Tag Archives: Productivity

Wanna Be More Productive? Kick Off Your Shoes

When I was an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to be elected student body president. One of the perks to this position was that I had my own office. For a young twentysomething, this was pretty cool. As I had private office, I would often take off my shoes when I was working. It wasn’t that I had uncomfortable shoes, I just felt more comfortable when I wasn’t wearing them. Knowing that some people are uncomfortable with barefooted-ness, I kept a pair of moccasins close by that I could slip on when I went out into the main part of our office. Many of my colleagues teased me for taking off my shoes, but when I’d walk by the tables in the main office, I’d often see one or two people who’d also removed their shoes.

Since graduating, I’ve lived in a couple of places where barefooted-ness isn’t uncommon. For instance, in New Zealand, it’s not unusual to see people walking down the street or through the supermarket (!) barefoot. Even in the United States, albeit not the continental United States, it’s not abnormal to see people walking around barefoot in public. A couple of years ago, Jennifer Aniston was caught walking around in public without any shoes in Hawaii.

Walking around in public without any shoes is slightly different from walking around an office without any shoes. Many people walk around in public in their pajamas, but you most certainly wouldn’t head to the office in your pajamas — unless, of course, it’s national wear your pajamas to work day. But maybe shoelessness isn’t such a bad idea.

There was a biology professor in Virginia who shed his shoes in the classroom for a little while. The university allowed this while he was promoting his book, The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes, but after a period of time, he was then required to put his shoes back on when he was in the classroom. The professor frequents restaurants without any shoes. ‘Isn’t this a health code violation?’ You might ask. As a matter of fact, it isn’t. The professor keeps a letter with him from the Virginia state health department attesting that it’s not. As you’d imagine, restaurant owners are none too pleased.

As the stereotype goes, professors can be a bit quirky, so you still might think nothing of this. What if I told you that the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (!) has admitted to walking around the office barefoot? This yearAs it turns out, a majority of people would be okay with this. According to a survey conducted last year by Adecco, a human resources consulting company, only 43% of people said they’d be offended if people took their shoes off in their workspace.

Can going barefoot actually make you more productive?

It’s no secret that stress is a major inhibitor when it comes to productivity. So, it follows that anything you can do to reduce stress in the workplace should help you be more productive.

Dr. Dieter Breithecker, who is currently the head of Germany’s Federal Institute for Posture and Mobilisation Support and a member of the International Ergonomics Association, says, “Putting the soles of your feet in contact with all the normal sensations helps to relieve internal tension and reduce stress. Shoes, on the other hand, prevent direct contact with the ground and so adversely affect the health of our feet, balance and posture.”

Not only could your shoes be inhibiting your productivity, but there’s a good chance that they might be affecting other aspects of your health like your posture.

It’s been quite a few years since I walked around barefoot in the office as the student body president. As the person ‘in charge,’ it was a little easier to get away with it and not upset too many people. In the years since, as long as I’ve had a private office, you could be sure that my feet were free, while my shoes remained tucked away in the corner. And for those times I needed to venture out of the office, I’d have to decide what the situation required. On some occasions, it’s important to be wearing formal shoes, but for those times it’s not, you’ll almost certainly catch me wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Bormios.

How Does a 25-Hour Workweek Sound to You?

Vocation is a very important part of our lives in today’s society. Vocation, usually, gives our lives a sense of purpose. At times, however, our vocation can get in the way of our lives. How? Overwork. This past summer, I linked to a couple of articles at The Atlantic that illustrate this point quite perfectly. The first: No-Vacation Nation: Why Don’t Americans Know How to Take a Break?. And the second: The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks Are Good for Productivity.

There’s a really important graphic from the first link. I’ve included it below, (but if it’s too hard to read, click on it and it will take you to a bigger version of it).

If you’ll notice, the US is absolute last on this list of OECD countries. Certainly not something that the US should be proud of.

Earlier this fall, I posted a TEDTalk of someone from the New Economics Foundation arguing for a 21-hour workweek. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news release that the head of the Max Planck research centre was arguing for a 25-hour workweek. There are some key points:

When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands.

This scenario probably sounds familiar to many people today. But there are good arguments for changing this. We should aim for more leisure time in our youth and instead work a bit more when we get older.

”There is strong evidence that elderly people who work part-time are healthier than those who don’t work at all and just sit at home. This is simply because working improves people’s health,” he says.

“The benefits are not just psychological because being an active part of society makes you people feel good about themselves, but also physically, since you use both your brain and your body when you’re working.”

There are also some good interpersonal arguments in support of spreading our working hours over a longer period in our lives.

”The main argument is that this would give young people aged 20-30 more time to care for their children, do sports and other important activities that improve their lives,” says the professor.

”The way it is today, young people are slaving their way through work, looking forward to a long retirement. But why not move that retirement period around a bit so that young people get more valuable time off work?”

How does all of that sound?

The thing is, there’s a culture of overworking. Working 60+ hours a week should not be a badge of honor — it should be a badge of ludicrousness (save for some extreme examples). Vocation is important, yes, but so are other things in life. And, if productivity is what you’re after, it’s important to understand that overworking one’s self is the perfect way to limit productivity. Remember that second link I share above:

It’s typical for families to celebrate the month of August by shutting down the computer and skipping town. From a raw numbers perspective, this counts as lost work. But that’s a short-sighted view, psychologists now say. In fact, by serving as the least productive month for millions of workers, August unexpectedly serves as a productivity-booster.

Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers, Businessweek reported in 2007. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing told ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

As with most things in business and in life, understanding the different between long-term gains and short-term profits is of the utmost importance with regard to the issue of the workweek.

Stop Consuming — Get Busy Creating

In one of those ubiquitous end of the year posts, Joshua Brown (financial advisor) and all-around fun guy (at least from what I can gather by following him on Twitterwrote:

The news is mostly not news. Believe me, I traffic in this stuff online and on-air every day.

But let’s say it was all “real news”…then what? It isn’t as though you’re able to react to it, at least not all of it. In fact, the less of it you react to, the better off you probably are. My friend David Merkel talks about making as few decisions as possible, thus limiting the amount of bad or forced ones. This is the kind of advice that sounds so simple and obvious that it can’t possibly be true – but it actually is true.

Brown is writing this inside of a larger point — stay away from the news. His audience in this paragraph is specifically those who are stock traders, but I think, with some minor tweaks, we can expand the audience to everyone (or at least a lot of people). It’s pretty hard to create things, if you’re always consuming. If you’re endlessly following the news on Twitter or reading what’s going on in the world around you, it makes it quite a bit harder to make something yourself.

In an interview with Esquire magazine last year, Ricky Gervais (!) made a plea for people to be creators*:

You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, ‘I did that.’

I certainly think Gervais is right — we’ve each got something unique and creative to contribute to the world. Let’s tie this back into Brown’s point about staying away from the news. In fact, Brown includes a tweet that supports his point and I think exemplifies mine:

Another place where this point is made, albeit in a longer way, is in a TEDTalk that Susan Cain gave last year. The subject was on introversion and it was very powerful. If you need more support for the point about “spending time away” from things, then I’d definitely watch her talk.

*Note: I realize that I’ve not linked to the Esquire Magazine article. Since I first came across this quote from Maria Popova, I wanted to link back to it on her site. She tirelessly works to curate an enormous amount of content. In this case, it felt right to link back to her site — especially because she includes a link to the Esquire interview.

Close Your Email — Right Now!

If you’ve read anything about productivity, the appeal in the title of this post will not be new. While this is something that I’ve known for years, it’s not something that I usually practiced. I’ve had my own computer for more than a decade and in that time, I’ve probably almost always had my email open — while at the same time, trying to get work done.

Of course, there would be times when I would be under some sort of deadline, so I’d close everything, but the report I was working on. Aside from those times, I’ve almost always had a tab open in my browser with my email. The ironic part is that when Google Chrome added extensions, I immediately picked up one of those extensions that would let me know when I had email with a chiming sound. Like Pavlov’s dog, I would immediately flip to my inbox.

I’ve read lots and lots about how to be productive. I know that being a slave to your inbox is not an effective way to get anything done (other than keeping our inbox empty, but that’s debatable).

Recently, I’ve had some trouble with the extension in Google Chrome that chimes  when I get a new email. As a result, I experimented with some other extensions, but none of them seemed to work as well as the one I had. I finally came to an extension that was by Google, so I thought that one would probably work really well and forever be compatible with Google Chrome. Before I go on, I should say that the extension I was using had worked for… well, as long as I can remember. So, the new extension. This new extension by Google doesn’t chime the way the old one did.

At first, this was kind of maddening because I was so used to hearing the chime and then going to my Inbox. Mind you, the extension still has a small indicator directly next to the address bar, so I could see if there was a new message or not.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well — because I’m converted.

I no longer have my email open. After 10+ years of having my inbox open all the time, I’ve realized (by accident?) just how much more effective and efficient it is to not have your Inbox open all the time. So, if you were a long-time hold out like me, I implore you — try it — test it out — you may like it!

Note: If you need another reason to close your Inbox… you should know that having Gmail open will slow down your computer — as it takes up quite a bit of RAM.

Wanna Be Productive? Avoid Email, Twitter, and Facebook First Thing in the Morning

Hello hello! It’s been almost two weeks since I last posted. I’ve been out-of-town for the last little while without reliable internet connectivity, so my posts were sparse. In fact, I think I only wrote the one about authenticity while I was gone. Well, you’re in for a treat. I’ve got at least a dozen new things to write about since I’ve been gone, one of which will be a series (I’m excited for it!)

Today, I want to talk about an aspect of productivity. I could be conflating things, but I think the first time I read about productivity, with respect to time of day, was in the 4-hour work week. The idea is that people are most productive (or can be the most productive) when they get to work in the morning — straight away. However, many of us, myself included, check email, Facebook, or twitter, before we get down to working on what we’ve got planned for the day. Ferriss (if I’m remember correctly) argued that this is the best way to harpoon your productivity.

So, he advocated not turning on those things until after you’ve done the “key” thing you wanted to get done that day. In fact, he has a whole specific thing about email that you might want to look into (only checking email twice, once, or less [!] a day). By staying away from these black holes of time, you’d be able to get at least that one thing you wanted to do that day and feel good about it.

I know that when I wake up in the morning, email/twitter are two things that I almost always check before I do anything else during the day. This is, in part, because twitter is the way that I get my news/learning, but also because — well — it can be a bit addictive. By checking twitter/email in the morning, I can sometimes get sucked into a problem/task or a series of articles. Before I know it, I’ve spent 60 minutes on things that I hadn’t necessarily planned. As a result, I sometimes don’t get to writing a post that day — and I’d like to write something (at least) once a day.

Let’s make a challenge of it, shall we?

Remember that meditation challenge I wrote about a few months ago? Let’s do the same thing with productivity! Let’s commit to doing the “key” thing before we get into other things (like email and twitter). Of course, I understand that some of you may not have the luxury of not checking your email (based on your jobs), but otherwise, let’s see if we can do it. You’ll be able to check on me because the one thing that I’m going to do before I check Twitter is write a post.

The Science of Procrastination and How to Manage It

Almost two months ago, I wrote a post about how much time you waste at work. I thought it would only be fair if I then wrote something about how not to waste so much time at work.

I came across a short two and a half-minute video detailing the science of procrastination and — more importantly — how to manage it. The techniques espoused in the video aren’t off-the-wall and they probably are things you might have heard. Though, take comfort in knowing that many people have used  The Pomodoro Technique with great success!

You Waste a lot of Time at Work

… or at least so says this infographic from Atlassian. I wanted to embed the infographic here, but the infographic is not presented in a way that makes it easy to share (other than giving you the URL, which I’ve already done). So, I’ll just go over some of the key statistics from the inforgraphic. Though, I highly recommend checking out the infographic because the information presented in that fashion might make it more memorable.

They name three main culprits of wasting time at work: email, pointless meetings, and constant interruptions. I think these are probably all things that most people would agree on. Let’s look at some of the costs associated with these “culprits.”

Email

Annual Productivity Costs per Employee:

Spam: $1250

Unnecessary emails: $1800

Poorly written communications: $2100 to $4100

Meetings

U.S. Business lose $37 billion in salary because of the cost of unnecessary meetings

Interruptions

Interruptions a day for the average employee: 56

Minutes spent working before the average employee switches tasks: 3

Hours spent recovering from distractions per day: 2

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If all of this is true, it kind of makes it hard to ignore the costs associated with these three major time-wasters. Of course, Atlassian’s motive isn’t entirely pure. At the bottom of the infographic, they’d like you to sign-up to learn how their business solution (Confluence)* can help your team work more efficiently.

The information provided in the infographic is certainly compelling, isn’t it? The point about email seems particularly poignant, especially the note about poorly written communication. It seems that a team leader would want to host a workshop or hire some help to ensure that the team is communicating at its optimal capacity.

Seeing this infographic also makes me want to revisit Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. There are lots of important productivity tools in there for making your team more efficient. More than that, be sure to check out Ferriss’ blog, where he continues to talk about ways to improve efficiency (in many different aspects of life: he’s just finishing up a book on cooking and he’s also published a book on dieting/working out).

*Note: Please don’t consider this an endorsement of Atlassian or Confluence. I hadn’t heard of the company (or the product) until I came across this infographic and I have no experience using Confluence.