TIME Careers & Workplace

These Are the Best Jobs You Can Do In Your Pajamas

Getty Images

Here's what kinds of jobs offer this perk

Whenever the topic of flexible work arrangements or work-life balance comes up, telecommuting is one of the first ideas that comes up. Fortunately for dedicated employees who just want a job where the commute doesn’t drive them to distraction, more companies today are coming around to the idea that telecommuting is a good option to offer, according to FlexJobs.com, a job search site that focuses on flexible positions, including ones that permit telecommuting.

And it’s not just worker bees who can reap the benefits. FlexJobs found that there are executive-level options for department heads, vice presidents and even C-level bosses who are sick of battling rush-hour traffic and compiled a list of 15 of the best. Not surprisingly, jobs in consulting and technology — where much of the work is conducted remotely anyway — turn up, but there are also jobs in healthcare, education and even the nonprofit sector that extend telecommuting benefits. Positions in sales, finance or HR also can provide opportunity for telecommuting.

“I think something that will surprise job candidates looking for executive-level telecommuting jobs is the number of large and well-known employers offering them,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs. “Companies of all sizes hire for telecommuting jobs even at the highest levels of leadership,” she says.

For instance, there’s an academic employer looking for a director of research is happy to have a full-time telecommuter step into the role, and a big national firm is looking to fill a senior vice president of managed travel position that will require logging plenty of frequent-flier miles but can otherwise be performed from home.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that only low-level positions are eligible for telecommuting. “A typical telecommuter is 49 years old, college educated, and in a management or professional role,” FlexJobs says. One vice president of consulting gig wants candidates with 15 years experience — at minimum. A VP-level sales job requires 10 years of management experience, plus another decade focusing specifically on project management. And even though working from home means saving on gas, parking and/or public transportation tickets, these jobs don’t pay peanuts. FlexJobs says three-quarters of people who work from home pull down $65,000 a year or more.

Not only does letting people work from home let companies extend their talent search beyond driving distance of the office, but there’s a growing pile of research that suggests people are both happier and more productive when they have the option to lead conference calls in a bathrobe at least part of the time.

But if you think there might be perks to working in your PJs, you might need to make your case during an interview, Fell says. If a job ad says telecommuting is limited or available on a case-by-case basis, “The job candidate should prepare him or herself to make a case as to why they’re both an excellent fit for the job, and an excellent fit for telecommuting as well,” Fell says. And if you score a job where you’re trading in your briefcase for bunny slippers, the lack of face-to-face interaction also puts the onus on you to be proactive and straightforward in their communication style, she adds. “Job candidates who are interested in working remotely need to hone their communication skills [and] their ability to set goals for themselves and their teams.”

MONEY job hunting

How to Write Emails That Will Land You a Job

man using laptop in coffee shop
Roberto Westbrook—Gallery Stock

Forget cover letters—email is where the game is won and lost these days. The dos and don'ts of job hunting via email.

Now that most introductions happen over email, it’s safe to say that email communication has become as important as or even more important than writing cover letters. With this in mind, here are my top five tips for communicating effectively over email:

Be incredibly responsive.

When someone introduces you to a new contact, it’s imperative that you follow up immediately. If you had a phone conversation or an in-person interview, send a thank-you email as soon as you get off the line or leave the building. Don’t worry about coming across as desperate or creepy; this isn’t a date. Whether the executive takes a few days to respond, or doesn’t respond at all, he or she will be impressed if you respond immediately.

Pay attention to the subject line.

The task of your email’s subject line is to trigger an impulse that causes the recipient to open the email. Your subject line should be enticing and express who you are and what you are writing about. Sometimes it is appropriate to include your name, and other times your school or connection or who referred you is the better way to go. Here are some examples:

  • Sarah Smythe Following Up on Ian McEwan’s Introduction
  • Indiana Student Interested in Learning more about the Marketing Services Industry
  • ESPN Internship Application – Douglas Spector
  • Middlebury Student Seeking 10 Minutes To Talk About McKinsey – Referral from Barry Rosenberg

Begin by explaining the occasion for your message.

The first line of your email will vary, but no matter the situation, your opening line should explain why you’re contacting the recipient. Here are some well-executed examples for a range of scenarios:

  • If you’ve had no previous contact: “I hope this note reaches you in high spirits and good health. I am reaching out to you with the hopes of learning more about the medical diagnostics industry in general and Medtronic specifically.”
  • If you’ve had one previous contact: “Thanks again for our conversation a couple of weeks ago. I followed up as you suggested and found three or four specific target companies with potentially relevant positions to apply to. Could we connect on the phone for 7 to 10 minutes (maximum) so I can get your input about these opportunities?”
  • If you were referred by a third party: “I hope you are having a great weekend and that this doesn’t catch you at an inconvenient time. I was speaking with my uncle Ken, and he explained to me that you direct your firm’s retail practice. I am very interested in exploring a career in retail and fashion, and I believe you would be the perfect person to talk to.”

Keep it short and easy-on-the-eyes.

Most people don’t have the time or attention span to read an email that’s longer than 10 lines. Assume that the recipient will be reading it on their smartphone (while multi-tasking). Make it snappy. Establish who you are and what you want in the first two sentences. Write your email in at least 11 or 12 point font so that the reader doesn’t have to put on his or her reading glasses.

Don’t lose your cool.

Chances are, you will be reaching out to people who are very busy. Unread emails don’t bring them joy; they make them anxious, and your email will be adding to the count. So if you haven’t heard back from someone, or if they’ve sent you a less-than-warm response, it doesn’t mean that they dislike you or don’t think you’re good enough. It doesn’t even mean the conversation is over.

More often than not, the recipient is just hesitant to add an unexpected task to the pile. Don’t be afraid to continue reaching out. Find the right frequency—perhaps once every two weeks—until your contact replies with a next step or tells you they aren’t interested. Even then, don’t necessarily cross the person or company off your target list. Just thank them for their time and consider them inactive for the time being.

You might try them again in a few months, or they might become an important contact for you years later in your career. An email can be forwarded in an instant, so don’t jeopardize your relationships and your network by writing something in the heat of the moment that will come back to haunt you.

Remember, every interaction by email is an opportunity to move your job search process forward by one small but concrete step.

Citrin runs the CEO Practice at Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading executive search and leadership consulting firms. He is the best-selling author of six books. This article was adapted from his latest, The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today’s Aspiring Young Professional, which was published this week.

MONEY Career Strategies

Why Your Potential Could Be More Important Than Your Accomplishments

trophy with crack in it
Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

The surprising downside to achievement

Conventional wisdom is pretty clear on how to get ahead in one’s professional life. Rack up accomplishments, collect accolades, make your résumé as impressive as possible, we’re told, and rewards will follow. That all sounds nice—but it might not be true. In fact, social science suggests, the key to success might actually be to achieve less while promising more.

That’s the conclusion of a study by professors at Harvard and Stanford, who found that people tend to favor potential over demonstrated results. The researchers discovered that references to potential, such as “this person could win an award for their work,” appear to stimulate greater interest than similar references to actual accomplishments (“this person has won an award for their work”). This tendency, the paper states, “creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing.”

The professors demonstrated as much in a series of experiments in which test subjects were asked to choose between the proven and the possible. In one case, participants were asked to rate two job candidates: one with two years of experience and demonstrated leadership achievement, and the other with no experience but high leadership potential.

Despite the more experienced candidate having objectively superior credentials, subjects preferred the candidate with potential. They also implicitly predicted this candidate would be a better leader in his fifth year on the job than the more experienced candidate would be in his seventh year.

In another experiment, participants read two letters of recommendation for an applicant to a business Ph.D. program. Both versions were nearly identical, but one stressed possible talent (“Mark K. is a student of great potential”), while the other highlighted accomplishment (“Mark K. is a student of great achievement”). Once again, the subjects preferred the applicant with potential.

Why are people so drawn to the possible, even over proven results? The researchers suggest it’s simply a matter of uncertainty being more interesting than a sure thing. “Our finding is that people find potential to be exciting uncertainty,” says Zakary Tormala, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Stanford School of Business. That makes a candidate with potential more stimulating than a safer choice, and often leads to a more positive impression.

Workers can use this quirk of psychology to their advantage by emphasizing their future value, in addition to past achievements, when applying for a job or asking for a raise. “One of the places we’ve encouraged people to make this happen is in their reference letters,” says Michael Norton, another of the study’s co-authors and professor at Harvard Business School. References “generally talk about what someone has done,” Norton says. “That’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s very important to also talk about their potential.” It can be particularly important for high achieving employees who might be more inclined to stress their accomplishments over their continued capacity for growth.

However, the professor notes, the allure of potential isn’t unlimited. In the recommendation letter experiment, researchers found that participants stopped favoring potential over success when claims of potential lacked sufficient evidence to back them up. Instead, it’s best to highlight a combination of past accomplishments and future possibilities, so no one suspects you’re hype without substance. “A mix is critical,” Norton explains. “There has to be some demonstrated sense that you’ve achieved things.”

Use it right, and our collective preference for potential can do more than get you a better job. Norton says it could also get you a date. “The classic terrible first date is the man drones on about achievements,” the professor jokes. “But if you talk about what you want to do, even if you’re not going to get there, it can be more exciting.”


The Super-Simple Way to Get More Replies to Your Emails

Computers email symbol
Getty Images

New data shows you how

How much of the email you send gets deleted unread? A lot of it, if you’re like most of us in corporate America. But if you switch up the times and days when you send out messages, you can improve the chances that they’ll be read and replied to.

Email tracking company Yesware analyzed more than half a million sales emails to find out when recipients are more likely to open and reply. Their main finding: Send out email when there’s less competition if you want to grab a recipient’s attention. “When there’s little else being emailed, your emails are more likely to stand out and get noticed,” the company says in a blog post.

On weekdays, about two-thirds of emails are opened, but on weekends, that figure rises to about three-quarters. Weekend days only get about one-tenth the email traffic of weekdays, which means your message has a better shot of landing at the top of your recipient’s inbox. You’re also likelier to get a reply when you send email on the weekend, but you might have to be patient. A slightly higher percentage of weekday emails get same-day responses, but roughly 46% of messages sent on weekends are returned, compared to 39% of weekday emails. Contrary to popular belief, Yesware says, there’s no inherent advantage in sending emails on Monday versus any other weekday.

The time of day when you send messages matters, too. Yesware finds that although email traffic is highest during the workday and peaks during lunchtime, reply rates are highest when traffic is lightest. For the best results, Yesware’s findings suggest that you should send emails around 6 or 7 a.m., or around 8 p.m. During these hours, 45% — nearly half — of all emails sent receive a reply.

Previous research into Yesware’s data trove finds that another good way to boost your email reply rate is to copy additional recipients. An analysis of some 500,000 sales emails shows that messages sent to two people — one on the main “to” line, one on the “cc” line — were opened around 84% of the time, and replied to in more than six out of 10 instances. Copying a second recipient rather than sending it outright to both is the key, Yesware says in a blog post. If your recipients see that multiple people are included in the message, they figure somebody else will go to the effort of responding. “When a task is placed in front of a group of people, individuals are more likely to assume that someone else will take responsibility for it,” the company says. “So, no one does.”


10 Scientific Steps to a Successful Career

Is your job not really doing it for you? Doesn’t have everything you need to feel satisfied, challenged and proud?

Or are you job-hunting but the options don’t seem that appealing?

You’re not alone. In fact, it’s an epidemic.

Job satisfaction is at its lowest rate since anyone started measuring it and nearly two-thirds of people would choose another career if they could.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level – 45 per cent – since record-keeping began over two decades ago.

We’re not satisfied with our jobs but we feel more and more rushed, cravingwork-life balance.

You know the Spanish “siesta”? It’s nearly extinct. Only 7% of Spaniards take one. We’re all just too busy.

Via How Should We Live?:

Around a quarter of Americans ‘always feel rushed’ according to a national survey, a figure which rises to over 40 percent for working mothers. In Britain 20 percent of workers say they don’t have time for a lunch break, while the siesta has almost disappeared from Spanish life: only 7 percent now indulge in the traditional afternoon nap.

But the funny thing is when you ask older folks for the most important lesson they’ve learned, what do they say? “Don’t stay in a job you dislike.”

In the Harvard Business Review Daniel Gulati broke down the top career regrets people have. #2 was “I wish I had quit earlier.”

In fact, people with no job are happier than people with a lousy job:


But we’re not getting much help. Personality tests like Myers-Briggs are supposed to predict your perfect career. Problem is, that test doesn’t work.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…there is ‘no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation… nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types’.

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone ask “What do you do?” and be able to reply with a smile because you feel so good about it?

There are fulfilling careers out there and you can get one. But first you need to know what makes jobs fulfilling and how to find the right one for you.

As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”9

So let’s dispel a few myths you might have about meaningful careers.


1) Money Isn’t Meaningful

Plenty of research says money doesn’t make us all that happy once you can pay the bills. I know, you’re skeptical.

But you don’t need to believe the pointy-headed researchers; ask people about their jobs and you hear the same thing.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…when people are asked about what gives them job satisfaction, they rarely place money at the top of the list. In the Mercer global-engagement scale – drawing on interviews with thousands of workers in Europe, the US, China, Japan and India – ‘base pay’ only comes in at number seven out of twelve key factors.

Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. – Debats 1999

Can you guess what Harvard Business Review says is the #1 career regret? “I wish I hadn’t taken the job for the money.”

Despite low pay and high unemployment artists have higher job satisfaction than most people.

In fact, artists are more likely to suffer from depression and other mood problems – and yet they’re still happier with their careers.

(For more on the biggest career regrets, click here.)

So money isn’t meaningful. What about prestige? Well, one kind is, the other kind isn’t.


2) Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is

Being in a top dog profession is nice but you don’t get meaning from it.

What you need is respect — where people appreciate what you do and admire you for it.2

Don’t be the head of the hospital; be the nurse who doctors ask for and patients trust.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

While most of us wish to enjoy a dose of social status, the feeling that we are respected by others for what we do and how we do it is one of the keys to having a meaningful career. As the sociologist of work Richard Sennett explains, respect enables us to feel like ‘a full human being whose presence matters’.

People are so busy looking at compensation they don’t think about the relationships they have at work. Research shows this is crazy.

A boss you trust is better than a 30% pay raise. Getting along with co-workers means promotions — and might save your life.

(For more on work-life balance, click here.)

Okay, okay — so chasing money and status doesn’t lead to a meaningful career. What does?


3) Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference

People who do work that benefits society show high levels of job satisfaction across the board.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A major study of ethical work by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon showed that those doing what they call ‘good work’ – defined as ‘work of expert quality that benefits the broader society’ – consistently exhibit high levels of job satisfaction.

When you look at some of the happiest jobs do you see a pattern? Clergy, firefighters, special ed teachers, physical therapists… They help people.

Research shows those who are other-focused are happier.

Via Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy:

Researchers have: they’ve found that happy people are ten times more likely to be other-oriented than self-centered. This suggests that happiness is a by-product of helping others rather than the result of its pursuit3.

(For more on a career that makes a difference, click here.)

Making a difference might involve a huge career change. Is there any way to find more fulfillment in the job you already have? Yes.


4) Use Your Talents

Aristotle once said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”28 He was way ahead of his time.

One of the most proven elements in work research is that using your strengths makes you feel great:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.


(To find out what you’re naturally talented at, click here.)

But maybe you don’t like doing what you’re good at. What then?


5) Pursue Your Passion

Doing what you’re passionate about has wide-ranging positive benefits.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression.

Cal Newport points out a weakness in the “follow your passion” argument: most people’s passions are quite difficult to make a living at.

What’s interesting is that most often it is passion that leads us to “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice and subsequent expertise.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

The researchers also looked at the role of passion among 130 undergraduate students enrolled in a selective psychology course. They found a direct path from harmonious passion to deliberate practice: the students who were more harmoniously passionate about their work were more likely to engage in deliberate practice.

So following your passion and working hard may eventually make you great at what you love — leading you back to step 3.

(For more on finding your passion in life, click here.)

So when you use your talents or pursue your passion what is it you’re hoping to achieve? How do you know a job is the right one?


6) Find Flow

Flow is when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away — like when athletes are in “the zone.”

If you find a job where you’re spending most of your time in “flow”, you’ve got a winner.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

In a typical flow experience, we feel totally engaged in the present, and future and past tend to fade away – almost as if we were doing Buddhist meditation. In his renowned study of surgeons, Csikszentmihalyi found that when performing operations, 80 per cent of them lose track of time or feel that it passes much faster than usual. They’re in the zone.

(For more on flow, and how to achieve it, click here.)

Being “in the zone” is great. What else screams “this is a fulfilling job”?


7) We All Want Freedom

Autonomy is one of the keys to a great job. You want to feel you have control over your time and effort and aren’t always told what to do.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

For decades, industrial psychologists have observed that job satisfaction is directly related to ‘span of autonomy’, meaning the amount of each day during which workers feel free to make their own decisions.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, emphasizes the need for autonomy in his TED talk


So what have we learned about fulfilling careers?

They aren’t about money or status but offer respect and the chance to use your talents and follow your passion with autonomy.

I know what you’re thinking: Great. Now how do I find that job?


8) Stop Looking For Your Soulmate

There is no one perfect job you were meant to do.

There are many “yous” with many passions and many talents and therefore many jobs you could be fulfilled by.

Thinking about what you were “born to do” gets in the way because you’re waiting for some magic “click” and not busy developing skills.

How often does natural talent control what you can achieve in everyday life? In ~95% of cases, it doesn’t.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” He’s not counting the 2 to 3 percent of children who have severe impairments, and he’s not counting the top 1 to 2 percent of children at the other extreme… He is counting everybody else.

(For more on what the most successful people all have in common, click here.)

So you’re not fixated on some “perfect” job. How do you find the one that’s right for you?


9) Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”

In How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric recommends writing a job advertisement — but what you’re selling is you.

Talk about your talents, passions, values and personal qualities.

Don’t mention specific jobs but do include important things like salary requirements or geographic restrictions.

Then send it to 10 friends in different careers, from different walks of life. Askthem to tell you what jobs you are best suited for.

When people independently mention the same job, or there’s a trend, you know that’s an area worth further exploration.

(For more on how to find out what career is right for you, click here.)

Okay, but now how can you be sure they know what they’re talking about? There’s really only one way.


10) Ready, Fire, Aim

Here’s something you rarely hear: “Do not plan ahead. Do not start thinking.” Because you don’t know anything yet.

The problem with careers is when we make the decisions, we rarely know much about the thing we’re choosing.

35% of college graduates end up in a job that was not their major. Planningsounds good but as the old saying goes: “The map is not the territory.”

Ever talk to a cop or a lawyer and learn their job is not like it looks on TV? Exactly.

It’d be great if you could go try a bunch of different jobs for a month each. But that’s just not realistic for most of us.

So you need to talk to people, the people who are doing the job you think you want.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A final form of experimental project is conversational research. Perhaps less daunting than a radical sabbatical or a branching project, it can be just as effective. It simply requires talking to people from different walks of life who are engaged in the types of work you might imagine doing.

Is the job what you expected? Did they sound energized about it? Did it offer respect, use of your talents, passions and provide autonomy?

If the answer is no, keep looking. If it’s yes, and it fits everything else above, you’re probably onto a career that could be perfect for you.

(Here’s how to network, how to find a mentor and how to interview like a pro.)

So what’s all this mean in the end?


Sum Up

Here are the steps to finding a fulfilling career:

  1. Money Isn’t Meaningful
  2. Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is
  3. Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference
  4. Use Your Talents
  5. Pursue Your Passion
  6. Find Flow
  7. We All Want Freedom
  8. Stop Looking For Your Soulmate
  9. Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”
  10. Ready, Fire, Aim

Dostoyevsky once said:

The thought once occurred to me that if one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.

And guess what? Research by Duke professor Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, agrees. Watch his talk here.


In the end, I see it like this: You’re going to spend 80,000 hours working over the course of your life.

Yeah. 80,000.

Might be nice if you enjoyed it.

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

Culture Change: How to Improve Your Workplace Culture

When a bunch of people get together, everything changes. Different rules apply.

I’ve posted about navigating office politics. Now what is all this talk about company culture?

Does it mean anything? And how can you create culture change?

A Good Culture = Success

For those who think “culture change” is just some buzzword, research shows culture actually affects profits. A lot.

As much as half of operating profit can be attributed to a company’s culture:

In his new book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance, HBS Professor Emeritus James L. Heskett attempts just that. “Organization culture is not a soft concept,” he says. “Its impact on profit can be measured and quantified.”

Heskett finds that as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures. Why? “We know, for example, that engaged managers and employees are much more likely to remain in an organization, leading directly to fewer hires from outside the organization,” Heskett writes in the book. “This, in turn, results in lower wage costs for talent; lower recruiting, hiring, and training costs; and higher productivity (fewer lost sales and higher sales per employee). Higher employee continuity leads to better customer relationships that contribute to greater customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, and enhanced sales.”

What’s employee trust worth to a company? Potentially, an increase of 2.5% in annual revenue.

From Tony Simons, Cornell University professor and author of The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word:

Hotels where employees strongly believed their managers followed through on promises and demonstrated the values they preached were substantially more profitable than those whose managers scored average or lower…No other single aspect of manager behavior that we measured had as large an impact on profits.

How Do You Define “Culture”?

Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen has a pretty good definition.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

Culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.

Largely, it’s a matter of rewards and punishments — both formal and informal.

Is “pretty good performance” rewarded because we value efficiency or is it punished because we maintain a very high bar?

Neither is objectively better, it’s a matter of a company’s values.

Are jerks fired — even if they’re bringing in business? Or is the industry so competitive that rainmakers are exempt? Again, a case can be made for both.

Over time, employees realize that doing things one way gets rewarded and another way results in punishment.

Eventually the system is so internalized that these informal “rules” aren’t questioned and become reflex.

This is good because things run smoothly. It’s bad because faulty systems aren’t fixed, they’re accepted.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

If these paradigms of how to work together, and of what things should be given priority over other things, are used successfully over and over again, ultimately employees won’t stop and ask each other how they should work together. They will just assume that the way they have been doing it is the way of doing it. The advantage of this is that it effectively causes an organization to become self-managing. Managers don’t need to be omnipresent to enforce the rules. People instinctively get on with what needs to be done.

Netflix is famous for a deck that explains their culture.

It’s notable in how consistent it is (Doing a good job and getting everything done? Then we don’t care how much vacation you take) and how frank (“Good” employees get a generous severance package so the company can hire “great” ones.)

But most company statements are BS. What is written down doesn’t matter if it isn’t enforced.

So if the top salesperson gets treated like a king — no matter how abusively he treats people, congratulations, that’s your culture, no matter what’s on slide 47 of the PowerPoint deck.

Cultures are formed by the behavior that is rewarded in a company, not words.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

If you don’t articulate a culture— or articulate one but don’t enforce it— then a culture is still going to emerge. However, it is going to be based on the processes and priorities that have been repeated within the organization and have worked. You can tell the health of a company’s culture by asking, “When faced with a choice on how to do something, did employees make the decision that the culture ‘wanted’ them to make? And was the feedback they received consistent with that?”

Where Does Company Culture Come From?

In both good and bad cultures, it’s the people at the top.

What differentiates the two is setting values and then making sure they are consistently enforced over time.

John Kotter studied the relationship between culture and performance in over 200 companies. What did the good cultures have in common?

Via Corporate Culture and Performance:

These executives have hired and promoted people who have values consistent with those that are core in their cultures...if a subordinate clearly violated a core cultural value (such as failing to encourage leadership), even if he or she performed well by certain quantifiable measures, these executives were often willing to sanction that person severely… They were usually quick to spot a proposed compensation system or performance appraisal process that would not reflect the core philosophy of the firm.

How Do You Create Culture Change?

Treat company culture like you would your family culture.

Sounds corny but Clayton Christensen says that designing the culture of a company is no different that setting the rules for how your family treats each other at home.

Via How Will You Measure Your Life?:

Kids won’t have to stop and think about what Mom or Dad wants them to do— they’ll just go about it because their family culture has dictated, “This is the way our family behaves.” …Make no mistake: a culture happens, whether you want it to or not. The only question is how hard you are going to try to influence it. Forming a culture is not an instant loop; it’s not something you can decide on, communicate, and then expect it to suddenly work on its own. You need to be sure that when you ask your children to do something, or tell your spouse you’re going to do something, you hold to that and follow through.

Is this reasonable? Can this really create culture change? Actually, it’s the only system that does.

John Kotter’s The Heart of Change detailed a survey of 400 people across 130 companies in 4 continents showing that the secret to change within a company isn’t about fancy MBA strategy – it’s about changing the behavior of the individuals that work there, and you can only do that by addressing their feelings.

But let me guess: you’re not the CEO of your company. How can you improve things if you’re not in charge?

A good starting point is Dave Packard’s 11 simple rules. That’s David Packard of Hewlett-Packard.

These are things anyone can do to make their workplace better:

1. Think first of the other fellow. This is THE foundation — the first requisite — for getting along with others. And it is the one truly difficult accomplishment you must make. Gaining this, the rest will be “a breeze.”

2. Build up the other person’s sense of importance. When we make the other person seem less important, we frustrate one of his deepest urges. Allow him to feel equality or superiority, and we can easily get along with him.

3. Respect the other man’s personality rights. Respect as something sacred the other fellow’s right to be different from you. No two personalities are ever molded by precisely the same forces.

4. Give sincere appreciation. If we think someone has done a thing well, we should never hesitate to let him know it. WARNING: This does not mean promiscuous use of obvious flattery. Flattery with most intelligent people gets exactly the reaction it deserves — contempt for the egotistical “phony” who stoops to it.

5. Eliminate the negative. Criticism seldom does what its user intends, for it invariably causes resentment. The tiniest bit of disapproval can sometimes cause a resentment which will rankle — to your disadvantage — for years.

6. Avoid openly trying to reform people. Every man knows he is imperfect, but he doesn’t want someone else trying to correct his faults. If you want to improve a person, help him to embrace a higher working goal — a standard, an ideal — and he will do his own “making over” far more effectively than you can do it for him.

7. Try to understand the other person. How would you react to similar circumstances? When you begin to see the “whys” of him you can’t help but get along better with him.

8. Check first impressions. We are especially prone to dislike some people on first sight because of some vague resemblance (of which we are usually unaware) to someone else whom we have had reason to dislike. Follow Abraham Lincoln’s famous self-instruction: “I do not like that man; therefore I shall get to know him better.”

9. Take care with the little details. Watch your smile, your tone of voice, how you use your eyes, the way you greet people, the use of nicknames and remembering faces, names and dates. Little things add polish to your skill in dealing with people. Constantly, deliberately think of them until they become a natural part of your personality.

10. Develop genuine interest in people. You cannot successfully apply the foregoing suggestions unless you have a sincere desire to like, respect and be helpful to others. Conversely, you cannot build genuine interest in people until you have experienced the pleasure of working with them in an atmosphere characterized by mutual liking and respect.

11. Keep it up. That’s all — just keep it up!

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

Checklist: Are you doing these five things to be more effective at work?

5 tips for being a better leader

What 5 insights can you learn from the best book on management ever?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

The Leadership Secret Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg Have In Common

Apple Debuts New Operating System
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Steve Jobs in 2010

What You Can Learn About Leadership From Jobs And Zuckerberg

Robert Sutton:

We all have imperfections and surrounding yourself with people who can do things you can’t is really essential. If you just look at Zuckerberg, the guy is very, very focused on the product and is probably not particularly great interpersonally. So on one hand you could say, “Oh, he is a flawed person,” but the smarter thing to notice would be, “Isn’t it impressive that he surrounded himself with people who have offsetting skills?”

…I spoke with one of the members of Jobs’ team who worked with Steve almost 20 years — going back to the NeXT days. He said as Steve got older he knew what he could do and he knew what he couldn’t do. He became very good at learning how to surround himself with people who could both implement his vision and could offset the skills that he didn’t have

What great leaders do is they build a team that enables them to succeed.

The Perfect Team Size

Robert Sutton:

…one of the lessons that comes through from Richard’s research is that when you get a team size over five or six, the performance of your team will start declining quickly. Once you get to seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven people, the percentage of time that people spend on coordination issues and maintaining good interpersonal relationships expands dramatically. That becomes the dominant problem in the group, instead of doing the work itself.

There is some evidence we talk about in the book that if you think somebody is a lousy leader and they are in charge of a big team, try cutting it in half and see if your lousy leader becomes a competent leader.

Team Structure Must Adapt To The Situation

Eric Barker:

In the book you mention a study of World War 2 POW’s that showed survival differences between groups which changed their structure versus those that maintained their prior hierarchy.

Robert Sutton:

God knows how they get these data sets. It was almost every POW held by both Japan and the United States. The question was, did the POW’s put in a strict hierarchical military structure as they always had or did they allow it to be more decentralized? What they found was that in the camps where they changed the structure, allowed decentralization, allowed people to make localized decisions and to have more autonomy and more freedom — that the death rates were considerably lower.

That’s an example of when you have a mindset or set of behaviors that work in one situation, sometimes you have to throw away your tools and do something else. The mindset or perspective you’re using right now, ask yourself if it works in the new situation or for this particular decision.

Great Leaders Focus On The Bad

Robert Sutton:

For a leader to make positive change, the focus needs to be on getting rid of the bad stuff first. When you do that it makes way for goodness to spread…If you don’t get rid of the bad stuff as the first order of business — whether that’s incompetence, stealing, corruption, whatever — then I think that you’re really in trouble.

Getting rid of the bad first was the hallmark of great leaders and we saw that sort of behavior over and over again.

How To Make Better Decisions

Robert Sutton:

To make a decision most people just say “Where do we want to be a year from now? And what stops us from getting there?” Instead, try going “back to the future.” Sometimes they call it a “pre-mortem”. Imagine you already succeeded or you failed.

Imagine it’s 2015 and we failed at rolling out our IT implementation. Just that simple sort of cognitive switch leads people to be much more realistic, and more fine-grained in the analysis of what they need to do.

I use this myself. I say, “Jeff should I go on this trip?” Jeff always says the same thing, “Okay. It’s three months from now. Imagine you’re there, how do you feel?” Instead of thinking how nice it might be, imagine you’re there and sort of looking back from the future. Gary Klein, the psychologist who has been pushing this, he has studies that show people make better decisions when they do this.

Recommended Books

Robert Sutton:

Orbiting the Giant Hairball. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. If you’re trying to be a creative person in a large system, I suggest you read that.

My two dear friends from IDEO, Tom Kelley and his brother David, just had a book come out called Creative Confidence. That’s a great book; just came out.

Creativity Incorporated. It’s by Ed Catmull, who is the President and driving force behind Pixar. He has great advice about how to lead a creative company.

The Most Important Thing To Keep In Mind When You Take A New Job

Eric Barker:

You’ve been teaching MBA students at Stanford for 30 years. What is the best piece of advice you give them?

Robert Sutton:

When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you. You can’t change them. If it doesn’t fit who you are, it’s not going to work.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

The top FBI hostage negotiator teaches you the 5 secrets to getting what you want

UCLA Film School professor Howard Suber explains how you can be a better storyteller

Persuasion expert Robert Cialdini explains the best ways to influence people

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

The #1 Secret Astronauts, Samurai, Navy SEALs, and Psychopaths Can Teach You About Good Decision Making

We all make a lot of bad decisions.

With careers:

More than half of teachers quit their jobs within four years. In fact, one study in Philadelphia schools found that a teacher was almost two times more likely to drop out than a student.

In our jobs:

A study showed that when doctors reckoned themselves “completely certain” about a diagnosis, they were wrong 40% of the time.

And in our personal lives:

…an estimated 61,535 tattoos were reversed in the United States in 2009.

So how can we all make better decisions? When life and death is on the line what methods do the pros consistently rely on?

It’s “arousal control.”

That’s a fancy word for keeping a cool head. Ever been so angry — or so happy — you can’t think straight? Exactly.

In their book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath identify short term emotion as one of the primary causes of bad decisions.

Astronauts, samurai, Navy SEALs, and psychopaths. What can you learn from them about staying calm and making good decisions under pressure?


150 Miles Above The Earth Is No Place For Panic

It’s the 1960′s and NASA is going to send people to the moon for the first time. A million things could go wrong.

How do you make sure astronauts don’t freak out in the cold darkness of space where there’s no help?

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is The Way, wrote about the challenges faced by the first moon landing crew:

When America raced to send the first men into space, they trained the astronauts in one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking.

When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan. They become unresponsive and stop thinking clearly. At 150 miles above Earth in a spaceship smaller than a VW, this is death. Panic is suicide.

You’re NASA. What do you do?

The research shows one of the key ways to fight panic is to have a feeling of control.

Anything that provides a feeling of control will improve performance and help you make better decisions when things go sideways.

And that’s exactly what NASA did. They systematically and repeatedly put the astronauts through everything they’d experience while in space.

This level of familiarity produced a powerful feeling of confidence:

Before the first launch, NASA re-created the fateful day for the astronauts over and over, step by step, hundreds of times — from what they’d have for breakfast to the ride to the airfield. Slowly, in a graded series of “exposures.” the astronauts were introduced to every sight and sound of the experience of their firing into space. They did it so many times that it became as natural and familiar as breathing.

This is why when top bomb disposal experts approach a bomb their blood pressure actually goes down. Control and confidence.

(More on what we can learn from astronauts here.)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: NASA had a billion dollars, the smartest people in the world and lots of time. I don’t, Eric.

I’m with you. But this same focus on arousal control has worked for almost a thousand years, with far fewer resources. Here’s how.

The Most Important Samurai Training Doesn’t Involve A Sword

What does the baddest samurai to ever carry a katana have to say about warfare? Stay calm:

Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased.

Like astronauts, samurai knew the power of a feeling of control through training. But they had another trick up their sleeve.

Emotional preparation. Ryan Holiday explains:

This is why Musashi and most martial arts practitioners focus on mental training as much as on physical training. Both are equally important — and require equally vigorous exercise and practice.

What did they do? Specifically, they thought about death. A lot. (No, I’m not recommending you get all emo. Stay with me.)

Thinking about the worst (and in their case it was having your head separated from your body) can help you be calm and rational.

The Stoics did it, the samurai did it, and every time you say “What’s the worst that could happen?” you do it too — whether you know it or not.

(More on samurai methods for calm here.)

So these methods may have worked 1000 years ago, they may have worked in the 1960′s… but isn’t the world different in the 21st century?

No. No, it’s not. And the elite Navy SEALs are proof.

What’s Special About Special Forces

Go without food or sleep for days. Jump out of a plane at 35,000 feet. Trade gunfire with Al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan while outnumbered.

This is not what Navy SEALs call a nightmare. It’s what they call “Thursday.”

Kevin Dutton and his friend, Andy (a former SAS soldier — the British equivalent of a SEAL) had their vital signs monitored during a study.

Both were similar under normal circumstances. But what happened when they were exposed to stimuli that screamed “DANGER! TIME TO PANIC!”?

Dutton’s brain went wild with fear. But his friend Andy’s response was very, very different:

His pulse rate begins to slow. His GSR begins to drop. And his EEG to quickly and dramatically attenuate. In fact, by the time the show is over, all three of Andy’s physiological output measures are pooling below his baseline. Nick [the researcher] has seen nothing like it. “It’s almost as if he was gearing himself up for the challenge,” he says. “And then, when the challenge eventually presented itself, his brain suddenly responded by injecting liquid nitrogen into his veins. Suddenly implemented a blanket neural cull of all surplus feral emotion. Suddenly locked down into a hypnotically deep Code Red of extreme and ruthless focus.” He shakes his head, nonplussed. “If I hadn’t recorded those readings myself, I’m not sure I would have believed them,” he continues. “Okay, I’ve never tested Special Forces before. And maybe you’d expect a slight attenuation in response. But this guy was in total and utter control of the situation. So tuned in, it looked like he’d completely tuned out.”

Elite military units vet for the toughest characters. And they go through punishing training. But what silly little thing makes a huge difference?

Breathing. Yeah, breathing.

Teaching recruits to monitor their breathing helped increase Navy SEAL passing rates from 25 to 33 percent.

Research shows meditation-style breathing can make you courageous, increase your attention span, and even boost happiness,

(More on the other three things that improved the performance of Navy SEALshere.)

At this point you might feel like emotions are a total liability. Like effective decision making means you have to be the Terminator 24/7.

Nope. Let’s learn about how to balance cold rationality with the power of emotion. Let’s look at psychopaths.

What You Can Learn From Stone Cold Killers

What does it mean to be a psychopath? Often it means a congenital lack of empathy.

So psychopaths aren’t raving and wild-eyed. Actually, in many ways they’re overly rational.

When researchers make people play a betting game, who acts logically and isn’t swayed by irrational (but common) fears?

Yup, psychopaths:

“This may be the first study,” comments George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, “that documents a situation in which people with brain damage make better financial decisions than normal people.”

You may want your stockbroker to be a psychopath. Seriously:

“The most successful stockbrokers might plausibly be termed ‘functional psychopaths’— individuals who on the one hand are either more adept at controlling their emotions or who, on the other, do not experience them to the same degree of intensity as others.”

(More on which professions have the most psychopaths here.)

Oh, and I guess I should also mention some psychopaths, um, murder people…

So being extremely rational often leads to better decisions — but without some empathy it can also lead to some very bad things.

This might seem confusing. How do you know just how rational to be?

For Best Results, Add Empathy

There’s a reason why they give it the name “arousal control.” You’re not trying to kill your emotions, you just want a leash on them.

You don’t want to be incapable of empathy. In fact, empathy, when controlled, can be an enormous positive when trying to make good decisions.

We always think of doctors as very rational. But research shows doctors who feel empathy make better decisions.

Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, Adam Grant explains:

There is a great study of radiologists by Turner and colleagues showing that when radiologists just saw a photo of the patient whose x-ray they were about to scan, they empathized more with the person, seeing that person as more of a human being as opposed to just an x-ray. As a result, they wrote longer reports, and they had greater diagnostic accuracy, significantly.

At this point you may be saying: Okay, okay, I’ve kept my cool — but what do I do now?

What’s fascinating is that same empathy also leads us to the next step of great decision making: think about others.

The best, simplest method for making better decisions once you have a clear head is called “taking the outside perspective.”

What’s that mean? Ask yourself, “What advice would I give my best friend in this situation?

Duke professor and author of Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely explains:

If I had to give advice across many aspects of life, I would ask people to take what’s called “the outside perspective.” And the outside perspective is easily thought about: “What would you do if you made the recommendation for another person?” And I find that often when we’re recommending something to another person, we don’t think about our current state and we don’t think about our current emotions.

So where does all this lead us?

Next Stop: Wisdom

The five step process for making better decisions:

  1. Maintain a feeling of control over your situation.
  2. Emotional preparation. Consider how things could be worse.
  3. Monitor your breathing.
  4. Controlled empathy.
  5. Ask “What advice would I give my best friend in this situation?”

Can this style of decision making, over time, lead us to being not just smarter but wiser?

Actually, it may be the only system that can. We usually associate wisdomwith knowledge, experience or smarts. But what does the research say?

Yeah, those things are all important — but we underestimate how muchwisdom is about understanding feelings:

In his valedictory work on wisdom, Baltes attributed the acquisition of wisdom to a variety of factors—general intelligence and education, early exposure to meaningful mentors, cultural influences, and the lifelong accumulation of experience, which is the centerpiece of developmental psychology. But he, too,acknowledged the central importance of emotional intelligence, noting that “there is good reason to assume that people capable of effectively regulating emotional states associated with dilemmas of life by cognitive rather than affective-dysfunctional modes might have a better chance of being considered wise or scoring high on wisdom tasks.”

We’re not robots.

We’re fundamentally emotional creatures and forgetting that fact is a huge mistake.

We place so much emphasis on logic and yet the best decisions come from understanding our emotions and considering what is best for others.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

How to Overcome Regret and Seize the Day — Scientifically

What hurts more than those pangs of regret? It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, right?

But I’ve got a surprise for you — regret can be a good thing. In fact, sometimes you enjoy it. Sound crazy?

When researchers asked people to score the upside of many different emotions, regret actually beat out pride.

Via Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work:

Both regret and disappointment, however, scored much more favorably than anger, guilt, or sadness, surpassing even pride, a positive emotion— showing that individuals do see a value in regret.

Why? Even though it’s very unpleasant, we see value in regret. We can learn from it.

But can’t we learn without the godawful nagging pain? That’s the real question. And the answer is we can.

But we need to understand how regret works before we can beat it. Let’s get some answers.


What Do We Regret The Most?

Regrets about education, career, romance, and parenting top the list.

Via Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work:

The six biggest regrets fell into the following domains, in descending order: education, career, romance, parenting, self-improvement, and leisure. (If you’re curious, the next six were finance, family, health, friends, spirituality, and community.) It’s a bit surprising that education was the number one regret, but the authors argue this point: “Opportunity breeds regret. Feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances for corrective reaction are clearest.”


Not too surprising, but what can we really learn here? What do these things have in common that causes that terrible gnawing?

The research shows we consistently regret missed opportunity.

Education, career, relationships… our errors in these domains loom so large because of all the possibilities that might have changed our lives.

A second thing the research confirms is that the old saw is true:you’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do.

Via Stumbling on Happiness:

Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.

And it’s amazing how consistently these two principles prove out.

Of the top five most common career regrets, four are due to inaction and all five are related to missed opportunity.

Why we regret missed opportunities is pretty obvious. We love having options and hate when they go away.

But why are the things we don’t do so much more painful over time than the things that we actually follow through with?

There’s a reason…


You Have A Psychological Immune System

Your brain doesn’t want you overwhelmed with regret 24/7. So it conspires to help you. What does it do?

It rationalizes. We humans are rationalizing machines.

So when you do something stupid, you feel bad but part of your brain immediately starts digging for silver livings:

  • I should have left that terrible job sooner… but staying there I really learned a lot about myself.
  • The marriage didn’t work out… but otherwise I wouldn’t have had these beautiful kids.

We all do it and it helps us get by. But what happens when you don’t do something stupid? When you don’t do anything at all?

It’s hard to learn from experience when there is no experience. It’s harder to generate silver linings for things you never did.

Harvard happiness expert Dan Gilbert explains:

But why do people regret inactions more than actions? One reason is that the psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than of actions… when our inaction causes us to reject a marriage proposal from someone who later becomes a movie star, we can’t console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience because… well, there wasn’t one.

And later on in life it’s often harder to remember why we didn’t do things than why we did do them.

Often we were just scared. But years later that irrational fear fades and we kick ourselves for not taking risks.

Via Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work:

For one thing, regrettable inactions are much harder to reframe because, in retrospect, it usually seems eminently clear that the reasons you had for not doing whatever it was…don’t seem to hold water over time…

So most regrettable things we follow through with will be rationalized away by our helpful brains.

But when we have failed to act, how do we deal with that ache just won’t go away?


How To Overcome Regret

The research says you should ask yourself two questions.

1) Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”

Regret has a purpose. It’s like the oil light on the dashboard of your life, telling you something needs to be fixed.

Studies back this up — regret is more intense when it’s something that we can do something about.

Researchers call regret an “upward counterfactual.” That’s a fancy term meaning we’re comparing the way things are against a better alternative.

And, in moderation, this is a good thing.

Via Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work:

Counterfactual thinking opens the door to modifying future behavior by focusing on a revision of the past.

Contrast what happened with what you wanted and formulate a lesson about how to do things differently next time.

2) Ask yourself, “How could it have been worse?”

An “upward counterfactual” is great for learning but over time it’s what creates that nagging ache of regret.

How do we kill the pain now that we’ve learned our lesson?

This is where we need what researchers call a “downward counterfactual.” Ask “How could things have been worse?”

Research shows this kills the negative feelings associated with regret. Turn disappointment into gratitude.

Take “I can’t believe I crashed my car. I’m so stupid.” and turn it into “I’m so lucky I didn’t die in the accident. How wonderful!”

The combination of these questions is a great one-two punch:

  1. We all know people who immediately ask the second without the first. They feel better but don’t learn a thing and repeat their mistakes.
  2. And we’re all guilty of merely asking the first question without the second — just beating yourself up over what you should have done.

That said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — how can we stop making new regrets?

And the answer to this can actually be a lot of fun.


How To Avoid Regret In The Future

We’ve learned a bunch of stuff:

  1. Our brains rationalize most of the things we do wrong.
  2. Regret over the things we follow through with is rarely as bad as we anticipate and we get over it faster than we think.
  3. But we can feel terrible pain for years over things that we don’t do.

Check out the chart below by researcher Thomas Gilovich.

The pain over inaction is more common in nearly every category compared to failures of action:


And what happens when you ask the older generation what their life experience has told them about regret? They consistently respond:

Say “yes” to opportunity.

What’s all this add up to? Nike has it right, folks. The answer is often:


If it’s not going to get you killed, arrested, maimed or divorced,consider doing that thing. Be a little more bold.

Your future self will thank you… or just rationalize it away.

What else do older folks regret most? So much time wasted on pointless worrying.

Spend less time on your fears and more time thinking about what it is you dowant to do in your life.

Candy Chang explains in her wonderful TED talk.

Fancy science aside, this adds up to something far more important – it helps you get more fun out of life. Saying “yes” leads to happiness.

Guilt over doing stupid things fades, while research shows regret over missed fun is much more problematic down the line.

The cliches are worth paying attention to: Seize the day. Take the bull by the horns.

If you don’t — and trust me on this one — you’ll regret it.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

6 Things the Most Productive People Do Every Day

Ever feel like you’re just not getting enough done?

Know how many days per week you’re actually productive?

About 3:

People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).

We could all be accomplishing a lot more — but then again, none of us wants to be a workaholic either.

It’d be great to get tons done and have work/life balance. But how do we do that? I decided to get some answers.

And who better to ask than Tim Ferriss, author of the international bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek?

(Tim’s blog is here and his podcast is here.)

Below are six tips Tim offered, the science behind why they work, and insight from the most productive people around.

1) Manage Your Mood

Most productivity systems act like we’re robots – they forget the enormous power of feelings.

If you start the day calm it’s easy to get the right things done and focus.

But when we wake up and the fray is already upon us — phone ringing, emails coming in, fire alarms going off — you spend the whole day reacting.

This means you’re not in the driver’s seat working on your priorities, you’re responding to what gets thrown at you, important or not.

Here’s Tim:

I try to have the first 80 to 90 minutes of my day vary as little as possible. I think that a routine is necessary to feel in control and non-reactive, which reduces anxiety. It therefore also makes you more productive.

Research shows how you start the day has an enormous effect on productivity and you procrastinate more when you’re in a bad mood.

Studies demonstrate happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful.

As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:

…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

So think a little less about managing the work and a little more about managing your moods.

(For more on how to be happier, go here.)

So what’s the first step to managing your mood after you wake up?

2) Don’t Check Email In The Morning

To some people this is utter heresy. Many can’t imagine not waking up and immediately checking email or social media feeds.

I’ve interviewed a number of very productive people and nobody said, “Spend more time with email.”

Why is checking email in the morning a cardinal sin? You’re setting yourself up to react.

An email comes in and suddenly you’re giving your best hours to someone else’s goals, not yours.

You’re not planning your day and prioritizing, you’re letting your objectives be hijacked by whoever randomly decides to enter your inbox.

Here’s Tim:

…whenever possible, do not check email for the first hour or two of the day. It’s difficult for some people to imagine. “How can I do that? I need to check email to get the information I need to work on my most important one or two to-dos?”

You would be surprised how often that is not the case. You might need to get into your email to finish 100% of your most important to-dos. But can you get 80 or 90% done before you go into Gmail and have your rat brain explode with freak-out, dopamine excitement and cortisol panic? Yes.

Research shows email:

  1. Stresses you out.
  2. Can turn you into a jerk.
  3. Can be more addictive than alcohol and tobacco.
  4. And checking email frequently is the equivalent of dropping your IQ 10 points.

Is this really how you want to start your day?

(For more on how to avoid the email trap and spend time wisely go here.)

Great, so you know what not to do. But a bigger question looms: what should you be doing?

3) Before You Try To Do It Faster, Ask Whether It Should Be Done At All

Everyone asks, “Why is it so impossible to get everything done?” But the answer is stunningly easy:

You’re doing too many things.

Want to be more productive? Don’t ask how to make something more efficient until after you’ve asked “Do I need to do this at all?”

Here’s Tim:

Doing something well does not make it important. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management or productivity advice; they focus on how to do things quickly. The vast majority of things that people do quickly should not be done at all.

It’s funny that we complain we have so little time and then we prioritize like time is endless. Instead, do what is important… and not much else.

But is this true in the real world?

Research shows CEOs don’t get more done by blindly working more hours, they get more done when they follow careful plans:

Preliminary analysis from CEOs in India found that a firm’s sales increased as the CEO worked more hours. But more intriguingly, the correlation between CEO time use and output was driven entirely by hours spent in planned activities. Planning doesn’t have to mean that the hours are spent in meetings, though meetings with employees were correlated with higher sales; it’s just that CEO time is a limited and valuable resource, and planning how it should be allocated increases the chances that it’s spent in productive ways.

(For more ways to save time go here.)

Okay, you’ve cleared the decks. Your head is serene, you’ve gotten the email monkey off your back and you know what you need to do.

Now we have to face one of the biggest problems of the modern era: how do you sit still and focus?

4) Focus Is Nothing More Than Eliminating Distractions

Ed Hallowell, former professor at Harvard Medical School and bestselling author of Driven to Distraction, says we have “culturally generated ADD.”

Has modern life permanently damaged our attention spans?

No. What you do have is more tantalizing, easily accessible, shiny things available to you 24/7 than any human being has ever had.

The answer is to lock yourself somewhere to make all the flashing, buzzing distractions go away.

Here’s Tim:

Focus is a function, first and foremost, of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating… I think that focus is thought of as this magical ability. It’s not a magical ability. It’s put yourself in a padded room, with the problem that you need to work on, and shut the door. That’s it. The degree to which you can replicate that, and systematize it, is the extent to which you will have focus.

What’s the best way to sum up the research? How about this: Distractions make you stupid.

And a flood of studies show that the easiest and most powerful way to change your behavior is to change your environment.

Top CEOs are interrupted every 20 minutes. How do they get anything done?

By working from home in the morning for 90 minutes where no one can bother them:

They found that not one of the twelve executives was ever able to work uninterruptedly more than twenty minutes at a time—at least not in the office. Only at home was there some chance of concentration. And the only one of the twelve who did not make important, long-range decisions “off the cuff,” and sandwiched in between unimportant but long telephone calls and “crisis” problems, was the executive who worked at home every morning for an hour and a half before coming to the office.

(For more on how to stop procrastinating go here.)

I know what some of you are thinking: I have other responsibilities. Meetings. My boss needs me. My spouse calls. I can’t just hide.

This is why you need a system.

5) Have A Personal System

I’ve spoken to a lot of insanely productive people. You know what none of them said?

“I don’t know how I get stuff done. I just wing it and hope for the best.”

Not one. Your routines can be formal and scientific or personal and idiosyncratic — but either way, productive people have a routine.

Here’s Tim:

Defining routines and systems is more effective than relying on self-discipline. I think self-discipline is overrated.

Allowing yourself the option to do what you have not decided to do is disempowering and asking for failure. I encourage people to develop routines so that their decision-making is only applied to the most creative aspects of their work, or wherever their unique talent happens to lie.

Great systems work because they make things automatic, and don’t tax your very limited supply of willpower.

What do we see when we systematically study the great geniuses of all time? Almost all had personal routines that worked for them.

(“Give and Take” author Adam Grant consistently writes in the mornings while Tim always writes at night.)

How do you start to develop your own personal system? Apply some “80/20″ thinking:

  1. What handful of activities are responsible for the disproportionate number of your successes?
  2. What handful of activities absolutely crater your productivity?
  3. Rearrange your schedule to do more of #1 and to eliminate #2 as much as possible.

(For more on the routines geniuses use to be productive click here.)

So you’re all set to wake up tomorrow with a system and not be “reactive.” How do you make sure you follow through on this tomorrow? It’s simple.

6) Define Your Goals The Night Before

Wake up knowing what is important before the day’s pseudo-emergencies come barging into your life and your inbox screams new commands.

Here’s Tim:

Define your one or two most important to-dos before dinner, the day before.

Bestselling author Dan Pink gives similar advice:

Establish a closing ritual. Know when to stop working. Try to end each work day the same way, too. Straighten up your desk. Back up your computer. Make a list of what you need to do tomorrow.

Research says you’re more likely to follow through if you’re specificand if you write your goals down.

Studies show this has a secondary benefit: writing down what you need to do tomorrow relieves anxiety and helps you enjoy your evening.

(For more information on setting and achieving goals click here.)

So how does this all come together?

Sum Up

Here are Tim’s 6 tips:

  1. Manage Your Mood
  2. Don’t Check Email in The Morning
  3. Before You Try To Do It Faster, Ask Whether It Should Be Done At All
  4. Focus Is Nothing More Than Eliminating Distractions
  5. Have A Personal System
  6. Define Your Goals The Night Before

The word “productivity” sounds like we’re talking about machines. But the irony is that much of being truly good with time is about feelings.

How should you strive to feel when working? Busy, but not rushed. Research shows this is when people are happiest.

I couldn’t have written this without the help of Tim Ferriss and Adam Grant. Both volunteered their very valuable time.

Was that a waste on their part? They definitely won’t get those minutes back.

Helping others takes time but research shows it makes us feel like we have more time. And it makes us happier.

Once you are more productive, you’ll have a lot more hours to fill. So why not use them to make others and yourself happier?

(I’ll be sending out more tips from Tim Ferriss in my weekly email so make sure to sign up.)

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

Too Busy? 7 Ways To Increase Leisure Time, According To Science

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com