TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Productivity Hacks You Can’t Afford Not to Know About

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Don’t multitask

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

My field of integrated communications is a service business that by definition must be productive. People’s deadlines must be met with deliverables executed on a critical path, with many layers of dependencies: Clients depend on teams to launch products, time financial news and outmaneuver competitors.

Companies like mine must produce before others can deliver and produce well, staying creative, insightful, accurate and proactive, even under pressure.

It’s a tall order. But over the decades I’ve had insights about what makes a team productive at its core. I’m sharing a few proven productivity hacks here in the hopes they’ll also help you.

Related: 5 Simple Low-Tech Hacks for Boosting Your Productivity

1. Set clear expectations with the company’s culture.

Create a positive work environment that supports professional development. Arm employees with the tools they need to build and expand their expertise and create productive workspaces accommodating different work styles.

Encourage people to step up and take chances. Make it clear how success will be measured. My first productivity hack begins at the ground floor, in building a culture that is all about setting goals and getting the right things done.

2. Apply design thinking.

Productivity doesn’t simply happen. It comes from a constant focus on building it into processes and work flows as the organization evolves. Look at end results (measurable goals, timelines, success metrics) and set process in place even before pressing the “go” button.

It saps productivity to figure all this all out in real time. Designing it right into work flows from the very start can make the difference between achieving the goal or looking back and trying to figure out what went wrong.

3. Delegate.

The more you hand off to others, the more productive you’ll be. If someone else can do a task, if you can show someone else how to do it or if somebody on your team can show someone else how to do an activity, then don’t do it yourself. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you have to do things because nobody else knows how.

If you feel that way, stop before you slide down a nonproductive slippery slope. Step out of your comfort zone and find someone else who’s willing to do the same — and give him or her the job. Let the person know you’re there if needed.

And then be productive on something that’s a step up from what you’ve done before.

Related: The One Question Successful Business Owners Always Ask Themselves

4. Don’t multitask.

People refer to multitasking like it’s a good thing. It’s not. People’s brains aren’t designed to do concurrent things well.

Flitting between tasks means flitting between brain modalities, and there’s always a switching cost as individuals move from one to another.

Schedule your time to minimize distractions or interruptions. Turn off your email. It’s an easy (and easy to rationalize) productivity suck.

Close your computer in meetings unless all you’re (really, truly) doing is taking notes. More and more people’s lives are about interruptions and short bursts of attention. But real productivity comes from doing one thing at a time, doing it well and wrapping it up before moving on to the next thing.

5. Take a break.

The brain can grow weary with too much of the same sort of work; that’s why people sneak off to check email. When you finish something, reward yourself. Take a walk around the block. Check Twitter to see what’s trending. Go get that excellent cup of coffee. Head to the ping-pong table with a teammate and brainstorm while you hit the ball back and forth.

These aren’t wastes of time. They’re ways of refueling and reorganizing for your next deliverable. When you come back, sit down, turn off your email and envision what you need to do between now and the next break. A breath of fresh air may be more than a cliché. Weave one in and see what happens next.

6. Challenge assumptions.

Remote teams and virtual workers are the norm in today’s workplace, as team members often collaborate across different geographies and time zones. “How does that affect productivity?” people ask. My answer: “It’s a boost.”

Multioffice teams can script work flows that put time differences on the company’s side.

When team members on different coasts are working on the same project, processes can begin in New York so handoffs are ready when Silicon Valley turns on the lights.

And New York staffers can count on their West Coast counterparts when they sign off. If productivity is the goal, challenge your staff to design processes to optimize for it. Old ways of doing things, like dinosaurs, sometimes need to evolve.

7. Optimize for meaning.

If you’re not getting a sense of making an impact, a sense of satisfaction, even fun in your work, it’s hard to sustain productivity. Being productive isn’t about working harder and harder in the hope that you’ll eventually get there. It’s about hitting a flow state, mastery or something that brings a sense of a job well done.

If you really want to boost productivity, design your work to let you do things that you genuinely enjoy.

Many of the hacks above flow like a waterfall to this point: Creating a culture, designing work flows, delegating and the other tips all point to processes that help people match themselves to work that matters.

Build your teams with people who care about what they do and create an environment that makes it easier and more efficient for them to get that work done. Then enjoy the results as you watch productivity rise.

Related: 5 Things You Should be Doing to Have an Insanely Productive Week

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Tips for Running Meetings That Aren’t Totally Terrible

Close up of business people handshaking
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Here are a few ways to ensure your next one is both productive and organized

startupcollective

This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Question: What’s one best practice for running a successful Meetup-style group for entrepreneurs?

Plan in Advance

“The best practice to run a successful meetup group for entrepreneurs is taking time to plan the event in advance. I’ve found that it is best to plan at least three to four weeks in advance so there is enough time to work out all of the details, find a venue and ensure every entrepreneur attending the meetup-style group is able to make arrangements for the day.” Jay Wu, A Forever Recovery

Set the Tone Immediately

“Create the culture you’re hoping to have for your group at the first event. Do this by stacking the room with your contacts who know what you have in mind, and let the word spread from there. I run several such events, and by doing this very thing, I’ve been able to grow them exponentially both locally and around the country — all true to the same values and mission. ” — Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids

Focus on Relationships

“Entrepreneurs are excited to be part of something that is growing and becoming grand, so tap in to those desires by helping us create relationships with other dreamers, people we can share with, learn from and with whom we can explore new possibilities. Focus less on being cool and more on being human.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Make It Exclusive

“Make your group invite-only so it’s more exclusive and to ensure quality control. Many of the best entrepreneurs I know in London don’t bother with general meetups anymore, and by creating an invite-only group with a strong core, you will generate a lot of interest from those aspiring membership. Plus, knowing your niche is very important in today’s crowded landscape.” — Christopher Pruijsen, Sterio.me

Lay out Helpful Assignments

“The hardest part of a meetup is the first 15 minutes. You want to balance structure with freedom so that people don’t run to the bathroom to avoid the exercise. Lay out a couple challenges that have clear personal benefits for attendees but no deadline. A goal could be to learn about three new valuable apps or find two people for whom you can make introductions. Make it about helping one another.” — Heidi Allstop, Spill

Get to Your Venue Early

“Get to your venue early, and make sure everything is in order. This includes making sure enough seating is available and ensuring that all audio/visual equipment works properly. One of your goals in running a meetup is to impress, and if the meeting encounters a hitch, you’re unlikely to achieve that goal.” — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Get Startups to Demo

“It’s the best way to invite someone to see what your meetup is all about. Plus, it’s a nearly instant way to make it valuable for them. The audience hears what they’re working on, wants to hear more, and suddenly, there’s a family of people there every time.” — Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Give Everyone a Name Tag

“I love meeting people, but I’m horrible at remembering names. If everyone has a name tag, then it’s much easier to make introductions and build relationships. Bonus points if you encourage everyone to include his or her Twitter handle, business name or ‘I’m interested in…’ as well.” — Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

Create Clear Goals and Expectations

“Many people join communities because they attend an event from that community. Once they do, the organizer needs to work to keep them there. Providing a clear mission statement and adhering to it is essential in growing and maintaining the community. If the goal is education events, don’t just do happy hours. People join because of what you offer up front, and keeping that as a baseline is key.” — Aron Schoenfeld, Do It In Person LLC

Organize Specific Discussion Topics

“There’s nothing worse than having a meetup with no direction. Groups that don’t have focus will fizzle and die very quickly. This can be through the form of talks, events, etc. If you give everyone something to talk about, it creates an environment of learning and meaningful connections, which is ultimately the purpose of a meetup.” — James Simpon, GoldFire Studios

Be Confidential

“Start every meetup with an explicit statement that everything shared within the group should stay within the group. Knowing that the discussions are confidential can help founders open up and share their real problems, such as running out of cash or dealing with a difficult employee. And they can learn from the entrepreneurs who have gone through these situations before.” — Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc

TIME Companies

Apple CEO Tim Cook Is ‘Proud to Be Gay’

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Oct. 27, 2014.
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Oct. 27, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

The tech executive's first public acknowledgement

The CEO of Apple announced he’s gay Thursday, in an essay that puts him among the highest-profile publicly out business leaders in the world.

“I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Tim Cook, who took the reins of the world’s most valuable company from the late co-founder Steve Jobs, writes in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The highly private Cook has never publicly acknowledged his sexuality, though it was widely rumored outside the company, and he writes that colleagues at Apple already knew.

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

TIME

Cheap Gas Puts the Squeeze on Hybrids and EVs

Electric cars suffer when it’s easy to fill the tank

Earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne joked that he hoped consumers wouldn’t buy the Fiat 500e (e for electric), because the company loses $14,000 on each one, given the cost of the technology inside. That shows the bind carmakers find themselves in these days: Americans have been buying more green cars of all types, but as gas prices plummet, companies have resorted to steep discounts to keep sales from stalling.

Automakers sold about 90,000 hybrid electrics, plug-in hybrid electrics and battery-powered electrics through September, a 30% increase over 2013 in what will likely be a record year. Sales of plug-ins–which can be recharged overnight–are up nearly 85%, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA).

But sales are sensitive to the price of gas. Last month green-car sales flagged by some 30% as average prices at the pump in the U.S. dropped to near $3 a gallon, the lowest since 2010. With oil at $80 a barrel and falling, cheap gas could be with us for a while.

The efficiency of old-line internal-combustion engines is also making green-car dealers’ lives harder. The passenger car’s fuel-economy average is now 36.5 m.p.g. (6.4 L/100 km), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and on its way to 54.5 m.p.g. (4.3 L/100 km) as a result of regulations implemented by the Obama Administration in 2012. That, along with gas prices, is making electrics less compelling. “When gas is $3 a gallon, people are saying, ‘Why do I need to?'” says Patrick Olsen, editor of Cars.com. “People are not willing to put up with the slight inconvenience of having to charge their car.”

Plug-ins like Marchionne’s Fiat 500e are still more cost-effective to drive. Owners pay the equivalent of $1.29 a gallon to run their cars, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But so far, consumers aren’t doing the math. The differences among electric models also make it hard for the average consumer to make sense of the wider array of new, high-tech models.

To broaden plug-ins’ appeal beyond early adopters, car companies have been narrowing the premium usually paid over gas-powered cars. Ford lowered its Focus Electric price by $6,000, to $29,995, following a $4,000 cut last year. Throw in a maximum $7,500 federal tax credit and the price is less than $23,000. That’s on par with the higher-end gas-powered model. The 2014 and 2015 Chevy Volt are $5,000 cheaper than the 2013 model. Tesla, the California luxury electric manufacturer, is making its leases 25% cheaper and offering a 90-day return policy with a new lease.

The larger problem with plug-ins and battery-powered cars is that they tend to come in two varieties: very pricey statement cars, like the BMW i8 ($135,700), or small cars packed with expensive battery technology that pushes the price up. Both have proved to be a tough sell, even though cars like the Nissan Leaf (pictured) and the Chevy Volt are great drives. At a recent automotive tech conference, a Ford executive said the industry needs to produce more affordable mid- and full-size cars to truly make plug-ins popular.

The industry has also yet to mollify consumer anxiety over battery life, especially in the Northern states, where cold winters can cut range short. Most electrics can’t go beyond 100 miles (160 km) before recharging in normal conditions. Inevitably, battery life will improve as costs decline. That’s the way of technology. “It’s still more of a long-term play,” says Ford sales guru Erich Merkle. “Battery, ranges, speed of charge, infrastructure–a lot of things that are yet to be developed.”

Automakers plan to introduce some 20 new models by 2016, according to the EDTA. That includes a next-gen Volt with an extended-range propulsion system.

American car buyers can be a shortsighted group. Up through the early 2000s, they opted for big SUVs as gas prices stayed low. Then prices spiked, and consumers scrambled to find more-efficient rides. “We are going to get back to $5 gasoline for some reason at some point. Then people will be screaming,” says Olsen. Maybe by then they’ll even be screaming for electrics.

TIME Companies

Go Inside an American Steel Mill

Nucor Corp. is the largest steelmaker in the United States, manufacturing some 20 million tons of steel each year to supply steel for skyscrapers, bridges, cars, and appliances. TIME visited Nucor's mill in Crawfordsville, Ind., one of the company's 24 steelmaking facilities

TIME Money

These Are the Wealthiest Cities in America

Golden Gate Bridge by Joseph Baermann Strauss
The Golden Gate Bridge by Joseph Baermann Strauss, with the bay and the city of San Francisco in the background, California, United States of America. DEA / M. SANTINI—De Agostini/Getty Images

The city proper has seen its fair share of change over the years.

One facet of that change has been the creation of wealth. Here at FindTheBest, we analyzed the most current Five-Year American Community Survey (ACS) data released by the Census Bureau in late 2013 to determine which cities in America contain higher proportions of wealthy households. Defining a wealthy household as one with an income of more than $150,000, we lined up U.S. cities with more than 500,000 people in them to see how America’s biggest cities compare.

Here are the 34 cities in the U.S. with a population greater than 500,000, listed in descending order by the percentage of households with incomes exceeding $150,000. We’ll take a look at some of the wealthiest big cities in America and discuss one important commonality among those cities. You can click into the table below to learn more about each city:

At first glance, you can see that the West Coast is well represented near the start of the list, with four cities out of five right at the top. Of these five cities, at least 14 percent of households in each qualify as wealthy (San Francisco and San Jose push the upper bound by breaking 20 percent). What’s also interesting about these two is that they are distinct cities, but geographically, they are adjoined as part of the San Francisco Bay Area. That two of the wealthiest cities by household income are also geographic neighbors is striking, but it’s not surprising.

In 2012, urban economist Edward Glaeser made the case for the genius of cities in his fascinating book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser devotes ample time in his book to the notion that one of a city’s greatest assets is its ability to enable innovation-driving spillovers. Education, as it turns out, is an important force behind generating the knowledge for such cross-pollination. Glaeser makes his point this way: “This agricultural community [Silicon Valley to be] became a world capital of high technology because Senator Leland Stanford, a railroad magnate, decided to build a university on his eight-thousand-acre horse farm.”

While a slight oversimplification that Glaeser duly unpacks, the point remains the same: education and wealth strongly correlate with one another. Common among the ten wealthiest cities by household income is the presence of at least one major world-class research university. The fact that these cities also have proportionally higher levels of graduate-degree holders living in them only strengthens this observation.

We also can explore a larger sample size to frame this in broader terms, say, by plotting the percentage of a city’s residents with at least a bachelor’s degree against the percentage of households with more than $150,000 in income. Again, there is a strong correlation between educational attainment and higher incomes:

Where the education-to-wealth comparison suffers slightly is in explaining why a city like Seattle—where 56.6 percent of the adult population holds a bachelor’s degree and 23 percent holds a graduate degree—doesn’t have a higher percentage of so-called wealthy households (15.2 percent). To be sure, San Francisco and San Jose rank highly in the scatter plot. But Seattle clearly reports a broader college-level educational base.

It’s often tempting to look at compelling data-driven evidence and deduce a singular conclusion. But we can’t. The best we can do is note correlations, holding constant what we have not accounted for. Do wealth and education always align? While we see a noticeable correlation for America’s most populated cities, data never prove anything. Indeed, it could be that wealth begets education and not the other way around (recall, for example, that Senator Stanford was a rich man). Moreover, education doesn’t necessarily capture the role of a city’s cost of living. The bang of $150,000 fluctuates by city.

Even so, it would be difficult to present data on the wealthiest cities in America without also discussing the strong correlation between wealth and education. And much like the persistent change that imbues the history of the American city, it’s also worth mentioning that wealth can be defined in more ways than one.

More from FindTheBest

America’s Most Dangerous Cities

How Much Are You Paying for Prisoners in Your State?

The 10 Most Diverse Colleges in America

TIME Silicon Valley

IBM and Twitter Sign Pact to Turn Tweets Into Better Business Decisions

“Businesses have only scratched the surface of what is possible”

Computing goliath IBM has signed a deal with Twitter to use tweets to make smarter business decisions.

The agreement will let IBM’s 10,000 consultants access the some 500 million tweets the social-media firm sees each day, the Wall Street Journal reports. Together, the companies will build new services to assist various industries in gauging public opinion on brands, products and ideas, as well as forecast prospects for business development.

“Businesses have only scratched the surface of what is possible,” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told an event announcing the accord in Las Vegas.

IBM has been keen to collect on innovations in the world of big data, this summer announcing a deal with Apple to develop new applications for corporate clients. Meanwhile, Twitter has also been intent on beefing up its revenue sources, buying data firm Gnip this spring to give its advertisers better analytics packages.

[WSJ]

TIME Food & Drink

‘The Franken Frappuccino’ Comes to Life at Starbucks

But the ghoulish drink won't leave you green around the gills

Starbucks has launched a special Halloween-themed green beverage called the Franken Frappuccino.

The green-tea-based drink is made with peppermint syrup, white-chocolate sauce, java chips, whipped cream and mocha drizzle, reports People.

And it doesn’t seem to be leaving customers green around the gills. “It tastes like a Frappuccino version of mint chocolate ice cream — super yummy,” said Reddit user Callthewindreddit.

The limited edition Frappuccino is available to buy in select Starbucks stores from Oct. 29 to 31. And any grande Frappuccino bought after 2 p.m. will only cost $3, Starbucks said on their Instagram.

TIME Retail

Wal-Mart’s Apple Pay Competitor Has a Secret Weapon

Grand Opening At A New Wal-Mart Store
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. signage is displayed on a check out register during the grand opening of a new location in Torrance, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's perfectly tuned for low-budget shoppers with phones that aren't always cutting edge

Wal-Mart is among the biggest retailers not accepting Apple Pay, Apple’s new mobile payment system that got underway last week to rousing early success. The big box behemoth is instead going with a different, decidedly lower-tech solution called CurrentC, a mobile wallet developed by a group of merchants, Wal-Mart included, called MCX.

Despite not launching publicly yet, CurrentC is being lambasted in the tech press this week. Why? Over the weekend, several retailers involved with MCX stopped accepting Apple Pay after initially allowing it, which read to many as unfriendly to consumers. And on Wednesday, MCX revealed its email vendor was hacked, exposing CurrentC users’ email addresses and giving the company yet another PR headache.

CurrentC is also seen by many as having been designed more to benefit merchants than consumers. It’s certainly less user-friendly and probably less secure than Apple Pay, but it will help merchants sidestep the much-hated fees they have to pay every time a customer swipes a credit card. CurrentC is also just less cool than Apple Pay—from a tech obsessive’s perspective, it looks like a budget sedan to Apple Pay’s Tesla Model S.

But here’s the thing: None of the tech journalists I know shop at Wal-Mart. For Wal-Mart’s lower-income shoppers, CurrentC could actually have some advantages over Apple Pay. To wit:

1. CurrentC is QR-code based, like Starbucks’ payment app. That makes it backwards compatible with older, cheaper phones (and Android phones) whereas Apple Pay only works with Apple’s top-of-the-line, brand-new phones. Eventually, those iPhones will get older and trickle down into lower-budget shoppers’ pockets, but that’ll take years. The trade-off here is that Apple’s NFC-based system is inherently more secure, as it doesn’t give retailers vital data about your payment method.

2. CurrentC supports consumer loyalty programs (read: coupons), whereas Apply Pay does not. Many shoppers deride loyalty programs as annoying, but I can speak from my experience as a broke college student when I say that coupons can be a vital lifeline for lower-income shoppers. Of course, that support comes at a privacy price: Loyalty programs are really just a thinly-veiled way for retailers to collect data about their consumers.

You’ll notice both of those points contain significant tradeoffs in terms of privacy, a point that Apple CEO Tim Cook emphasized when he introduced the company’s service. Still, there are plenty of reasons for low-end shoppers to adopt CurrentC over Apple Pay, if they embrace the mobile wallet at all. Many won’t—but let the best mobile wallet win.

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