down to work.
  42. You are constantly checking, sending and receiving texts from friends, family and co-workers.

 

 

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Plan. Plan. Plan. Then Live One Day At A Time For Stellar Productivity

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan – not the goal.

 

I’ve learnt, the hard way, that the absence of goals leads to disappointment and eventually failure. Without a self determined benchmark to aspire towards, your daily actions just become meaningless and your life, a confusing mess. I discovered this when I chose to “live one day at a time”. I was under a lot of stress and was extremely unsure of the future. My education and career path, my relationships were all up in the air. So my smart brain decided it was time to employ the well known plan of action. But in all honesty, looking back now, I was only using that as an escape, as a way out of the indecision I was facing. I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted, on what my dreams and goals really were. So instead of spending time to reevaluate, I chose to avoid the true problem and started focusing on the daily events of each day.

My aim every morning was merely to get through whatever happens, and then rinse & repeat. I did this for almost 2 years before I was forced out of this rut by a coming-of-age ceremony called convocation. I am so thankful for that rude awakening. Though I had been anticipating graduation for such a long time, when it came, it was a shock. Suddenly, I no longer had assignments or textbooks to keep me busy. My schedule was completely open and empty, and I began to resemble a bum. But it was blessing in disguise. At first I felt hopeless and lazy, but soon I realized I was actually relieved and at peace with myself more than I had been in the past few years. I had no real plans for the future because I didn’t think I was capable enough to achieve what I wanted. How foolish of me. I hadn’t applied for grad school, not for jobs. I spent the first little while regretting that, but soon enough I formed goals that were not only real but also meaningful. I started applying for jobs because I wanted to, not because I had to. I focused on those applications that interested me. Within a month after finishing my last semester, I had a job in a field that I wanted.

So I took a long, hard a look at the pros and cons of being a meticulous planner:

Pros

You are more organized. Planning gives you the ability to organize not just your time but also your space and social commitments so that when you’re doing a certain activity, you can focus on it and perhaps also work more effectively.

You put things in perspective. When you plan for the future, you are forced to look at the big picture and determine what your priorities are. Putting things into perspective this way ensures that you’re always working towards a goal that is important to you and not catering to someone else’s agenda.

Allows for preparation. Planning allows you to indulge in future-thinking. This can actually be a good thing because it often prompts you to get things ready in advance so you waste less time prepping when you’re ready to settle down to business.

You are clear about expectations. How many times have people you work with gotten away with the worst because you didn’t have the forethought to define your expectations in the beginning. This is especially true if you have people working under you or if you run a start-up. In order to stay on track , you need to be able to  define early on to other people what your expectations are. Planning in advance allows you to see the big picture and articulate clearly to toehr people what kind of work it is that you need from them. In turn, it makes things easier for the other perseon as well because they don’t have to keep guessing at what it is that you want.

 Makes you reach for loftier goals. We have a tendency to be easy on our selves. We may be rough with all the negative self talk, but when it comes down to actually doing something, we are as lazy as donkeys on a summer morning. Planning ahead gives you proper insight into what you’re capable of and if you’re like me, it also motivates you to reach just a little further to achieve something that you think is beyond your grasp. That striving, in my opinion, makes all the difference between mediocre work, and creating something exceptional.

You have peace of mind. You know that nagging feeling when you know you advent sat down in a while to do your homework? I don’t mean the kind of homework they give you in kinder garten. I mean the planning kind of homework that makes you list down all the concerns and priorities that are pressing down upon you at the moment, and turning it into something actionable and productive. When you plan, when you do your homework, there is less room for worrying about things you think you can’t do and more focus on taking practical steps to achieve whatever it is that you’re setting out to do. Not only does planning make you feel empowered, it also helps you maintain peace of mind and stay calm so you can work without getting distracted by your worries. Include link bat calm down article.

Cons

You don’t live spontaneously. Sometimes when you’re heavy on the planning, you tend to develop this loyalty to the original plan that can actually hamper your selse of freedom and productivity. You become a slave to the plan , afraid to veer form the planned course for fear that you will lose track of the bigger picture and far away fem your most important goals.

You restrict yourself from experiencing novelty. When you’re so committed to a plan that you tend to dismiss any novel, more attractive options that are presented in front of you, that’s  a problem. Sometimes, our plans blind us to the possibilities that are right under our noses.

You get bored. Sticking to a routine or a monotonous plan day- in and day-out, it is human nature to get bored and seek novelty. Why do you think so many people are opting out of office jobs and working for themselves these days? Even though you still have to plan your days and work, these is a sense of freedom and novelty in working by yourself, from random locations  and on your own terms that you would never be able to experience from the caged comfort of your 9-5 cubicle.

You get lost in the details. Sometimes you’re so caught up in following the nitty gritty details of your previously laid out plans tat you lose sight of the opportunities in front of you. I went on an epic trip to Jaipur this year. As I disembarked form the first ever rickshaw trip of my life, shaking from the adrenaline, I was so caught up in following my itinerary and the map on my ipnone to the last detail, that I didn’t even notice that it was raining. I got off in the downpour trying to negotiate with the rickshaw guy, only to realize that the hotel guard had been tapping me for five minutes trying to alert me to the rain waking up my sleepy baby, telling me that if I needed to look over my map and haggle further, I could slide over to the safety and dryness of the hotel lobby. When you’re planning, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

You become rigid. A corollary to the above point about getting lost in the details is that some of is are obstinate. I know I am. Once I decide upon a course of action, I have this urge to see it through at all costs. Sometimes, having the flexibility to change course or even edit defeat can mean the difference between being a struggling entrepreneur and a successful one that knows when to cut losses and try something more effective.

You become stuck in planning. When you’re stuck in the planning phase, you tend to pour over the plan and edit and re-edit –  but you don’t actually take any action or do anything. By the time you come to the point where you do something, you’ve expended so much energy and anticipation on the planning phase that you’re already bored before the project even begins.

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Goals are what drive and motivates humans. Every person has individual motivations, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time. That is why they say set high goals, dream big. If you have no goals. You won’t achieve anything. If you strive high, you will reach somewhere there depending on how much of an effort accompanies that dream.

Essentially this is the recipe for success, to be added in the order listed:

1. Dream big and set goals, know what you want (I mean it), make them extravagant and don’t allow your mind to wander or convince you otherwise.

2. Make a plan of action, know how you are planning on achieving them

3. Take it as it comes one day at a time, don’t allow setbacks or happenings to get you down and reevaluating your goals. Don’t get too phased by things & think your goals are no longer realistic and achievable because X happened. You don’t need to over think things because often when you are under stress you have odd ideas and make stupid decisions. So deal with anything calmly and logically, now is not the time to reevaluate or worry. That is the next step.

4. On a particularly calm day, when there is no tension or pressure on your shoulders and in your head, maybe once a week take a few hours and rethink and evaluate the week. What things happened that worried you, how did you react with them, have your ideas and values changed, are you goals still what they were, do you wish to alter them a little bit. Never scrap an idea/goal because you never know when it could work out. If you think things have changed and I no longer wish to achieve that because it’s unrealistic and foolish, let me tell you it’s NOT! Because you had thought long and hard about it, that is exactly what you wanted at one point in your life. So don’t undermine it’s value, and don’t give up on it just because you haven’t been able to achieve it yet or because you have already achieved it and now it doesn’t mean anything to you.

Being a planner doesn’t hamper you from a journey of self discovery and improvement, thinking critically about your plans and choices can help you start a personal revolution to stay eager, motivated and productive.

How do you handle the planning phase? Reply in the comments below to share your planning dilemmas and hacks with us. We love hearing form you!

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Harnessing your monkey mind to turbocharge your productivity

The monkey mind refers to a Buddhist concept describing the constant flitting of thoughts from ‘idea to idea’ and the distractions influencing the undisciplined mind.

There are numerous books, articles and experts these days talking about the monkey mind – how you can calm it, eliminate it or control it.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The human mind is like a drunken monkey… that’s been stung by a bee…” – Founder of Bikram Yoga[/quote]

Many of us are under the misconception that we need to rigidly rein in our thoughts in order to sit down and be calm, productive and focused. The truth of the matter is that in order to truly accept your mind and body, in order to work effectively, you need to work with your mind and not against it. When you’re constantly fighting yourself, trying to rein in your mind and force it to focus on something its not interested in, you’re creating a circular struggle that just feeds upon itself until you’re frustrated and demoralized (unless you’re a yogi or a monk who does this for a living ).

For the rest of us mortals, it is time to realize that in some situations, the monkey mind is not something to be stopped, chained or forced. It is something you can harness and work with in order to multiply your productivity and creativity in order to come up with your most craziest, wildest and perhaps most successful ideas ever.

Consider this scenario –  you’re sitting at your desk, bored our of your mind trying to write that 12000 word report that’s due next week. Of course, you’re going to try and procrastinate until the very last minute, then at the very last moment when you’re stressed, you sit down in a frenzy and try to write the article in 2 hours instead of twenty. Then, surprised by how easy those ideas came to you, you tell everyone about how you are more productive under pressure.

Actually, you were just tapping into the power of the monkey mind. The monkey mind jumps fast, brainstorms effectively and bounces from idea to idea like fireworks. In this state of jitters that all kinds of new, shiny, crazy and even irrational ideas come to you. Part of the process of working effectively is to catch this monkey mind and ride its wave so that when you’re done, you’ve made a huge dent in your brainstorming work.

Once your monkey mind blurts everything out on to the page – that’s just your starting point. From there, you have something substantial to work with. Think of yourself as a sculptor. First, you start out with a rough lump or ball of clay. With every pass you elongate, shape and define the lump of clay until you’re satisfied that it resembles a human figure, a portrait, a landscape, a pot. It may or may not be an exact replica of the image you held in your mind, but that is not the point. The point is that everything just did not just happen on the first go, did it?

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The next time your mind is flitting form place to place while you’re working, just put your serious task aside and go on a flight of fancy.

1. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper in front of you.
2. Use a pen, pencil, or if you like, go all out and use colours, crayons, oil pastels, anything that you feel like to create whatever comes to mind for you.
3. If you want to doodle, doodle. If you feel like sketching or drawing cartoons, give in. If you want to draw hearts all over and write in-between, do that instead. Indulge in whatever journey your monkey mind takes you along. Maybe you will get new interesting ideas about the problem or situation you’re dealing with, maybe these ideas will be completely irrelevant. Don’t try to drive the action. Just see where your mind leads you.
4. Keep up the creative pursuits until the bored and restless feeling passes. When you’re done, assess what you’ve done. Note your thoughts to see if you’re in a better mental space to go back to the task you’re trying to finish. You may be surprised at how quickly you calm down and focus once you give in to your creative and disorganized urges.You may find that you start to settle down into a rhythm. Chances are, once you settle down into this new rhythm, the work you were initially setting out to accomplish will come to you in a calm and inviting manner.

The point of this exercise is for you to work with, not against your monkey mind. The mind can be your strongest ally or your most formidable enemy. The key to living mindfully and working productively is not to fight your mind into submission, but to work with the energy of your mind in order to create something worthwhile. Think of your monkey mind as an adventurous friend that edges you towards dangerous and successful new ideas. You just need to latch on to it and go for the ride that it offers you.   [/message_box]

 

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9 Powerful Tools To Help You Get Things Done Faster

I’ve always been a list person. First pen and paper, then on electronic gadgets. I even asked my parents to buy me a PDA at the age of 14 so I could make better to do lists. Anyway, as you can imagine I’m a nerd for productivity and GTD apps. Here is a compilation of my top ten productivity apps:

 

Wunderlist

From Things to Remember the milk, Apple reminders to Evernote, I’ve tried them all. Wunderlist is the one app that helps you craft a relevant to-do list, and then see it through to completion. The best part is that you can share lists and make unlimited sublists for free! Their paid version is highly customizable and not overly complicated with superficial features designed to make you part with your money like some of the other apps out there. . While the list making and the sleep interface of the previous versions were pretty awesome, what I like about the latest Wanderlist 3 is that they’ve made it extremely easy to share lists, upload files, share comments and collaborate with others. Wunderlist’s seamless integration on all platforms – complete with real-time syncing on various platforms like iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Kindle Fire and the Web make it a convenient substitute for some of the expensive project management software out there.

Wunderlist has come a long way from the first version. For someone looking to manage entire projects off of Wunderlist that their project tracking capabilities are still primitive. For everyday productivity, I’ve set up my Wunderlist so that I get reminder emails when something is due, or when a colleague checks off an item. Some examples of things I’ve used it for include summer travel lists, collaborating with my sister for places we wanted to visit, assigning tasks for group projects, multiple lists for different projects makes it easy to organize the different aspects of your life.

 

Evernote

This new media darling has literally all the features you will ever need. Need a place to jot notes? Check. Need to make a to do list? Check. Want to save a website to browse at a later date? Check. While I find this integration a little slower than Wunderlist (depending on your internet connection), its still pretty fast and arguably the most powerful productivity app out there. Evernote is a one-stop-shop for clipping notes, collecting pictures, making lists as well as clipping web content.

The one drawback of Evernote is that it takes a bit of education to learn to use it really well. As a first-time user, evernote can be a bit intomidating and not so user-friendly. The way I use Evernote in my everyday work is by recording audio clips of important lectures, taking notes, clipping interesting web content and for keeping all my content in one place. Again, the integration across different mobile platforms makes Evernote very handy when working on the move.

 

Dropbox

This is one of the oldest and most efficient cloud storage solutions that I’m aware of. If you’re looking for a single place to store different kinds of files (e.g. powerpoints, excel, word documents, photos), Dropbox is unmatched in its speed and user-friendliness. More recently, other newer cloud storage apps have started floating around the internet but I have found Dropbox to be the one that just works perfectly on all devices.

The one drawback of Dropbox is that after you run out of your free storage space, you either have to earn points by inviting friends and sharing dropbox on social media, or you have to purchase extra storage space for subscriptions of $10.99 a month.I use it mostly for reviewing my lectures on the go. But it’s also a very common tool in my family for sharing photos and videos. Alternatives to Dropbox include Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud.

 

Lift

This is the ultimate public accountability app. Often, when working by ourselves, the social aspect of  working and staying on track gets missed. The List website claims that “You are not alone on Lift”. If you want to harness the power of social media to ramp up your productivity, this is definitely the app for you, because they’re big on community interaction and public accountability. Every time you login, it also shares that with your friends. Within the app are various goals that you can set and work towards. Every day that you achieve the goal, you login and comment and it tracks the number of days you went without skipping.

While the social media shares can get annoying, especially if you’re failing to meet your goals, I think that is the essence of social accountability sites like these. I use lift to improve my own daily habits. Some of my Lift goals include drink 2L water everyday, write a well-researched Liftree blog post everyday, remember to clean my bunny’s cage, attend 60 minutes of hot yoga and even breathe deeply sprinkled as reminders throughout the day.

 

Write or Die

This website has one message, and one message only. Write or die. Literally, there is one big text box on the page with a timer and running word count on the bottom, and you write without distractions. Do you find yourself not able to concentrate when trying to put words down on the page for that big history paper? Try this app, and notice how easy it is to write when you have a timer. There is even a blinking red screen and a panic alarm to scare you into writing faster. If you slack off for a few seconds, fall far behind your set rate of writing or generally waste time, the app will literally scare you into focus. Let all your ideas come out on paper without censoring, the more fodder you have, the better you can sculpt it.

While the web version of the app is free, you have to download it for $20 if you want to use it offline. I use write or die when I want to brainstorm new ideas, complete free writing exercises to come up with blog posts, as well as for finishing research projects on time.

 

Focus Booster

This app uses the pomodoro technique by setting a timer to 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest. Focus Booster is great for disciplining you into working with focus and then making a point of taking breaks to maintain productivity. Often, many of us get into the “zone” but afraid of taking a break lest we lost that productive streak, we just trudge on trying to work despite getting tired or bored of the project. This is actually counterproductive because taking a quick break would ensure that we are fully engaged with the work when we come back to it after a break. Focus booster is great for reminding yourself to take these much-needed breaks – after 3-4 regular sessions, it also reminds you to take a big 15-20 minute break. Alternatives include Howler timer for Mac, and the Online Stopwatch website. How awesome is this little tool, ticking away to help you stay on track.

 

ColdTurkey (Windows) / SelfControl (Mac)

This simple to use app is essential to conquering our pervasive online addiction and complete lack of self-control. It not only temporarily (you can also schedule blocks in advance) blocks you out of social media sites, addicting websites, games and even programs but is smart enough to know when you are trying to fool it. So forget trying to uninstall the program while its running or restarting your computer to circumvent its brute force. This is the ultimate bad cop- making you work so much faster without all the distractions. The best part of it all- it’s free!

 

If This Then That (IFTTT)

With this tool, you can eliminate the need for a personal assistant, and put the internet to work for you instead. You can create “recipes” using multiple channels to do things that you had only imagined in your dreams till now. Some examples of recipes: Get an email to let you know if its going to rain tomorrow. Send a thank you tweet to someone who retweets a link. Post the same picture to 3 different social media websites without actually opening even one.

 

Pocket

This nifty tool collects any and all of the webpages that are of interest to you. It is marketed as save for reading later, but I send many sites to pocket even just as a seamless bookmarking tool. The best part is, once you’ve saved a particular webpage or article to pocket, you can view it offline later. Check out this article on using Pocket with IFTTT to create a fantastic alternative to confusing RSS readers.

The one drawback of pocket is that unlike comparable apps like Readability and Instapaper, Pocket doesn’t offer any options for plugging into other social networks or the service’s own data to find the most popular/shared pocket pages. I use pocket for commuting or when I have little or no internet access.  In fact, earlier this year, I spent a few days on the Indian railway, travelling to Jaipur and surrounding areas, and using Pocket on my cell phone was a fantastic alternative to hauling around a heavy book, or dragging along my tablet or reader. I got a ton of research done on the go and could travel freely without worrying about slacking off or falling behind for the Liftree launch.

 
Have you used any of these? Do you have any other favourites that I missed on this list? Comment below, and share the knowledge!

 

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Stay Productive While Working From Home

So you’ve finally managed to grab the holy grail of the millennial dream.

You’re working from home.

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  • You work on your own time.
  • Cafe, poolside, basement, hammock – you choose where you work.
  • Other people envy you
  • No office politics
  • Fewer interruptions from co-workers
  • More time with family
  • No more road rage during rush hour
  • Gas money, Lunch money – more savings!
  • More control over how you balance your life
  • Helping the environment
  • Less sick days, better health

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The Facts

Expert opinion on the topic of productivity among those that work from home remains divided.  Researchers at Stanford studied a large-sized Chinese travel agency and found that people working form home worked more hours, took shorter breaks, took less sick days and were more satisfied. A similar study at Cisco had the same results.

Ironically, tech-giants Google and Yahoo are not so keen on the work-from-home mindset. In fact, in February 2013, Marissa Mayer (CEO) sent out a new directive saying that employees could no longer work from home.

It seems to me that in this day-and-age, working remotely, telecommuting, or even working while  “away” from work is inevitable. While not every small or medium sized start-up can afford to bring their telecommuting staff (some of which live in other countries) into a physical office, we can definitely offer employees training and resources to maximize their productivity when working from home.

While telecommuting is really convenient in terms of satisfaction, eliminating sick-days and commute time, but the big question now is:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]How do you stay productive when there is no structure to your workday?[/quote]

 

Establish a routine

While it may seem ideal to wake up and start working in your pyjamas while watching Dora the Explorer with your two year old, instead of dragging yourself out of bed by sheer will to start the day with a dreary hour long commute; there are some unexpected benefits to commuting. The trudge to work creates a morning ritual that gets you into the mental space to start work. This transition period is a crucial signal to your subconscious mind to get you in the mood for serious work.

 

Have a plan

Without a plan, you may get lost in the pile of pending items demanding your attention. You’re also vulnerable to numerous distractions at home. If you’re rolling with the punches and just working on things that come up in front of you, you may be working without a clear direction of your own, and despite the fact that you’re now working form home, you’ll still be working to further someone else’s agenda.

Creating a plan can be as simple as prioritizing and streamlining your to-do list to pick the tasks that are most important at the start of the day. If you want to get really fancy, you can even create a distraction elimination plan to overcome any disturbances and work like a ninja.

 

Be professional

You may no longer need to don a blazer or a pencil skirt to work from home, but lounging around on the sofa in your sweats or boxers won’t boost your productivity at home. Get dressed before you start working. You don’t have to go all out but the simple act of maintaining a decent appearance sends subconscious signals to your brain that you’re settling down to business.

Similarly, your workspace should remotely resemble an office. If you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother, that report isn’t going to magically get written. Treat your home office like professional business and I promise you, your productivity will skyrocket.

 

Professional space

  1. Define your work space and time. Refrain from attending to personal stuff during this time. When you’re working from home, uninterrupted work time is sacred. Do whatever you can to protect it. Just like you protect your personal time and space when you were commuting to the office.
  2. Separate yourself physically. If you live with other people, especially if you have kids, you will be more productive if you isolate yourself from the other people in your house away from the clutter, chaos, noise and distractions of everyday living.
  3. Some people recommend working in the same space everyday to train your brain to be more productive. While this may work for some people,  I’ve found that changing things up, finding a different place to work, especially taking your work outside to a novel, but soothing location can do wonders for your creativity and productivity. Working everyday in the same space without interacting with co-workers can get boring fast, and varying your work space (as long as your new place is conducive to focussing on your work) can make you excited about your work and boost your productivity.

 

Get moving

Finding a place to focus and get work done is crucial to staying productive, but equally essential is the need to take breaks and move your body. This Swedish study found that getting yourself outside, moving physically and doing a differently paced activity to your usual work can make you more productive. If you are a sedentary worker working with your laptop all day, getting outside is even more crucial in order to:

  1. Reduce eye strain
  2. Relax your strained muscles (shoulder rolls, neck stretches, walking the tension out of your legs)
  3. Stretch
  4. Breathe fresh air and gain clarity
  5. Use balanced meals to recharge your energy
  6. Use the change of scenery to inspire creative solutions
  7. Clear your mind of repetitive thinking patterns
  8. Give yourself a mental rest
  9. Get back to work with a fresh ideas and a recharged mind/body

 

Stay social

  1. Working form home can be very isolating and staying in touch with your co-workers can be beneficial in several ways. Being proactive about keeping in touch with your boss and co-workers not only projects a professional image, it also helps you feel connected, keeps you focussed and helps take some of the edge off the loneliness of working alone.
  2. Even if you don’t actually meet up with anyone, you can still satisfy your inner social animal by just hanging out in public places, letting yourself experience the human interactions happening around you. I don’t mean you should eavesdrop and get carried away listening to other people’s conversations (unless you’re a budding novelist), but just hanging out at a coffee shop or other public place filled with human chatter can boost your creativity, help you meet strangers that might trigger new thoughts and give you a different perspective on the problem you’re struggling with.
  3. Use other people as sounding boards, critics and idea magnets. Check our this article that talks about how Tim Trampedach, owner of Level X Motorsports reaches out to others for coffee to exchange ideas, bounce questions in order to stay productive.
  4. Take advantage of the WWW. This article talks about Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, who created a virtual water cooler message board so her employees can share photos, talk shop, share personal interests and catch up with each other to create a better connected organization.

 

As we venture over into the unknown territory of work-from-home gigs and flexi-time, questions of productivity and engagement while working in the home environment will become both personal and organizational concerns. While it remains to be seen whether working form home is more productive than working in an office, one thing is for sure – employees and start-up founders now have much more control over their time than they ever did. The key is to use it critically, looking at how you spend your time, energy and resources, analyzing, tweaking and improving your productivity.

Do you work from home? What is your biggest challenge in staying productive? Leave a comment below to let us know!

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30 Productivity Hacks to Help You Make The Most of Your Workday

  1. Try the Pomodoro technique. Chunk your tasks into 25 minutes and take a 5 minutes break in between. Use focus booster for getting some serious work done!
  2. Race the clock. Use an old fashioned timer, or for anywhere access try www.onlinestopwatch.com.
  3. Try working in a coffee shop. Train your brain to work efficiently in public.
  4. Prime yourself to get into “the zone”. Set yourself mentally to begin work at a certain time.
  5. Exercise. It gets blood flowing to the brain, making you more alert.
  6. Ditch your desk. Let go of the non-essential gadgets, streamline, and take your essentials outside to work.
  7. Vary work spaces to keep things exciting to boost both creativity and productivity
  8. Stay accountable with apps like WriteorDie, Lift and If This Then That.
  9. Use social media to your advantage. Go public with your tasks to stay accountable and productive.
  10. Ask a friend to check on you. Someone nagging you to finish your tasks on time is unparalleled in its effectiveness to help you get things done.
  11. Have a long-term countdown to your big project. On your cellphone. On social media. On your website. Maybe even on your desk.
  12. Take frequent breaks. Stay productive by recharging frequently and paying attention to body/mind cues.
  13. Make a distraction list. Then determine how to eliminate these distractions.
  14. Spend time with your peeps. Have guilt free distractions scheduled into your day or week so when you sit down to work, you’re focussed on the tasks in front of you.
  15. Don’t watch TV. Its called an Idiot Box for a reason. Watching in moderation os okay, but stay mindful if you’re starting to get fused with your living room couch.
  16. Take care of other needs so you don’t end up interrupting yourself. Pee breaks, food, water, exercise. Deal with these before you sit down to work so that you can work free of interruptions.
  17. Use your strengths. Delegate the tasks that you don’t want to do, or that someone else is better at. Keep your energy focussed on doing things that will give you the highest returns.
  18. Wear comfortable clothes but dress like you mean business. Appearances are important even when you’re working by yourself. A drumpy outfit signals to your brain that you’re not really on your A game.
  19. Limit obsessive email checking. Set times during the day when you will check your emails and reply to important correspondence. Make your habits public knowledge so people know when its best to contact you. Once you’ve checked your email, refrain from checking it again until the designated time.
  20. Be firm with yourself. When working for yourself, especially, if you work by yourself at home, its easy to slack off and tell yourself you’ll do an important task later. Don’t talk yourself into being less productive. Set deadlines like you would at a job. Then stick to them.
  21. Use pen & paper. If you’re getting distracted by your gadgets, try switching things up a bit by going back to old-fashioned pen and paper. You may be surprised at the creative ideas that seem to suddenly crop up out of nowhere.
  22. Wake up earlier. Things seem so much saner earlier on in the day ( or later on at night – depending on whether you’re an early bird of a night owl) when no one else is around to distract you from the task in front of you.
  23. Curb your perfectionism. If a task is done, and is of reasonably decent quality, you need to let it go and stop nit-picking at the little stuff. If a task is done, then label it as done, and move on.
  24. Meditate. Closing your eyes for a few minutes to ground yourself can make a huge difference between getting burned out and staying productive.
  25. Take a walk. Walking for productivity and creativity isn’t just for the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. You can do it too. Take a walk in fresh air whenever you’re stumped by a work problem. You just might happen to stumble upon a creative solution.
  26. Switch to a different task. If you’re on a tight deadline and cannot afford to take a complete break, try switching form a sedentary task typing away on your laptop, to getting up and looking up a reference you’ve been meaning to.
  27. Eat right. Eating clean will keep you alert and active. It will clear your mind of cobwebs and focussed on the task in front of you. Make sure to eat lots of produce, while grains and lean protein. Don’t forget to flush out toxins with lots of water.
  28. Eat on time. So many of us wait until we are starving to start thinking about what to eat. His is the basis of many of our terrible diet choices. Not only is it bad for your health, it also erodes your productivity when you’re sluggish from an unhealthy meal.
  29. Isolate yourself. When working, stay away form distractions. If you’re in an office, put up a temporary “Do Not Disturb” sign to discourage chit-chatting co-workers from barging into your office e or cubicle. If working from home, let your family or roommates know you’re going to be going off to your home office and not to disturb you unless its an emergency.
  30. Don’t stress about productivity. If you keep scaring yourself to death about how little you’re getting done, you’re just going to make yourself miserable and even less productive because instead of focussing on the solution, you’re distracted by thoughts about how you’re going to fail.

 

Your Turn! What’s your best productivity hack? Share it with us in the comments below.

 

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The Glaring Benefits of A Productivity Pre-Party

You sit down to work. The phone vibrates, you just got a text from a classmate asking you how to solve question #3 on the assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your inbox dings as you receive 3 emails in a row. Your child starts crying at the top of his lungs. You need to tend to your crying child, you need to reply to your classmate and reply to your emails or they might think you’re rude and irresponsible. Your work session comes to a halt before it even started. Could you have avoided any of these distractions? Check out our previous article on creating a distractions and solutions list.

Here’s an innovative and effective way to ensure that when you sit down to work, you actually get stuff done. Plan a pre-party. No, not the kind you have before a night around town. I mean creating an atmosphere, both internally and externally, that will be conducive to a productive work session.

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  • Why are you sitting down to work?
  • What specific goals do you need to accomplish before you get up?
  • What are the things on your mind which may stop you from focusing on the task at hand?

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I’m going to let you in on a secret- it’s a checklist of the things you should do immediately before you sit down to work.

1. Set a start time. And be firm with yourself. Finish all your menial but urgent tasks, so you don’t have impending doom lingering in your mind. Setting a particular time aside for working will send a powerful signal to your brain that you mean business. If you do it enough times, this habit will become internalized and help you quickly get into “the zone” once you sit down to work.

2. Eat brain food. Nuts, eggs, flax, fresh produce, whole grains. I recently started going to this Yoga class where the instructor talked about eating just enough to sustain yourself and not gouging on junk to satisfy your cravings. The goal was to eat clean, healthy nutrient rich foods in just enough quantities to sustain you thorough your Yoga practice, but not so much that it hinders your movement and takes your attention away from doing what you have to do. The same principle applies to eating before work as well. Eat just enough to sustain yourself. Eat clean, fresh, healthy food. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum. If you really need something to sip on, try herbal tea. If you find yourself lethargic or lacking in energy, opt for energy right, nutrient dense foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, dates, raisins and walnuts to keep yourself energetic and focussed. Most importantly, drink lots of water to flush out the toxins and keep yourself vitalized.

3. Gather supplies beforehand. Get yourself everything you need – pen, paper, textbook, laptop, sticky notes. Organize your workstation. There is nothing as distracting as sitting down to work and realizing that you’re missing an essential tool for your work and having to get up repeatedly to gather the things that you need. Even if you sit down motivated and ready to make a dent in your to-do list, constant distractions can erode this motivation and bring you back to a state of unproductivity.

4. Disconnect. Turn off your gadgets and stay away from the Internet. Use programs such as ColdTurkey and SelfControl if you need to stay connected to the internet for the purposes of your work- it aids in blocking distracting aspects of the internet and is not that easy to work around. Read more about using apps and other tools to improve productivity in this post.

5. Let others around you know that you will be preoccupied and busy for a set amount of time. A lot of times, lack of clear communication hijacks your efficiency and gets you annoyed at people who keep interrupting. A simple gesture like letting people know in advance can resolve the issue and protect your working time. Letting friends and family know that even though we may be physically present, we will be unavailable mentally and emotionally in order to get an important task done, can help us gain their compliance, respect and even support.

6. Pump yourself up. Both physically and mentally, you need to be in optimum condition in order to work productively. Use exercise, cardio, aerobics, quotes, positive thinking, meditation, visualization – whatever your tonic, make sure you indulge in some tender loving care towards creating a healthy mind and body. The rewards of such self-care will be evident when you start working more efficiently, enjoy your work more and generally feel more engaged when trying to complete a task. Personally, I am a big positive quotes junkie. So if I’ve been experiencing a lack of concentration, I’ll read quotes to remind me about the importance of staying concentrated, how to stay concentrated or really just anything that’s been on my mind lately.

7. Write down a list of SMART goals that you want to achieve this session. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Example, “I will finish reading section 3.2 in 30 minutes.”

8. Write down all other things on your mind. DUMP so you can think on efficient things. Free up important brain space for the important things you are trying to accomplish. Check out this exercise about doing the Morning Pages to free up your mental and emotional space in order to ramp up your productivity.

 

Here is a checklist for you to print off and use before you sit down to work. 

Share your thoughts, and comment below with any suggestions.

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A simple system for eliminating distractions and staying productive

Distractions are everywhere.

Plus, with all our mobile phones and gadgets, they are ominously inviting. At every turn, they lure you like hawkers at an Indian market, diverting you away from important tasks.

Apparently, distractions cost businesses money too. According to this article , a “2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year”

Aside form the monetary costs, distractions can also make you frustrated and unhappy creating a vicious cycle of stress and poor performance.

So how can you beat pesky distractions and show them who’s the boss? The answer is laughably obvious. Monitor and eliminate the distractions. Just the act of  writing down your common distractions will make you conscious and attuned to the ways in which you waste you r time during the workday.

Quick plan to end all distractions

  1. Make a list of all your distractions. Write down every last little bugger.
  2. Keep this list somewhere accessible.
  3. Across from each distraction, list a possible solution
  4. Just before you sit down to work, review this list.
  5. The more you use this technique, the more mindful you will become about distractions and the opportunities for eliminating them.

 

Here is what my list of distractions and solutions looks like:

unnamed

 

I found the results of this exercise surprising. Many of my distraction problems had common solutions. This little insight saved me a lot of time in the long run because the million distractions we think we are up against, really only entail tweaking a few common things in our daily routine or environment to optimize productivity and eliminate distractions.

 

So I put together a final list after compiling the solutions that fell under a common theme, and here is my final list:

unnamed-2

Final thoughts

Identifying and elimination distractions is as simple as writing down everything that is keeping you from a productive workflow and then analyzing your results to see if you can come up with a master plan of sorts.

To go one step further and make this even more intense, you can write your final list of distraction elimination solutions on to an index card and laminate it. Keep it accessible at all times near your workspace. Then, review it every time you sit down to work. This frequent review will burn the solutions into your subconscious over time. Eventually, you won’t even need the list in order to tackle the distractions you come up against. The beauty of using repetition to change or build habits is that it doesn’t take much more than a small measure of effort on your part to bring about big changes.

You just have to be consistent.

Change things in small increments until the cumulative effect helps you build momentum towards the new habit(s).

Over to you – List your distractions and solutions in the comments below. What did you learn about your own workflow? Our favourite reply will get a shoutout in the next post.

Happy Sunday!

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Spice up your dull routine with small breaks throughout the day

Continuing on with our productivity intensive series, another way to stay productive is taking breaks throughout the day. After having convinced you of the need to take a vacation in yesterday’s article, let’s talk about the benefits of taking small breaks every day.

The first hour or two after I get to work probably go by fairly quickly and I find that I have been quite efficient and feel a sense of accomplishment. But as lunch time creeps closer, I find myself distracted with various irrelevant thoughts and my productivity plummets. Even after lunch, this does not always improve as I begin to feel sleepy and lazy. Have you experienced something similar?

Regularly taking a few moments to recollect our thoughts, track our progress and break away from the task at hand can help us feel more calm and content as well as improve our productivity, physical and mental wellbeing.

 

The Facts

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Maintaining unbroken focus or navigating demanding intellectual territory for several hours really does burn enough energy to leave one feeling drained -Ferris Jabr[/quote]

Studies have shown that performance begins to deteriorate after 50-60 minutes of continuous work. However, taking rest breaks every 40 minutes at least can reverse this decline in performance. Setting a reminder to take breaks has been found to be more effective than breaks taken on an as-you-need basis.

Research has shown that those who work in 90 minute spurts may be more effective and productive than those who do not. Regular, short breaks that involve physical activity also only help relieve physical tension and discomfort built up from doing continuous work. You will return energized and ready to get things done. In the long term, taking small breaks can also help lower stress and reduce risk of accidents, soreness, musculoskeletal disorder and eyestrain. And if you were trying to get back in shape, you’ll be killing two birds with one stones as short breaks are also linked to having a smaller waistline, lower body mass index (BMI), and lower triglyceride levels .  

 

The Logic

Breaks are scientifically-proven to boost focus and productivity. Taking short breaks enhances concentration, alertness and speed & performance. Usually, I put off my projects for as long as possible, then scramble at the last minute to get it done, sitting for long hours without taking a single break- this has often lead to poor insight and the quality of my work has suffered. Do you have any similar habits? Keeping this very basic logic in mind the next time something is due, will save us all from a lot of agony and potential burnout.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]I think people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they feel like they’re going to get behind if they stop. But everything you ever read, it’s always better to get away for a little while than keep going, going, going, all day. You come back with a clearer perspective and it’s more clear after you’ve taken that little break. –Toni Lozano[/quote]

Remember that breaks spent cyber-loafing or social media connecting are not real breaks. You are still sitting in front of a screen probably slouching, your eyes are straining to read the screen, your wrists, shoulders, and back have been in the same position for quite a long time. You need to change up the pace and make space within your body. You need to take active breaks and get moving. People who are more physically active during the day tend to be more productive.

 

What to do on your breaks 

  • Get up and stretch
  • Use the bathroom
  • Go for a short walk away from your workstation
  • Get away from the screen
  • Grab a coffee
  • Snack or drink water
  • Have a conversation with a coworker or a friend
  • Close your eyes and practice visualization
  • Focus on your breathing

 

 

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Bring out a pen and paper and answer the following questions: 

  1. Reflect on the kind of work you do. Is it sedentary or physical, do you have the opportunity to take frequent breaks to switch things up and stay recharged?
  2. Do you take breaks when you have the opportunity? Why or why not?
  3. If not, what are the obstacles you face in taking regular breaks?
  4. How can you overcome these obstacles?

 
And my favourite:

  1. What activities best recharge you (e.g. running, art, writing, painting your nails)?
  2. Identify one simple way in which you can incorporate these activities into your daily breaks.

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Share in the comments below any thoughts or opinions that came up while reading this article.

Quit procrastinating, start early and take lots of breaks to get things done without losing your mind.

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How taking a vacation can boost productivity

In our busy, everything to-go filled lives, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the impacts of such a lifestyle. First, let’s acknowledge that working too much is bad for you, your employer, your family and friends. Yet it is a lifestyle that so many of us fall victim to. We live under the illusion that everything we are doing is equally important and more often than not, get so drowned in all the important tasks that we completely give up. The busy routines we find ourselves in are not providing ideal lifestyles for our productivity and creativity to thrive.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking. -Earl Wilson[/quote]

Every once in a while, get out of your routine. Even though routine is thought to be the core of productivity, often what is missed is the need for a break. It is extremely important for us to take time to take a break. Both on a small scale and a larger scale. In this article, I will convince you on why you need to take more vacations. In the next article, I will discuss the benefits of taking small breaks throughout your day.

The best phase in my life which was coincidentally the most productive one as well was after my most memorable vacation in the summer of 2009. I travelled to India with my family after seven years and was completely rejeuvinated upon return. I’ve noticed after coming back from every vacation since then, there is a magic that follows after every period of rest and relaxation. Leave a comment to share your experience.

[message_box title=”Exercise:” color=”beige”]Think back to your last vacation. When was it? What is your best memory from it? On a scale from 0-10 think about how badly you needed that vacation. Now stop reminiscing and come back to the present. How much do you need a vacation now? Do you constantly feel irritated, anxious, tired, frustrated of it all? How close to burnout are you? [/message_box]

 

The Facts

An estimated average of 9.2 vacation days were left unused by Americans in 2012. More than 6 out of 10 Americans reported working through their vacation. While advocating for more vacations, Tony Schwartz, Energy Project CEO compared energy to time. “Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,”  he wrote in the New York Times. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.”

 

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”  Jim Goodwin[/quote]

 

The Logic

Our bodies are very flexible and accommodating of what we put them through, for the most part. However, living with chronic stress which comes along with our busy lifestyles hinders the body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and its ability to avoid injury. When we’re stressed out and tired, surviving on only a few hours of sleep and a poor diet, our immune systems become weaker and we are more likely to become ill. Chronic stress also has impacts on our mental health. We become more irritable, depressed, and anxious. It is also linked to memory problems and poorer decisions.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We need to take breaks in order to allow our bodies to recuperate from all the insults and catch up on rest. During the vacation, we gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. As the vacation ends, there is a sense of empowerment; we emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don’t know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left. – Thich Nhat Hanh[/quote]

 

Benefits of taking a vacation

  1. Recharge and enjoy life
    • Avoid burnout
    • See the bigger picture
    • Gain more energy
    • Experience new things
    • Strengthen family ties
    • Allow for personal growth
  2. Increase productivity
    • Enhance job performances
    • Increase focus
    • Promote creativity
    • Improve mental skills
    • Gain new perspectives
  3. Stay healthy
    • Relieve stress
    • Improve mood
    • Catch up on sleep
    • Reduce risk of depression
    • Boost heart health
    • Promote well-being

[message_box title=”Try this…” color=”beige”]What is the one place you have wanted to visit since you were a child? Why haven’t you been there yet? What is the one activity you have been thinking of doing? Take a few minutes to plan your next vacation. If you don’t have the money or time right now, plan a stay-cation budget trip. Take just 2 days from your busy life where you will just let everything go and exist in the present- worry free.[/message_box]

Pack your bags, cut out the routine and take a vacation, and watch your productivity fluorish in the weeks that follow! Stay tuned for an article on planning a vacation.

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Why Ditching Your Desk Will Make You More Productive

Do you really think you will be content, day in and day out working in one place, your trusty notebook, computer and pen in hand, writing down notes faithfully posting them on the bulletin board above your desk?

As a writer I can vouch for the fact that writing in different places gives me fresh new ideas, new ways of thinking and sheds light on problems I have been thinking about for a while. I suspect that this probably applies to other kinds of working activity as well.

Before I embraced the portable life, I manically obsessed about creating THE perfect workplace. I tried the kitchen table, I tried my bedroom study desk, I even tried the coffee table in front of the TV (some very bad choices, I know). Since I’m writing this article today, you can probably guess how that went.

I finally gave up and tried a different approach. I bought a smaller laptop (a MacBook Air, for the curious) ditched my ancient writing notebook for a small memo pad, grabbed my phone, pen and thinking cap and headed outside in search of an exciting new pace to work in.

Having been to the other side, I have come to believe that wielding concentration in a serene, undisturbed place is highly overrated. Only monks and sadhus of old have the luxury to meditate on mountaintops or on the eden-esque banks of a quiet, clear brook. The rest of us mundane folks have to find this esoteric focus in our own backyards as we mow the lawn, as our children clamber over our notes to steal our Swarovski crystal pen, and as they spill bright orange carrot soup over our prized laptop.

My point with all this funny talk is this – the romantic notion of a peaceful, organized bolted-to-the-floor desk is becoming something of an ancient myth.

As an advocate of a portable lifestyle, I beg, implore and empower you to be a new-age renegade! Free your work from the stone, wood, iron and concrete walls of your home or office. March out onto the streets with your laptop bag and smartphone. Infiltrate local parks, seize malls and cafes, and skip through the woods with your iPad to see your grandmother.

Why your workstation is obsolete

It’s boring. Lets face it, sitting at the same desk, decorated with the same post-its, and next to the same bookcase with the same old books everyday can get old pretty fast. Even if you are blessed with an awesome view to daydream out the window. Think of it this way, did you leave your 9-5  cubicle prison to live in your home office/basement prison?

Fresh air boosts creativity. Its easier to describe scenery when birds are chirping around you, trees are waving gently in the wind and your dog is running around sniffing at every suspicious looking flower. Likewise, it is easier to describe a casual dinner as you sit in a coffee shop with its clinking spoons and steaming cups. Even if your setting doesn’t match what you are working on, fresh, new places tend to give you new insights and innovative ideas. At the very least, you get to see something interesting when you look up.

It forces you to focus. If you can train your brain to focus on the work no matter what is going on around you, the irritating noises and distractions will fade into the background and you will be able to get into “the zone” faster and stay there longer.

Portability is awesome. These days I don’t feel stumped by a cluttered desk or if I left my favorite pen at home.  I just open my laptop bag, empty its contents and get to work. No fuss, no mess. And weekend getaways? Its awesome working in a new place without having to worry if u left anything important behind!

Be a minimalist. The fewer items you have, the simpler your life is. Give yourself the permission to ditch the burden of working with more stuff. Instead focus on doing great work. With less stuff around there will be fewer distractions. The best part? You will not be able to use “Let me clean up first” as an excuse and actually get some work done for once.

Six Tips for Creating a Portable Workspace

Invest in a good laptop. I know some of you love working on tangible paper, but the rest of us tech-savvy folks have a distinct advantage. Our laptops double triple, quadruple as a personal assistant, calculator, research, entertainment breaks and music center and the ever-useful post-its. Plus typing is much, much faster.

Carry accessories but make them lightweight. By all means, get a pocket notebook, tiny little colored markers and index cards, but make sure you wont curse every time you have to hoist your bag on your shoulder. A lightweight laptop is a blessing as well. Another great lightweight alternative is to carry a tablet like an IPad that syncs automatically to your main computer when you get home after an adventurous day of portable work.

Carry a trinket you would put on your fantasy desk. I like to keep a small seashell that I collected on my honeymoon. Working with it reminds me of happy, positive, productive times and instantly puts me in the mood for prolific working. I finished my masters’ thesis hanging out with my husband on a coral-strewn beach in Huvahendhoo, Maldives. I didn’t make that name up and the whole experience was much more work than it sounds like.

Don’t forget your charger. You will find it very challenging to get stuff done on a dead laptop.

Practice getting in the zone quickly. Learn to tune out distracting people and sounds. Word sprints, speed reading and other quick, timed activities that require hyper-focus are great for turning off your inner procrastinator and getting down to business.

Bring headphones just incase. You can concentrate and meditate all you like but there are times when you need a helping hand. When I really need to focus, I tune into some gentle music. Coffitivity (www.coffitivity.com) is another great resource for when you need to block out unwanted sounds.Go on, take your work to the streets right now!

pen-and-paper

A Low-Tech Way to Boost Productivity

The humble pen and paper. 

They seem to have lost their popularity in our tech-immersed era, but there is a lot to be said about working with simple tools that will open up your creativity and make you come up with innovative solutions for your problems. 

There is something organic about using pen and paper that makes you  come up with unique solutions to your issues. From learning a language to coaching football players, more and more of us seem to be drawn to the organic nature of pen and paper in a world where everyone else is opting to streamline their work and learning onto laptops and tablets.

Look at the following surprising benefits of using pen and paper:

Boosts Memory and Recall 

In a recent study, researchers Pam Mueller (Princeton) and Daniel Oppenheimer (UCLA) found strong evidence suggesting that laptops, even when used solely for taking notes (as opposed to shopping on Amazon), can impair learning and facilitate shallower processing.

Contrast this to pen and paper, whose slower pace seems to solidify understanding and promote better recall

Slows You Down

The slower pace of using pen and paper can actually help you process, understand and create content that is deeper and of better quality. In fact, David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done talks about the productivity benefits of slowing down in order to overcome the busy-making nature of our work-lives in order to really step back and put our priorities into perspective.

So paradoxically, by slowing down, you’re setting yourself up to work more efficiently.

Boosts Creativity

Author Lee Rourke talks about his twitter conversations with other authors and speaks to the creativity that stems from creating slower,  more thoughtful work where the focus of the writer is more on creating good sentences and prose than on tap-tap-tapping away on a laptop in a state of corporate-like anxiety. 

I have to agree. As a fiction and non-fiction writer, I often feel anxious staring at a blank screen and then even more anxious when I hear myself pecking away at the keyboard in a frenzy of half-baked ideas. 

Facilitates Unexpected Connections

The organic nature of writing is highly conducive to doodling in the margins, drawing circles, squiggles and creating unexpected connections that you ouldnt even notice on a laptop, mobile phone or tablet. In fact, this high school teacher encourages writing creativity in his students by asking them to doodle stick figures into the margins of their writing notebooks. 

Unmatched Portability

How easy is it to grab a pocket notebook as you step out the door? No batteries, no charger cords, no desperately looking for power outlets in public places. Most importantly, no worries about losing expensive gadgets if you leave them lying around at a table while you go grab another coffee. The portability and novelty of using pen and paper in our constantly connected world is unmatched.

No Delete Button

That’s actually a good thing.

The fact that you can’t instantly edit and hit a delete button can help you salvage those crazy ideas that may first seem far fetched, but on second thought might be potential nuggets of brilliance! Ali Hale, a freelance writer for the Daily Writing Tips blog, says that the inability to delete when using pen and paper also forces you to take a bit more time crafting your sentences and word choices.

More Personal 

For those looking to stand out in networking relationships (and lets face it, who doesn’t need networking?), using pen and paper to reach out to clients, co-workers and even potential mentors can make all the difference between creating a memorable connection, making a sale and landing a lucrative deal or letting your connections go cold and die out.

In the networking world, the novelty of pen and paper can also be used to persuade, to sell and to convince stakeholders. Roger Dooley, a contributor at Forbes magazine talks about the selling power of pen and paper. 

Declare a laptop holiday for an hour. Or make the room a computer/tablet-free zone, if you can get away with it… The people who use pen and paper will absorb more of your content and your message will be more persuasive.

In an era of permission marketing and the soft sell, the ability to convince your audiences to use pen and paper while you are at the podium is as valuable as that ubiquitous email list of customers.

Pen and Paper Exercise

If you are not used to pen and paper, using them can feel clunky and awkward at first. An exercise I found highly rewarding when I first started out using pen and paper was Julia Cameron’s famous Morning Pages exercise. You sit down every morning, writing three pages of free writing. No stopping, no stalling until you finish your three pages of legal paper. Just do a colossal vomit of all your thoughts and worries. At first, it will just be a jumble of complains and worries that you can’t tell anymone else. But as you keep at it, looking back you will get a lot of insights, creative ideas and even solutions to complex problems that you will be able to use in your everyday life.

This simple exercise from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists’ Way, has been the single most effective productivity hack I’ve tried in the past 5-10 years. The Morning Pages essentially got me started with the daily writing practice that eventually launched my freelance writing career.

bodylanguage

Leveraging body language to create a commanding presence

Your expressions, body language and gestures can inadvertently convey a lot about what goes on inside of you – including feelings of nervousness, insecurity or uncertainty. Learning to tweak your body language to match the purpose of your message in a social interaction can boost your credibility and heighten the impact of your words.

Smile

But not too much. When people talk about confidence, often they will tell you that you should smile in order to appear upbeat and comfortable. However, smiling too much can work against you too. Especially if you are meeting someone for the first time, smiling too much can make you seem like you are trying too hard because you are emotionally vested in the outcome of your interaction. Same goes for nodding too much and showing too much emotion. The less emotion you show, the more likely people are to listen.

Make eye contact

Solid eye contact lets people know that you’re interested, friendly and that you mean business. Look directly into the eyes of people you are speaking to, hold their gaze for 2-3 seconds before looking away. Don’t overdo it because looking too long can make you look creepy. On the other hand, casting quick furtive glances can make you look sketchy and nervous. Try this: the next time you are in a social situation asks a close friend to observe how you interact visually with everyone around you.

Use gestures conservatively

Imagine how sketchy it would look if you are trying to tell someone that you are very happy for their promotion but your face betrays the fact that you don’t think the person is good enough for the job. By noticing and controlling your facial expressions to match your intentions, you are doing two things: First, your tone and body language will be consistent with the content of your speech – making your message more powerful. Second, you will appear more trustworthy because your words, expressions and gestures are all communicating the same message. Try this: Practice facial expressions in front of your bathroom mirror until they look natural and pleasant.

Strike a pose

There’s research out of Harvard which claims that holding your body in expansive “high power” poses can make you appear dominant and full of energy. No surprise there. So if you want to convey a commanding presence – stand tall, square your shoulders and widen your stance. Your weight should be balanced evenly with your limbs relaxed and open. Try this: Look at powerful personalities on TV. Set the volume to mute and observe their gestures. Emulate. Practice. Repeat.

mindset

The Confidence Mindset

Whether you are at a professional negotiation, dating a new guy or performing in front of a crowd, the one trait that makes you unforgettable is to have unshakable confidence. In order to build confidence you need practice, time and as they say, the perseverance to fake it till you make it. A few simple habits in your day-to-day life will set you on the path to becoming confident.

Accept your body

This concept has been beaten to the ground in self-help circles but the fact remains that it is true. When I delivered my first baby, I was 25 pounds heavier, four sizes larger and oozing “fat woman vibes” all over the place. It was a ragged road to recovery. The depression hit me real hard until I realized that that I could be sexy without the skinny. Instead of wearing the maternity clothes to hide the mummy tummy, I went out and bought myself flattering “normal” clothes. My body was still a little flabby and misshapen but if I didn’t mind it, neither did those around me. Wherever you are in your fitness journey, I urge you to embrace your body as it is this very moment. The funny thing about people is that if you act like you are sexy and powerful, then to them, you really are.

Find yourself

Take time out from your day to spend exclusively with yourself. Even if you can only spare a few minutes a day, make it a point to do something solitary and self-centered. Just for you and nobody else. A luxurious bath. An exciting book. A random doodle. A delicious glass of wine.

Be decisive

A mother intuitively knows her baby needs feeding. A nurse knows when her patient is about to code. An entrepreneur takes risks based on a gut-feeling. The more you use your intuition muscle, the stronger it gets. Malcom Gladwell, in his book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking” claims that “our power of thin-slicing and snap judgment are extraordinary” Learn to trust your subconscious. Try it today – give yourself no more than a minute to make intuitive decisions whenever the opportunity presents. The more quick, sound and intuitive decisions you make, the greater your faith in your competence – and confidence.

Next week, will talk about how you can use your body language to seem more confident.

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The 7 Secrets of Self Confidence

Everyone’s heard of the proverbial strong woman. She’s confident, sassy, smart – and elusive. She lurks ahead of us, just out of our reach. We all want to be like her and if we try hard enough to reach out, we could almost brush her with our finger tips. For every woman out there who has longed to be the kind of formidable woman that spreads sunshine and warmth, that stands up tall and strong, that scares the sh*t out of the devil every time she looks his way – our “Secrets of Succesful Women” series is for you.

1. Be approachable

Smile. Even if you don’t feel calm or happy inside, act serene. A strong woman has a composed demeanor and is open to engaging socially with people. Reach out to an old friend, go out of your way to have lunch with your parents or siblings, make new friends by picking up a new hobby. Being engaged and socially approachable gives you an air of confidence. Whenever you can, help those who ask for it.

2. Say no

A word of caution when helping others: take care of your own agenda first. It is human nature to abuse someone’s time or resources if they keep helping you day after day without regard to their own purpose or preferences. So sprinkle your help generously with a “no” every now and then. When you refuse something, be polite. Say it firmly in a neutral tone of voice. Make solid eye contact. Try not to let your voice waver or rise up a few octaves – it could make you look harsh or nervous. Smile, if you can. Practice in the mirror, if you can’t.

3. Be confident

Pretend you are. Smile, square your shoulders, walk tall, walk proud. Stick your nose in the air for good measure. Surround yourself with confident and successful people. Confidence, like success, is contagious.

4. Respect yourself

Always put yourself first. By saying that, I do not mean that you should be selfish and only take care of your needs and wants. Respecting yourself means reserving the right to make the final decision regarding your actions. Think critically for yourself. It means sticking to your guns if you feel passionate about a certain point of view. Putting yourself first means being the opposite of a pushover. That said, being a rebel without a cause is only appropriate when you are an adolescent. Even then it’s not in good taste.

5. Be flexible

Pick the fights you will have the energy to invest in because your stamina is not infinite. Stand up for the things you really care about – and be flexible the rest of the time. People will know you are genuine, rational and have a backbone.

6. Be comfortable

In your own skin. Spend time with yourself. See yourself as an asset. See yourself at par with other people no matter how much taller, smarter, successful or better looking they are. You are also taller, smarter successful or better looking compared to many other people. That is the way of the world. Focus on being the best friend that you never had. One that is proud of you, knows your short comings and doesn’t give a damn.

7. Be clear

Know what you want and go after it. Sure you may have four kids, a corporate job or a demanding spouse that plant their needs and wants on you. Unless someone is about to have a code blue, meet your needs first. You know how on the airplane, they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before putting it on your kids? Like that. If you burn out, you will be of no use to others. So live with the clarity of putting yourself first. But what of the children, you say? As a mother, you will set an example for your kids. They will model the way they are in the world upon how you were when they were growing up. By putting yourself first, you are teaching them to be responsible for their own needs – which will serve them better than indulging them every time and making them extra dependent on you.