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Category Archives: Productivity Tools

Three things you can do right now to stay disciplined

say disciplinedDistractions are, unfortunately, a reality in our professional lives nowadays.  In fact, I’ve previously blogged about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel” and I’ve subsequently asked you how you minimize distractions and stay disciplined.  Which is why I am thrilled to welcome our guest blogger today.  Mark Black is my professional colleague and my friend, but he was also only 24 when he found himself lying in a hospital bed clinging to life, praying for a life-saving heart and double-lung transplant. Three short years later, he was crossing the finish line of his first of four marathons.  So if anyone can give us practical advice on how to stay disciplined, manage distractions, and help us build resilience so that we can thrive in challenging times, it is Mark!

“Stay disciplined” may not be popular, but it works!

What do you think of when you read the word “discipline? If you are like many people, it probably brings up negative emotions. When most of us think of discipline, we think of experiences from our childhood where our parents “disciplined” us. It’s no wonder then, that most of us associate it with punishment and have a negative impression of it. That’s too bad.

Discipline is actually a very positive word. If you look at its origins, the word discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplina” which means: “”instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge”. To be disciplined then, means to be someone who accepts teaching and seeks learning and knowledge. Sounds good to me. Continue reading

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to overcome procrastination

procrastinationAre you guilty of procrastination?  If so, you’re not alone.  As a leader, you’re constantly juggling many priorities, and there are always a few items on the to-do list that seem to slip from one list to the next.  Usually, the procrastination is either because the task is so large that the even the thought of tackling it is overwhelming.  Or it’s because the task is just something that you don’t really want to do.  Either way, the end result of procrastination is that the task gets pushed further out into the future.  And sometimes it simply just doesn’t get done.

If you think it’s time for the procrastination to end, then consider how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage.  So called because it was observed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

To better understand the connection between procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect, some background information about Zeigarnik’s research is useful.  In a series of experiments, she asked individuals to do several simple tasks such as solving puzzles and stringing beads.  For some of the tasks, the participants were allowed to complete them, and for others, they were interrupted about half-way through.  Interestingly, she discovered that people were twice as likely to recall the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

So …. if you want to overcome procrastination, the best thing to do is to get started.  If you just initiate the task and get it underway, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in.  Because the project will now be incomplete, you won’t be able to forget about it.  And you will seek to relieve the tension by bringing closure.  Ergo, getting the job done!  Item checked off the to-do list!

So … I’m curious to know.  Have you used the Zeigarnik Effect to your benefit?  Perhaps you’ve been using it all along, but you just didn’t know that it had a name!  Do share your experiences by commenting below.

P.S.  If you want even more insights into to how to overcome procrastination, then you may find this helpful: A 9-point plan for overcoming procrastination, which I wrote as one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine.

Work-life balance is a myth, seek work-life blend instead

For years, nay decades, there’s been talk of work-life balance – that delicate equilibrium between the time you spend at work and that which you dedicate to family, social and leisure activities, and personal interests.  In fact, I too have often penned posts (such as this one) that seek to achieve just that.  But work-life balance is a myth, a non-achievable nirvana that few (if any) have realized. So it’s long past the time to let this obsolete idea go. Instead, it’s time to embrace work-life blend.

In my latest column in The Globe and Mail, I explain how the word “balance” implies that a negative – work – needs to be offset by a positive – life. But there shouldn’t be anything negative about earning a living.  Work-life blend acknowledges that trying to isolate work from life is not only impossible, but also places immense amounts of anxiety and tension on those trying to do so.

Work-life balance is a myth

work-life blend

Shifting to work-life blend doesn’t happen overnight

So what will it take to reposition from balance to blend?  That’s exactly what I address in this column which published in yesterday’s print edition of The Globe.  If you get the print version, you would have seen it on page B10.

Note: if you are a subscriber to The Globe and Mail, you can also read the column directly at their website at this link: https://tgam.ca/2zIvkMH

So I’ve already heard from several readers on The Globe‘s site who are not impressed with my point of view.  They believe that my suggestion of work-life blend is just another way to further reduce “life” time.  But I’d love to hear what you think as well.  Do you agree or disagree with my perspective?  Please add your thoughts below.

Boost productivity at the office by using music

jenniferbuchanan2Jennifer Buchanan is not only my professional colleague and friend, but also the only music therapist I know!  If you’re wondering what a “music therapist” is, then I’m so glad you asked!!  Music therapists use music to curb stress, boost morale, and restore health, and Jennifer is a recognized leading expert on bridging the gap between academic research in the area of music medicine and the public, speaking internationally to a wide variety of education, healthcare, government, and corporate audiences.  Because this is an area that not many people are knowledgeable about yet, I was delighted when Jennifer agreed to guest on the blog.  I asked her to share some insights that would be useful to leaders everywhere, and I was thrilled when she decided to write about how to use music to boost productivity.

5 Steps to Boosting Productivity at the Office using Music

Do you feel you need a boost at work? Music may be the solution.  The music industry has proof that you should listen to music while you work. In a survey commissioned by the UK licensing organizations PPL and PRS for Music, 77 percent of surveyed businesses say playing music in the workplace increases staff morale and improves the atmosphere.  The results were greater productivity.

So how do we make music at work?

There is no easy solution to developing a productive playlist for two or more people. Like all good work procedures and strategies, it takes time and it starts with being proactive instead of re-active. Take the time to identify the diverse needs and cultures of the group you belong to. Here are five suggested guidelines or steps for helping your organization use and select music at work: Continue reading

Are you guilty of being a micro-manager? Stop before it’s too late!

micro-manager

Ask the countless employees who find themselves working for a micro-manager, and they’ll tell you that it is not only maddening, but wearisome and demoralizing. Dealing with a controlling boss who needs to question and redo everything you do can be gruelling. But if you look carefully enough, the signs of a micro-manager are clearly visible. You just may not have paid attention.  Which is exactly why I not only explore this topic in depth in my column this morning in The Globe and Mail, but also offer four ideas to stop being a micro-manager.  Read it here:

Guilty of micromanaging? Stop before it’s too late

Don’t fall into the classic micro-manager trap

If you’re a micro-manager, it’s very easy to explain away your actions as “attention to detail” and “ensuring quality work.” But the unfortunate reality is that this behaviour comes at an immense cost – employee morale, team performance and workplace productivity.  It’s time to stop!

Well … what do you think?  Are you one of those who has been at the receiving end of a micro-manager, or is there a case to be made for this management characteristic?  Obviously, you know where I stand on this subject, but I’d love to hear from you.  The Globe has temporarily turned off commenting on articles on their website while they resolve some technology issues, so you can’t comment directly there.  But share your thoughts right here on the blog.  Leave a comment below and let everyone know your thoughts and experiences.

Sometimes, The Globe puts my columns behind their paywall. If that happens and you are unable to access the article directly through the link above, we have archived a pdf version at this link:  http://turningmanagersintoleaders.com/PDF/G&M_ManagementOnline_022618.pdf

A liquid metaphor about achieving goals

At this time of the year, there’s a lot of thought about setting and achieving goals.  In fact, on almost exactly this date last year, I blogged about how my unexpected encounter with a sea otter got me thinking about this very subject.  Today’s musings … about drinking water.

It’s a lot easier to drink water when you have a glass

glasswater3Potable water … absolutely essential to survival, but unless it is contained – within a glass, a bowl, or even a cupped hand – almost impossible to drink.  Sure you could kneel and lap at a running stream just like other members of the animal kingdom, but it’s a lot easier if it is in a vessel of some sort.  Even animals appreciate drinking from an enclosed source such as a pond or a puddle.

At a time of the year when so many people set and achieving goals and targets for their professional and personal lives, this liquid reality offers an apt metaphor.  Think of water as representing dreams and aspirations, the goals and objectives that you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months.  Just like a liquid takes less effort to drink when it is contained within a vessel, desired targets are easier to achieve when they are surrounded by a solid structure.  So what is this vessel that lets you move goals and aspirations from mere dreams to concrete reality?  The outer form of the vessel may differ from situation to situation, but it must always be constructed of three components – it must be specific, it must be measurable, and it must have a deadline.

Here is an example

Let’s say that one of your leadership objectives Continue reading

A Moratorium on Office E-mail?

Imagine a world in which you don’t receive any work-related e-mail except during working hours. That’s right: no beeps, bells or buzzes on your smartphone announcing the arrival of e-mail either overnight or during the weekend. None, nothing, nil, nada.

A moratorium on office e-mail?This is exactly the subject of my latest column in The Globe & Mail‘s weekend Management series which was published over the weekend. It’s titled Should Canadian businesses consider a moratorium on e-mail?, and the topic is well … self-explanatory.  In it, I outline how the Germans approach e-mail (and work-life balance in general), and pose the provocative question as to what would happen if Canadian companies adopted a similar attitude.

A favour please?

As always, I have a big favour to ask of you. Once you’ve read it, please forward a link on to others in your departments and organizations who may find it of interest.  You can do directly from The Globe‘s site using their easy links, or you can forward it here from the blog.  Continue reading

Are limited resources really a problem? Or an opportunity?

Limited resources – people, money, equipment, and time – seem to be a reality in today’s workplaces.  This is usually perceived as a bad situation with negative outcomes.  We have come to expect that limited resources will be accompanied by poor service, fewer options, and lesser quality.  But what if limited resources were actually an opportunity in disguise?

limited resources

There have been higher-than-normal temperatures in Western Canada over the last few weeks and a result, the water levels are falling in some of the ponds and smaller lakes in our part of the world.  I got a first-hand look when I went on a day-hike this past weekend.  I was at this same pond at this time last fall, and the water levels a year ago were significantly higher than they were last weekend.  So much so that, what struck me immediately was the contrast between then and now.

The surface of this one specific pool when I was there last September was smooth like glass.  This time though, the water had dropped to a level where I could now see the garbage, trash and other debris at the bottom of the pond.  Continue reading

Can a destructive workplace culture cross international boundaries?

A destructive workplace cultureIn August 2015, I wrote a column for The Globe & Mail that addressed the “bruising” workplace culture at Amazon.  Amazon’s culture was reported to be characterized by demanding hours and a gruelling pace, with no room for mistakes or missteps. Employees battered with unrelenting deadlines, constant criticism, heartless disregard for personal health and life circumstances, and zero boundaries between work and life – a system inherently designed to “burn and churn.” New recruits who can handle the relentless pressure tagged as future stars; the rest burn out and leave within a few years.  But a workplace culture with zero or little regard for work life balance isn’t unique to Amazon, or for that matter, to North America.

The Japanese even have a word for it!

Apparently this malaise crosses international boundaries … all the way to Japan.  So much so that the Japanese actually have a word for it – “karoshi”.  Karoshi means “death from overwork”, and it’s a social problem prevalent in many corporations in Japan.  Continue reading

Procrastination: why it happens and how to conquer it!

Back in September 2015, in one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine, I wrote about how leaders can overcome the endless cycle of procrastination.  You know … procrastination … the situation where you put off doing stuff until it becomes critical, vow that you’ll never put yourself in those circumstances again, but of course, finding yourself exhausted from the last sprint to the finish line find yourself in exactly the same condition yet another time!

Published in The Downtown Victoria Magazine

Overcoming procrastinationWell, I was pretty thrilled when The Downtown Victoria Magazine chose to reprint my article in their special insert in Victoria’s Times Colonist on November 23.  I realize that we’re already in February, but I just recently got my hands on a hard copy of the publication so I had to share!  Yes, I know that the print is too tiny in the photo for you to be able to read the article, but you can read the original version at ProfitGuide.com – A 9-Point Plan for Overcoming Procrastination.

Big shout out to the DVBA!

As many of you who regularly read the blog know, I only just last year opened a new office on the west coast Continue reading